2017 Guild Awards Honor Children’s Television

gortimer gibbons

It’s awards season! In terms of literature, the Youth Media Awards just announced the best YA books of the year. And the various guild awards, particularly the Writers Guild Awards, the Producers Guild Awards, and the Directors Guild Awards, have respective television categories dedicated to children’s television. The only major Guild award to not have a special category for children’s media is, of course, the relatively bare bones Screen Actors Guild Awards. Let’s take a quick at the nominees for each award group.

Compared to the other guild awards, the PGAs are relatively new at recognizing children’s television. I’m not exactly sure when the separate category for children’s television was inaugurated, but I’m pretty sure the category hasn’t been around for as long as the ones for the WGAs and the DGAs. Last year, I was pretty hard on the group’s nominations. This year, with the inclusion of Girl Meets World and School of Rock, the list is a little more promising although, as we will see, not nearly as exciting as the other two award groups. Rounding out the nominees are last year’s winner Sesame Street, Spongebob Squarepants (a show that’s been around since I was eight, but it is apparently only in its 10th season), and some show called Octonauts, which I’m guessing is about octopus astronauts. Am I right? Am I really correct here? It would be nice to see Girl Meets World get a goodbye hug here, but if the voters are as lazy choosing a winner as they are choosing the nominees, then Sesame Street will most likely win again (can they just have a separate category for preschool shows? How can a show for preschoolers be compared to a show written for the 10-16 age group?)

The WGAs are always a little weird. They have two separate categories: one for regular series and the other for one-off TV specials; however, the latter category has rarely been used the last decade or so. Sometimes, they are no winners or nominees in that category. Last year, the only nominee was Disney’s The Descendants. Presumably, that movie won. This year, however, in the longform category, there are three nominees. This category has not had competitive “nominees” since 2011, and at least three of them since 2009. Oh happy day! The actual nominees themselves are, overall, mediocre, in my opinion, however. Youtube Red’s Dance Camp (the summary of the movie is the title pretty much) would be my pick for the win. However, I think, clearly the Sesame Street Christmas special with the all star celebrity cast has the best chance at winning. Daytime Emmy winner RL Stine’s Monsterville: Cabinet of Souls rounds out the nominees.

The WGAs also have a children’s television category for episodes of regular series. Last year, the WGAs (rightfully) filled the category with episodes of Gortimer Gibbon’s Life on Normal Street. This year, the show has a chance at repeating with “Mel vs. The Night Mare of Normal Street;” an episode where Mel tries to come to terms with her mother’s death from last season. It is the best overall show in the category, and this episode is most deserving of the win. But, this is a very solid category. Amazon’s other series, Just Add Magic, is nominated for “Just Add Mom,” along with Sesame Street for “Mucko Polo, Grouch Explorer” and Girl Meets World’s “Girl Meets Commonism,” an episode that actually (gasps!) argues against communism. This is Girl Meets World’s third year being nominated here, and it’ll probably be its last (unless voters remember the cancelled show by December of this year). Again, like the PGAs, I could see voters wanting to honor an unrewarded show that’s ending; but, as I’ve learned, industry award voters aren’t usually very sentimental. Again: Mucko Polo, Grouch Explorer is nominated.

The DGAs, like the PGAs, only have one category devoted to Children’s television. Individual series episodes have to compete against TV Movies and Documentaries. When it comes to its nominations, the DGAs usually lean towards the movies. A “DCOM” is always guaranteed a slot. This time around, the channel’s 100th DCOM, Adventures in Babysitting, received a nod for its director John Schultz. He’s probably the favorite to win. Hallmark Channel’s A Nutcracker Christmas received a surprise nod here. I believe this is the first time a Hallmark movie has a received a nomination in this category (at least one that first aired on the channel). A Nutcracker Christmas is about a former ballerina (Amy Ackler) who reluctantly allows the daughter of her deceased sister join a prestigious dance troupe for their annual performance of The Nutcracker. It’s actually a really good family movie and I’m impressed that it got recognized here.

But I hope any one of the other nominees wins. I already wrote about American Girl’s Melody 1963: Love Has to Win. It’s one of the best specials of the year. The script is a bit half baked, but the period drama is certainly shot perfectly. Once again, Gortimer Gibbon’s received a nod here, this time for the season 3 premiere where Gortimer magically becomes skilled in every activity he tries. Every episode of that show has top notch direction that rivals any adult show out there. But…it is a little disappointing that Luke Matheny couldn’t also get a nomination for the touching series finale. But, the DGAs, unlike the WGAs, are pretty strict when it comes to the number of nominees; usually, there are no more than five. And it’s absolutely wonderful that the fifth spot went to the pilot episode of The Kicks, Amazon’s newest high quality children’s series about a struggling soccer team. Overall, I want Gortimer Gibbon’s to win a DGA, but the Amazon programs, as a whole, clearly rule this category. C’mon, voters! Think outside the box for once!

I also want to quickly mention that the Humanitas Prize announced its finalists for their “Live Action” children’s category. Once again, Melody 1963 received a nomination, along with Degrassi’s #TurntUp (an episode that deals with mental health) and Girl Meets World’s “The Forgiveness Project,” which would have been a better representation for its WGA nod. Truly, one of the more emotionally satisfying episodes of the series. Any of these programs could win.

Although, I have to say, it’s very disappointing that the Saturday morning CBS drama The Inspectors was snubbed across the board. Do voters even realize this show exists? That’s the only explanation I can think of for these snubs. At least a writing nod would have been appropriate. Well, hopefully, the Daytime Emmys will come through again!

The winners will be announced at various times. I will update this page when they are.

Top 10 Best TV Specials for/about Youth from 2016 (Also, what is “Youth Media?”)

girl in the river

I have a relatively loose definition of “Youth Media.” Most people would describe it as any book, TV program, movie, music, etc. that’s created for and targeted towards children or teens (like any Newbery winner, Pixar movie, CW teen drama, or Nickelodeon program). Some would expand it to include “family viewing” (like 7th Heaven, the standard Hallmark romcom, or anything related to religion). Some books and their respective film adaptations like The Help, To Kill a Mockingbird, and The Secret Life of Bees weren’t originally advertised exclusively for “young people,” but young people, some time down the line, have created a strong connection with these stories. I’d include all those in my own personal definition of youth media…and go even one step further. I think youth media should also include any medium (within reason) that features youth characters, with the intention of offering some sort of profound and educational lesson or insight. So…Endless Love (I’m talking about the wonderful, original book by Scott Spencer), with its graphic sexual details? Youth media. Kids? That movie starring a young Chloe Sevigny and Rosario Dawson with its unflinching, raw look into the AIDS epidemic? The movie that’s NC-17?Youth media. And, frankly, with supervision and guidance, I think it’s a movie that’s still relevant for older teens.

In any case, that opening is my way of preparing you for some of the unexpected choices I have on my list. I watched a lot of TV movies this year, a lot of it targeted towards kids and families. Everything from celebrity filled Sesame Street specials, to the Lifetime movies featuring rebellious daughters. But, frankly, it’s the unexpected choices that really makes me proud of this list, and excited for the future of youth television. We no longer have Afterschool specials anymore. HBO and Showtime no longer produce high quality dramatic content for young people. If you want truly profound television for the youth of America, sometimes you have to find it in unexpected places. So, read this list with an open mind, and realize there’s youth television beyond Disney Channel…

10. The Swap: Speaking of Disney Channel…the cable network, after a marathon featuring DCOMs from a better era, only released two original movies this year, both with record low ratings. One movie was a reboot of a still popular theatrical film from the 80’s. The other was this. The Swap is the better movie of the two, and, to my surprise, one of the best of the year. The storyline is pretty much Freaky Friday, except, this time, it is the girly rhythmic gymnast (Peyton List) who switches places with the stressed sensitive hockey player (Jacob Bertrand). Although the initial premise didn’t draw me in (not exactly original), the TV movie’s exploration into distant parents and high school pressures kept me from switching the dial. That and Naomi Snieckus’s hilarious performance as Coach Carol.

9. He Named Me Malala: This movie had an Oscar qualifying theatrical run before airing on Nat Geo last March. Although the movie failed to nab an Oscar nomination, it was nominated for several Emmys, including one for Davis Guggenheim’s direction. The documentary focuses on teen Nobel Prize winner Malala Yousafzai, a Pakistani girl who was gunned down by a member of the Taliban as a result of her activist work promoting education for girls. Although it’s not the most put together documentary, Malala is such a compelling and inspiring figure, that her story is enough for me to recommend this movie. And the animated sequences are gorgeous.

8. American Experience: The Perfect Crime: This PBS documentary discusses the famous murder of a 14 year old in the spring of 1924 by two wealthy, privileged college students: Leopold and Loeb. The two committed the “crime of the century” because…well…just because, really. It’s true that some rich people just think they can get away with anything they want. The documentary discusses their motivations, the buzzy trial, and the implications as a result of the verdict. Ultimately, what made the trial so fascinating is that it shattered the myth that young, rich, white people, with all the potential and opportunities in the world, can’t possibly be monsters inside.

7. Melody 1963: Love Has to Win: Amazon is currently the best producer of children’s television media. Between Gortimer Gibbon’s, Just Add Magic, and The Kicks, there’s no television network, online or traditional, that creates better original children’s series than Amazon. This year, with American Girl (another notable youth media producer), the streaming site essentially produced two dramatic specials, each under an hour (so, “Afterschool special” length). Their Christmas special starring Maryellen (featuring a memorable score by Sasha Gordon) is great in its own right, and is probably number 11 on this list. However, Melody 1963: Love Has to Win, a special starring Blackish’s Marsai Martin about life in Detroit during the Civil Rights Movement, is truly the kind of thing that’s missing from youth media nowadays (I know I am beating a dead horse about this, but still!). It’s not the most groundbreaking children’s special about racism (that title would go to The Color of Friendship thankyouverymuch), but it’s still certainly the kind of media we need in 2017.

6. 30 for 30: Fantastic Lies: There’s a lot I could say about the 2006 Duke lacrosse rape charges (charges that, after an intense court battle, were found to be completely false). Some people would probably find my thoughts on it controversial. So I won’t get into it (OK, I will say that I don’t particularly feel bad for the accused men, there I said it #sorrynotsorry!). But, this documentary is a compelling, fascinating and honest look at college sports culture, our thoroughly flawed American justice system, and our societal need to come to conclusions and get out our pitchforks as quickly as possible. The look into college life, in particular, is essentially what qualifies this ESPN special to make this list.

5. A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness: This short documentary about an eighteen year old Pakistani girl who survives an honor killing by her own father aired on HBO right after it won an Oscar for best Documentary Short. It’s probably the most infuriating thing I watched all last year. USA is not in a great place right now, but at least this isn’t a country where killing your own daughter is not only accepted and nearly revered, but also as close as legal as possible. This girl is almost killed by her father, and literally everyone around her either excuses the act, or justifies it. It’s disgusting and wrong, and it’s one of those cultural norms that I would never accept or normalize. The film’s director, Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy, who also won an earlier Oscar for a film on acid attacks in Pakistan, is simply one of the bravest filmmakers of today; and A Girl in the River is about a young woman who must realize that “honor” trumps love in her father’s eyes.

4. Grease Live!: Like everyone else in America, I came into this program with low expectations. This seemed like FOX’s way of trying to duplicate the success NBC had had with their live musicals. At one point, FOX even seemed to be having trouble finding a semi-high profile cast for the risky project. But, again, like everyone else in America, I was pleasantly surprised by how well this production turned out. The cast was perfect (particularly Keke Palmer, with her sultry rendition of “Freddy My Love”). The live audience, for the most part, actually worked. The sets were gorgeous, particularly the carnival themed final number. But the best thing about this live production was the photography. A part of me still thinks the gym dance scene was pre-shot using single camera. FOX really pushed the limits and changed the game with this production. The next two musicals (neither of them really “live”) FOX attempted afterwards last year were misfires, but hopefully soon they will return back to form and give us another memorable night.

3. Hairspray Live!: Technically, Grease Live! was better directed than NBC’s effort this year (Alex Rudzinski directed the FOX special with Hamilton‘s Thomas Kail, while he also directed the NBC musical with directing genius Kenny Leon); however, the truth is, Hairspray Live! gets more points from me because the original source is better than that of Grease’s. The songs are better. The story is better. The characters and costumes are quirkier. But the production itself is great in its own right. It’s a pleasure actually having Harvey Fierstein’s performance as protective mother Edna preserved on non-bootlegged video (I love John Travolta but this role simply belongs to Fierstein). Jennifer Hudson absolutely murdered “I Know Where I’ve Been.” And while the roles of Velma and Amber Von Tussle usually don’t give the actresses who play the characters much notice or praise, Broadway Quen Kristin Chenoweth and Disney Princess Dove Cameron practically breathed life into the roles. Like the Melody movie, a television special about prejudice in the 1960’s can still teach lessons for a 2016/17 audience.

2. Black Mirror: Shut Up and Dance: Black Mirror is an anthology series that streams on Netflix that features stories, usually metaphorical dystopian parables, centered on technology. This particular episode is unique because, unless I missed something when I first watched it, the story is set in the present and everything that happens in the episode could presumably happen in real life. It’s about a British teenager (The Imitation Game’s Alex Lawther) who is blackmailed into committing random, sometimes illegal, acts, after he is secretly filmed…well, doing something bad. Unless he follows the mysterious hacker’s directions, video of him committing the “bad” act will spread and he will be exposed. Black Mirror is an overall amazing series, but this episode, and the season three premiere “Nosedive” which couldn’t make my list here, are my two favorite episodes of the season. Hopefully the next season will feature another episode starring a young, confused character

1. American Crime (season 2): The first season of American Crime was incredible, but this second season gave me ten of the most thrilling, exciting, thought provoking weeks of watching television I had ever experienced. The second season of this anthology series focuses on a young teen boy (Connor Jessup) who accuses the popular basketball player (Joey Pollari) of raping him. Lili Taylor also gives an amazing, Emmy nominated performance as the young teen boy’s conflicted mother. The season reaches its climax when Jessup’s character obtains a gun and takes it to school, killing one of the members of the basketball team. There’s another plot involving a black principal and his complicated relationship with his racially diverse students. There are simply so many layers to this story. So many great performances. So many issues that are handled expertly, mostly regarding high school life: sex, drugs, rape, sexuality, sports, and depression. In the 80’s and 90’s, Afterschool Specials that covered all these topics, would have been produced by ABC. Those times are unfortunately behind us, but at least the topics can be thoughtfully acknowledged in this anthology series. Whether or not the third season can be considered “youth media,” even by my loose standards, I am still very much looking forward to it, because it is underrated television that will be regarded as landmark television in the years to come.

I mentioned a couple specials already that just missed the cut. I’m thoroughly confident with this top ten, but I am a little surprised that the new Anne of Green Gables (that aired on PBS here in America during Thanksgiving) couldn’t make the cut. The truth is, it’ll be hard for me to fully judge this adaptation until the full story is covered (it looks to me that only the first of three planned movies has aired). Right now, it’s just…no Megan Follows. No Kevin Sullivan. #sorrynotsorry. Although I believe Ezra Jack Keats’s The Snowy Day is one of the greatest picture books ever written, the new animated adaptation by Amazon was an unfortunate disappointment for me. (Peter’s excitement for mac and cheese was just…too much…and bordering stereotypical). On the other hand, I was this close to putting A Bad Lip Reading’s Disney approved interpretation of High School Musical on the list…but, as hilarious as I found it, it just didn’t seem right (and there are no proper credits for the special anyway).

Let’s hope this year pushes the limits for youth media even further.

2016 Emmys FYC #3 (Degrassi: Next Class)

degrassi

It’s that time again! That’s right. It’s Emmy season. And ballots for most of the major categories have been released to the public. For the next few weeks, I will be discussing and making pleas for some of the “children,” family, and youth programs from the 2015-2016 season that I believe deserve a shot an Emmy. I’ll also, of course, predict whether these programs even have a chance in the first place. 

Sigh…I was hoping to do more of these posts before Emmy voting closed (feels like voters aren’t given a lot of time). But, hey, at least I did everything I could with Gortimer Gibbon’s, which I think is on the bubble. On the other hand, Degrassi getting a nomination is probably more of a sure thing.

Degrassi is a show I have watched and enjoyed since I was ten years old (I’m 25 now). I cried when Craig freaked out at the school dance at the end of season two. I gasped when JT died in season 6. I rolled my eyes when Claire and Eli had another break up. The show has had its highs (first four seasons) and its lows (c’mon, most fans knew  was season 8 and 9). After season fourteen, the now irrelevant TeenNick decided to cut the chord of its tentpole. Netflix quickly picked Degrassi up and a “new” show, Degrassi: Next Class, was born. And the show, similar to season ten, was renewed with fresh energy and really dramatic, engaging story lines. This season (season 15, season 1 whatever) is the show’s strongest stretch of episodes since the first half of season ten, mostly because of the show’s tackling of gender politics and feminism. In fact, I don’t think another teen drama has done a better job with dealing with the complications of feminism. #NotAllMen is a particularly memorable episode that deals with these issues (particularly because it’s centered on gaming). It feels like Netflix (and Canada’s Family Channel) has given the show more freedom to go back to the show’s roots, when it was about dealing with real, relevant issues. I am so looking forward the next season, which premieres in the US in a few weeks.

What are the chances?

While the show has been popular with Canadian television awards since its inception, Degrassi didn’t receive its first “Children’s Program” Emmy nomination until 2011, for its tenth season. (I don’t know whether the show didn’t become eligible until that yeaor what. It’s Canadian-produced, so that might have been thing that prevented it from competing during its earlier acclaimed years). They were nominated for one of the greatest episodes of television to cover transgenderism “My Body is a Cage.” They won a Peabody for that episode, but criminally lost the Emmy to some HBO special where celebrities read poetry. Besides one year, they’ve been nominated every year since then. So, there’s a very high chance they’ll get a nomination this year, but they’re also capable of being snubbed. This year has been so great for the show. They not only deserve another nomination, but this could be the year they finally win.

2016 Emmys FYC #2 (Amazon Originals)

It’s that time again! That’s right. It’s Emmy season. And ballots for most of the major categories have been released to the public. For the next few weeks, I will be discussing and making pleas for some of the “children,” family, and youth programs from the 2015-2016 season that I believe deserve a shot an Emmy. I’ll also, of course, predict whether these programs even have a chance in the first place. 

gortimer

After its success with Transparent, it looks like Amazon is ramping up its Emmy campaign this year, most notably in regards to two of its children’s series. While Annedroids was submitted for Daytime Emmy consideration (and received a bunch of nominations as a result), Amazon (or the producers/TPTB) has decided to submit Gortimer Gibbon’s Life on Normal Street and Just Add Magic for Primetime Emmy consideration. Since, unlike with the Daytime Emmys, there are fewer categories exclusively for “Children’s Programming” (really, just one category), the actors, directors and writers from both those shows are being submitted in categories that more “adult” comedy series would also be submitting. So, for example, in regards to Gortimer Gibbon‘s, Sloane Morgan Siegel is submitted as a Lead Actor in a Comedy Series, while his co-stars Ashley Boettcher and Drew Justice are submitted in the supporting categories. Meanwhile, Lost alum Elizabeth Mitchell submitted as a Guest Actress for her performance in the season 2 standout “Mel vs. the Future.” Likewise, the six actresses (half teens, half adult) that make up the cast of Just Add Magic also submitted in the categories that have been dominated by the likes of Julia Louis-Dreyfuss and Allison Janney. The programs themselves are, of course, being submitted in the “Children’s Program” category.

It’s a fun gamble on Amazon’s part. It’s also unexpected. Children’s programs don’t usually get recognition outside their designated category. There are a few exceptions. Alfre Woodard received an Emmy nomination in 1990 for her performance in the “Children’s Program” A Mother’s Courage: The Mary Thomas Story. The next year, the Disney Channel movie Mark Twain and Me won the Children’s Program category and its director Daniel Petrie received a Directing in a TV Movie or Miniseries nomination. The Kevin Sullivan produced programs Avonlea and Anne of Green Gables also received recognition both in and out the Children’s program category. And, of course, Kenny Ortega received a surprise Directing nomination for High School Musical (he won an Emmy for choreography). So, it’s not impossible for a Children’s Series to break though…but, again, it’s a gamble. I remember almost a decade ago when Miley Cyrus submitted herself in the Lead Comedy Actress category for Hannah Montana. She actually received a little buzz, but didn’t even make the shortlist (that was the year when the Emmys had “shortlists.”) Disney Channel (and Nickelodeon) submit its programs for Emmy consideration, but not their actors. Dove Cameron and Laura Marano probably choose to submit for themselves, considering none of their co-stars show up on the ballots.

But if there’s a “children’s program” that deserves to “break out” of the Children’s Program category, it’s Gortimer Gibbon‘s. It is currently the best looking children’s show on television. And its season two finale “Gortimer, Ranger And Mel Vs. The Endless Night”(which is submitted in both the Directing and Writing” categories) remains one of the best half hours of television this season. Ashley Boettcher’s performance in “Mel vs. the Future” (the episode where her character’s mother unexpectedly dies) is heartbreaking. She’d make my top six in the Supporting Actress category. Even Just Add Magic, a wonderful show based off the book about three girls who concoct magic recipes, is pretty close to Gortimer’s quality. I wish the Primetime Emmys, like the Daytime Emmys or even the Canadian Screen Awards, respected children’s television more and offered separate categories for the performers, writers and directors of this genre. But, in my opinion, the performers, writers and directors of these Amazon Originals can stand by the ones who make more general television. So, Emmy voters, open your mind, get an Amazon Prime subscription, and actually be unpredictable for once!

What are the chances?

Well, hopefully, GG and JAM will at least get nominated in the Children’s Program category. Both shows have a good chance. Just Add Magic is apparently Amazon’s most popular Kids program. Sometimes, I think voters just choose shows their grandchildren are watching (mixed in with an important HBO doc and the token Nick News special). Maybe they’re watching Just Add Magic. Meanwhile, Gortimer Gibbon’s has had a pretty successful awards run this year so far, winning the Humanitas and the Writers Guild Award. It was also the only series (not special) to get a Director’s Guild nomination. There isn’t another children’s show that’s received more acclaim this year…but, Amazon is still pretty new to the Emmy race. An “online series” has never received a nomination in the Children’s category (although they haven’t existed for very long). I hope hope hope the recognition from the guilds is enough to give Gortimer Gibbon’s an edge. But, again, with Nick News and HBO guaranteed at least a spot each (and Degrassi also most likely in the mix), Amazon will have to compete with Disney Channel for those remaining two slots.

2016 Emmys FYC #1 (HBO Docs for Kids)

my depression

It’s that time again! That’s right. It’s Emmy season. And ballots for most of the major categories have been released to the public. For the next few weeks, I will be discussing and making pleas for some of the “children,” family, and youth programs from the 2015-2016 season that I believe deserve a shot an Emmy. I’ll also, of course, predict whether these programs even have a chance in the first place. 

This year, HBO submitted two programs for the “Outstanding Children’s Program” category. The first is the fourth part of the Saving My Tomorrow series, directed by multi-Emmy/DGA winner Amy Schatz. This installment discusses everything from climate change (which is definitely real) to plastic bags in the ocean to protecting wildlife habitats to more sustainable energy sources (wind, sun, for example). It features interviews from some really smart kids, and musical performances from some really talented kids (and also pros like Willie Nelson and They Might Be Giants). It’s well-made, well edited, and moves along at a pace where children watching probably wouldn’t get too restless or bored.

However, it’s the other HBO program, My Depression (The Up and Down and Up of It), that touched me more. The thirty minute animated special is based off Elizabeth Swados’ picture book My Depression, where she discusses her own personal struggle with depression. Swados was a Broadway musical composer, most known for creating the Tony nominated musical Runaways, a show that featured a mostly young cast. She was also involved in this TV project, credited for co-writing and directing the special. It’s a little strange that it’s billed as a “documentary” since it’s 100% animation and features an all star voice cast (Sigourney Weaver playing the voice of Liz). Nonetheless, whatever you call it, it’s a really profound, yet simple, look at a complicated disorder. Although maybe not originally intended, this program can act as a really great “starter” program for any young person who is curious about depression. The program features original music (composed by Dave Nelson and Swados); and the animation is clean and effective. It is submitted as a Children’s program, but it’s also submitted in the Non-Fiction Writing and Directing categories. Swados unfortunately passed away in January to cancer; a posthumous Emmy nomination would be a nice way of honoring her.

What are the chances?

HBO, of course, has become a major Emmy player. HBO received its first nomination in Children’s category in 1991, and has pretty much gotten nominated every year since then, winning more times than not. It won in 2014 for the wonderful documentary about a grief camp for children, and it also won last year for the less stellar Alan Alda Masterclass. It’d be a surprise if HBO didn’t get a nomination this year. Last year, Saving My Tomorrow didn’t receive a nomination, but this year it’s not competing against a Masterclass special. Saving My Tomorrow seems more accessible to Emmy voters than the animated program about depression. However, whether its in voice over, music, or the directing and writing categories, I’d be surprised (and disappointed) if My Depression is left out of the party.

Guild Awards Recognize Children’s Television

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Here’s a pop quiz: What do the Writers Guild Awards, the Directors Guild Awards, and the Humanitas Prize have in common? They all nominated Gortimer Gibbon’s Life on Normal Street for their Children’s Program categories. It is the only show this year to gain this distinction. If you’ve watched the series, it’s very easy to see why. For all the recent bellyaching I’ve done about the current state of youth television, I did overlook a show that is pretty much doing everything right. Gortimer Gibbon’s, which is currently available through Amazon Video, is a show about three friends and their encounters with the strange stuff that happens in their community (“Normal Street”). The show is speculative (which has never been my favorite umbrella genre of fiction), but it’s also grounded and simple. The show features real issues that all teens go through, just with little touches of fantasy, mystery, and sci fi here and there. It’s similar to the unfairly cancelled Spooksville, but, admittedly, that was a show I admired and appreciated more than genuinely enjoyed. In my opinion, Gortimer Gibbon’s is my probably  favorite speculative children’s series since…Phil of the Future? (a two-season series that Disney cancelled for the awful Cory in the House almost ten years ago). The difference is that while Phil of the Future played for laughs, Gortimer Gibbon’s is never afraid of being dramatic and displaying raw emotion from the characters. Really, there are moments that straight up make me cry (yes, I’m talking about “Mel vs. the Future”).

Along with the stories, the writing, and the A+ performances, this show has terrific technical credits. I’ve made this point before, but it’s refreshing that while Disney and Nickelodeon are mostly filming their series with multi-camera to save money, children’s series like Gortimer Gibbon’s and CBS’s The Inspectors are taking advantage of the power of single camera. Single camera looks better, and gives more storytelling opportunities. The world doesn’t have a fourth wall inhabited by a live audience. Single camera just looks and feels more real, and I’m so glad Gortimer Gibbon‘s invests in that realness, while other shows that use visual effects like Liv and Maddie and The Haunted Hathaways inexplicably don’t. Along with the cinematography — the editing, the MUSICAL SCORE, and the animated sequences are all top notch. I can’t get enough of this show. It’s pretty much “hit or hit.”

The show was created by David Anaxagoras. Luke Matheny, who won an Oscar a few years ago for Short Film (I remember him for his hair during that Oscar ceremony) also executive-produces the show. It stars Sloane Morgan Siegel as Gortimer Gibbon, along with the Emmy nominated Robyn Lively as his mom, and Drew Justice and Ashley Boettcher, who play his best friends. The show premiered in 2014 and its second season premiered last fall. The final season will air spring of this year. I really wish this show wasn’t ending (couldn’t we follow the characters through high school?) But I trust that Amazon will continue to invest in high quality live-action children’s television.

Anyway, this post is really supposed to be about the children’s programs nominated for the WGA, DGA, PGA, and Humanitas. Let’s start with the PGA’s because that group is the lamest.

Producers Guild of America Nominees for Outstanding Children’s Program:

1. Doc McStuffins
2. The Fairly Oddparents
3. The Octonauts
4. Sesame Street
5. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
6. Toy Story That Time Forgot

Hm…it seems like the voters pretty much nominated shows their grandkids watch on Saturday morning. They seem to think children’s television only includes cartoons and preschool shows. I have all the respect in the world for Sesame Street. And any show that tells little black girls they can be doctors is tops in my book. But, really, I don’t care who wins here. I didn’t even realize Fairly OddParents was making new episodes. For the sake of fairness, I think I’d want Doc McStuffins to win, but Sesame Street will most likely win again. Winner will be announced Jan. 23.

Writers Guild of America Nominees for Children’s Episodic 

1. Gortimer Gibbon’s Life on Normal Street (“Gortimer, Ranger and Mel vs. The Endless Night”) – Gretchen Enders and Aminta Goyel
2. Girl Meets World (“Girl Meets I am Farkle”)
3. Gortimer Gibbon’s Life on Normal Street (“Gortimer and the Surprise Signature”) – Garrett Frawley and Brian Turner
4. Gortimer Gibbon’s Life on Normal Street (“Gortimer vs The Relentless Rainbow of Joy”) – David Anaxagoras and Luke Matheny
5. Gortimer Gibbon’s Life on Normal Street (“Ranger and The Fabled Flower of Normal Street”) – Laurie Parres

This is the second year in a row the writers have nominated one episode of Girl Meets World with multiple episodes of another show. Last year, Girl Meets World was beaten by Haunted Hathaways (a show Nickelodeon ended, probably because they realized that kid ghosts can’t age). This year, Girl Meets World might actually win, with a relatively profound episode that deals with the possibility of Farkle having Asperger’s. However, I think Gortimer Gibbon’s is the stronger show, and any of the episodes represented would be more deserving of the win. These episodes center around dealing with the death of a parent, “estranged” fathers, and respecting the earth. However, if I had a choice, I’d give it to “Gortimer and the Surprise Signature” because the episode’s astute comparisons between alienation and being a ghost are really refreshing and poignant, even if it’s not as emotional and gut wrenching as the others in this category. Winner will be announced Feb. 13.

The Writers Guild also has a separate category for “long form” television, which means “TV movies.” For some strange reason, the writer’s guild rarely finds television films worthy of this category. Last year, there were no nominees or winners. This year, only the Disney movie Descendants (Josann McGibbon and Sara Parriott) received a nomination…which means it pretty much won…unless there’s something I don’t know. I feel like a year that gave us Bad Hair Day and Teen Beach 2 should be honored with more nominees. Oh well! Good for them!

Directors Guild of America Nominees for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Children’s Programs

1. Invisible Sister – Paul Hoen
2. Sesame Street (“The Cookie Thief”) – Joey Mazzarino
3. Descendants – Kenny Ortega
4. Saving My Tomorrow (“Part 3”) – Amy Schatz
5. Gortimer Gibbon’s Life on Normal Street (“Gortimer and the Vengeful Violinist”) – Sasie Sealy

Once again, I am #teamGortimer. Gortimer Gibbon’s is beautifully directed, and this episode is no exception. It deals with Gortimer, haunted by the sounds of a daunting violin, finding the courage to tell his father the truth about his aspirations. Just watch it! It’s great. Sasie Sealy is the only first time nominee here. Paul Hoen and Amy Schatz are strong DGA favorites, having won multiple times before. Joey Mazzarino is nominated for the second year in a row for a clever and star filled Cookie Monster special. However, if I were making a prediction, I’d put my money on Ortega. Descendants was a big hit last year, and Ortega won his last DGA in this category for the first High School Musical movie. Winner will be announced Feb. 6.

Humanitas Prize Nominees for Children’s Live Action Television

1. Gortimer Gibbon’s Life on Normal Street (“Gortimer and the Surprise Signature”) – Garrett Frawley and Brian Turner
2. Gortimer Gibbon’s Life on Normal Street (“Ranger and the Legend of Pendragon’s Gavel”) – Gretchen Enders
3. Liv and Maddie (“Rate-a-Rooney”) – Jennifer Keene

OK…I’ll stop salivating over Gortimer Gibbon’s. Earlier, I threw a little shade at Liv and Maddie; but the truth is, the show is occasionally well written with great performances, particularly from Dove Cameron who pulls a Hayley Mills here, and the always hilarious Kali Rocha, who plays the mom. This episode is about the senior boys at Liv and Maddie’s school who rate the girls in school online. It’s not the most unique story line, but the episode ends with an original song that freshens things up a bit. Meanwhile, “Ranger and the Legend of Pendragon’s Gavel” is a political allegory that will probably be written about in college students’ theses for years to come. Once again, “Gortimer and the Surprise Signature” should win, and this time I actually think the show has a chance…unless the show splits votes. I don’t know. I don’t know how voting works here. Winner will be announced Feb. 11.

And So It Goes: A Farewell to Nick News

nick news

I have to admit, when I was a little kid during the nineties, I had very little patience for “dramatic” television. Until Degrassi came in to my life, the only things I watched on television were cartoons featuring colorful characters and adolescent comedies that most likely utilized a laugh track (or a live audience). So, every Sunday night, when my Rugrats marathon was being interrupted by this lady named Linda Ellerbee, I sighed. However, I didn’t change the channel. The reason being that my parents disliked me watching TV Sunday nights, so something educational like Nick News being on was a way I could convince my parents to let me watch the tube for thirty minutes (this of course didn’t always work but, still, I tried). Even though, at sixseveneight, Nick News was really my first exposure to television news, I couldn’t appreciate that fact at the time. Nick News may not be the type of show that the targeted audience will rush downstairs to watch, but it’s a show that once kids get past the fact they aren’t watching their favorite cartoon characters, they become invested and curious and maybe even a bit more tuned in to the real world. It’s a show that parents and educators should have encouraged their students to watch, and if Wikipedia is correct about Nick News’ consistently high ratings, that may have been the case.

Nick News has won a boatload of awards, including both Daytime and Primetime Emmys; it won six straight Emmys for Outstanding Children’s Program from 2007 to 2013. It won three Peabodys during the mid 90’s and has been honored with a couple Critics Awards. However, these critical and industry achievements are sort of in contrast to this show’s IMDB and TV.com ratings. Now, I think IMDB ratings are useless, but that’s another story for another time (maybe February 30th 2017). But there’s also a Facebook page dedicated to people who disliked Nick News for…well, the same reason I stated above. It interrupted our cartoon schedule. And that may be the reason for the low user scores: Angry millennials who remember changing the channel to Cartoon Network when Nick News came on. However, there is another reason, probably more significant. Nick News was never afraid of taking risks and talking about real, relevant issues. The show didn’t sugarcoat or lie or hide. The show was focused on discussing the current events we’d maybe see in an episode of 60 Minutes and packaging the issue in a way a ten year old would understand. From HIV/AIDS to the war on terror to same sex parents, the show wasn’t afraid.

Some adults felt (and still feel) that topics like these should be left off a children’s television network. That children should be shielded from these controversial topics until they’re older. The thing is though, all the topics that Nick News covered on the show, at least 99% of the time, had some relevance to children. I mean, there are children living with HIV. There are children whose parents are overseas fighting in the war. And, yes, there are children who are part of nontraditional families. Surely, if the kids featured in these stories can deal with these issues, I think the average kid in the suburbs can as well, at least for 22 minutes. These complaints by mostly well meaning adults is the reason why children’s television nowadays can come across as a bit juvenile. Some time, after the nineties, we’ve decided that television geared towards pre-teens should shield children from real world problems. That these issues are too “adult” for youngins. This has affected our dramatic television. Afterschool specials (which, seriously, weren’t as corny as people like to think they were) are extinct, and Disney Channel and Showtime no longer produce high quality, dramatic television specials for “all ages.” (like The Color of Friendship or Bang Bang You’re Dead). Fortunately, for society, a newsmagazine like Nick News stood standing in a world where conservative parental groups write a damning press release every time a television exec dares to be relevant, progressive, and challenging (Good Luck Charlie featuring a two-mom family in one episode comes to mind).

And, yes, another reason Nick News received flack was that it tended to be more progressive, at least for a show aimed towards 9 to 16 year olds. Last year, Nick News had a program titled “Coming Out” about gay preteens and teenagers. We’ve come a long way in this country when it comes to LGBT rights. Even though gay people now have marriage rights that came about 20 years too late, homosexuality is still a taboo subject, particularly when it comes to children. Many parents do not want to talk about gay people with their children because they see it as being inappropriate. I don’t know about you, but kids were calling each other “gay” when I was in elementary school. I didn’t learn about homosexuality from my parents, but from kids on the playground, and these kids didn’t have really nice things to say about it. And that’s probably true for the majority of kids across this country. If you don’t want your child to grow up a bigot, you have to talk about these “types of people” with them at an early age. If a ten year old can handle the overwhelming amount of heterosexuality that fills our TV and movie screens, our magazines and ads, and our music, surely they can handle the idea that sometimes two dudes just want to live happily together. Yet, homosexulaity is mostly absent from youth television because of these misguided fears about sex. As in, “I don’t want to talk to my kids about homosexaulity, because I don’t want talk to them about sex.”

So, it was so refreshing seeing a special about gay kids on Nickelodeon (one that steered away from a sex talk). If one kid came out of that special a little more open-minded, or more comfortable with who he or she is, then the special did its job. This year, Nick News did a story on kids living Cuba. The idea might seem harmless and uncontroversial, but within this special we actually heard kids talk about and even defend…gasp!…communism. In a world where the mere mention of “socialism” draws gasps and scoffs, we have a special where kids are finally able to tell their side of the story about this controversial fiscal ideology.

Now, if you’ve made it this far, I don’t want you to think that I’m some militant social justice warrior who believes kids shouldn’t be kids. Of course, childhood should be filled with happiness, but it should also be filled with wonder, skepticism, and some knowledge of the world we live in today. If we want our Generation “what comes after Z” to grow up into successful adults, they have to learn how to be accepting, and face the fact that the world isn’t perfect, or even fair, all the time. Nick News strove to do that, and I am thankful that Nickelodeon always gave Nick News the chance to educate the youth of America.

Nick News with Linda Ellerbee had its last episode tonight. It was mostly clipshow highlighting the show’s most memorable moments and stories. Nick News premiered in 1992 with Linda Ellerbee, a host who had worked on both ABC and NBC; she was known for her humor and slightly quirky on-screen persona. The program began as a weekly show, that also aired during the daytime. However, during the last decade or so, it’s mostly aired primetime specials every other month, from topics about the caste system in India, to Alcoholism, to Terminal Illnesses, and a controversial, yet highly rated episode about same sex couples (that presents viewpoints from Rosie O’Donnell and conservative figure Jerry Falwell alike). In a world where people can get their news quickly from the internet, Nick News public presence has declined in its last years. In fact, there are many people my age who were surprised to find out that the show was still on the air. Nick News was a quiet show. Besides a few online press releases, many of the major entertainment sites never really announced when Nick News had a new episode (if they did, these announcements certainly wouldn’t make it to the homepage). Yet, believe it or not, Nick News was still a powerful and insightful show in the year 2015.

Nick News has presumably ended after 25 years on the air, and Ellerbee is retiring after over forty years in the reporting business. Although, if a really big news story comes up, I hope Ellerbee won’t hesitate to pull a “Barbara Walters” and create another “Special Edition.” In fact, even if this is the end of Nick News, I hope and pray that Nickelodeon still finds time to produce a documentary special here and there. HBO (with Sheila Nevins and co.) can’t be the last cable channel to make high quality award worthy specials for young people. Their specials are really good, but they don’t have the rawness and sense of urgency that Nick News had. I truly believe there is still a place for this type of edutainment on television. Nick News bowed out tonight with grace…but I hope this isn’t the last we see news on Nick. 

Thank you, Linda Ellerbee, for telling the sixseveneight year old me that there’s more to this world than talking babies and totally real monsters. You taught me about the  real world. And if I didn’t appreciate it then, I certainly appreciate it now.