If you’re up in the middle of the night with a sick kid who can’t sleep, or you want something educational for your child to watch on a weeknight, here’s a bit of good news.
Starting Monday, Jan. 16, Arizona parents will be able to turn on a 24/7 PBS Kids Channel, featuring educational programming for children. The station is also hosting a free Arizona PBS Kids Festival celebrating the new channel’s debut from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. that day.
“Our goal is not for children to watch more television, but to watch more quality television,” says Linda Simensky, vice president of children’s programming for PBS, who was in Phoenix to talk about the launch of Arizona PBS Kids. Most PBS markets will be picking up the additional 24-hour PBS Kids channel, which will not affect current programming on the main PBS station.
Simensky’s job is to find programming for children, develop it, produce it and get it on the air. She worked at Nickelodeon for nine years and was senior vice president of original animation for Cartoon Network. But when she became a mom and moved to PBS, the quest to provide creative and inspiring children’s shows took hold for good.
Her son, Ethan, is 16, and her daughter, Sara, is 11. Simensky says they’ve been “enormous assets” in making her think like a parent instead of a TV executive; she started watching shows differently when her son was born.
“It gave me a lot of ideas as to what they should be creating for preschool programming,” she says. “What I noticed was that my son was very interested in things that there were not shows about, like science and space. I started working on finding a space show, and of course, when I did and worked on it, he was 15 (before “Ready, Jet, Go” finally premiered). He said, ‘Thanks, Mom.’ He was a little old for it by then.”
The 24/7 channel will not start off with new programming that isn’t already on PBS; it simply will provide it at different times and continuously. Parents will find such current PBS favorites as “Sesame Street,” “Curious George,” “The Cat in the Hat,” “Odd Squad,” “Peg + Cat” and “Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood” on the 24/7 channel.
Simensky likes to imagine parents who are up in the middle of the night comforting a sick child tuning in to Arizona PBS Kids, or tuning in during the early evening and on weekends, which are big viewing times for children.
“We know that kids will watch TV,” Simensky says, “but our goal is, when kids do watch TV, there’s something beneficial and positive for them to watch.”
One area where you can see she’s made her mark on PBS children’s programs is humor for kids.
“The humor that I look for is different than what’s on other kids shows.” Simensky says. “I’m looking for PBS to really build smart, funny humor — not mean, not rude, no eye-rolling, nothing where parents or teachers look stupid. Funny in a supportive, smart way.”
Other elements to be found on the 24/7 channel will include PBS specials and such shows as “Clifford the Big Red Dog” from the archives. An interactive gaming component is expected to launch by mid-2017.
You will find Arizona PBS Kids on digital Channel 8.4. The programming will be available via Cox Communications, but the channel placement is yet to be determined. PBS Kids also will be live-streamed on several platforms, including azpbs.org/kids, pbskids.org and on the PBS Kids video app.
Arizona PBS Kids Festival
Arizona PBS and ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication are inviting Arizona families to celebrate the January launch at a free Arizona PBS Kids Festival from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday, Jan. 16. The event offers games, green-screen activities, a chance to see some Arizona PBS Kids programs and more at Arizona PBS, 555 N. Central Ave., Phoenix. Characters from “The Cat in the Hat,” “Clifford the Big Red Dog,” “Curious George” and “Daniel Tiger” will make appearances. For details, visit azpbs.org.