It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year… For Family TV
By Melissa Henson
Trying to find something wholesome and entertaining enough for the whole family to watch together is not just challenging these days, it’s nigh impossible.
Except during the holidays.
From late October to the end of December there is a wealth of family-friendly viewing options. Not just on the broadcast networks, but on cable, too. And those run the gamut from decades-old seasonal animated favorites like A Charlie Brown Christmas and How the Grinch Stole Christmas, to classic Rankin and Bass Claymation specials like The Year Without a Santa Claus, and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, to cinematic classics from Hollywood’s Golden Age like Miracle on 34th Street, and It’s a Wonderful Life. You can also find modern-day favorites like Home Alone, and The Santa Clause and over on Hallmark, there’s a whole month’s worth of sweet, sentimental original programming.
For those who don’t celebrate Christmas, there’s also a wide selection of non-seasonal family-friendly entertainment options during this time of year, like Pixar movies, live productions of favorite Broadway musicals and the Kennedy Center Honors.
For a busy parent, this abundance of family-friendly programming might lull you into a false sense of security. You might be tempted to plop the kids down in front of the TV while you finish your gift-wrapping, holiday baking or decorating, or the thousand-and-one other things that need to get done before the holidays. Unfortunately, in this current media climate, a parent can’t safely let their guard down, even for a moment. Here are a few tips for navigating Holiday entertainment with young ones.
1. Watch out for those ad breaks
Every year Freeform (Formerly ABC Family) runs a 25-day marathon of holiday programming starting on December 1st. But while the cartoons, movies and specials they are airing during the marathon might be perfectly clean and family-friendly, the original series they promote during the ad breaks are often decidedly not. Much of their original content is hyper-sexualized tween/teen fare and the ads often play-up the soapy drama and relationship angst that characterize these series. Compounding the problem, those inappropriate promos are also often interspersed with junk food, candy and toy ads – a double-whammy for parents.
If you own a DVR, this is a great time to put it to use to skip past the ad breaks.
2. Pre-screen new Holiday specials before letting your child watch
Cashing-in on the box-office success of the Trolls movie, last year NBC rolled-out Trolls Holiday. If you just set your kids down in front of the TV, relying on this special to be kid-appropriate and family-friendly, you might be surprised to learn that this cute cartoon designed for kids included pixilated nudity of one of the troll characters (his genital area was blurred) followed by several troll characters being “bleeped,” as though they were using profanity.
Some new holiday specials are destined to become modern-day classics; and might even make it into your rotation of go-to specials you look forward to watching and re-watching every year – but some you’d do better to skip entirely. The only way to know is to pre-screen new cartoons and specials before letting your kids watch.
3. Don’t Just Binge, Record Your Favorite Programs and Space-Out the Viewing.
By the middle of January this family programming oasis will turn again into a desert, and you’ll be hard-pressed to find something you’d feel comfortable letting your kids watch. So rather than binge-watching everything that’s available now – especially when there are so many other activities and events to keep your kids entertained and distracted — DVR some of your favorites so you have something you can watch together in January and beyond, when the networks again forget about family audiences and entertainment options are slim.
4. Remind the Networks That You Are There All Year
In their mania to appear young and hip and to appeal to millennial viewers, networks conveniently forget about the family they were so eager to court during the holidays. This is especially true during “sweeps” seasons (November, February and May), when ratings data is collected so the networks can set their ad rates. If you are a Nielsen family – use this opportunity to show the networks that you value family-programming. And if you aren’t a Nielsen family, try reaching out to the networks or your local broadcast affiliates to let them know that you want to see more family-friendly entertainment throughout the year.
It is a wonderful time of year for family, and a wonderful time to make memories – even if it means just relaxing and watching a holiday special together.
A noted expert on entertainment industry trends, Melissa Henson is the program director for the Parents Television Council, a nonpartisan education organization advocating responsible entertainment. (www.ParentsTV.org)