Univision will be fined $24 million by the Federal Communications Commission -- easily the most ever for an individual company -- for putting up a soap opera in 2004, "Complices al Rescate" ("Friends to the Rescue"), about two identical children who swapped identities after discovering they have been separated at birth.
The network had submitted this show to cover its requirement of three hours a week of kids' educational programming.
There was an easy tell-tale sign that blew Univision's cover: Eighty percent of the advertising in the show was targeted to adults. Critics also say the plots were obviously adult-oriented themes typical of many Spanish-language and English-language soap operas.
The network refuted this by noting that: "A significant purpose and key educational objective of this program is to illustrate how friendship, love and kindness can help overcome life's adversities." That explanation could apply to any show -- as well as virtually any English-language sitcom, or drama, or even reality show. By this argument, '"Wife Swap" on ABC could qualify as kids' educational programming.
We are not looking to judge exactly what is "educational" to kids, because that's a difficult piece of the bigger TV puzzle. Entertainment value also needs to be considered. Is a show too preachy, just plain dull, or worst, stupid? If that's the case, I'd rather a station just run a static shot of video at a zoo, or a sunset.
Of course, not too many commercials would be sold -- and that's the point. As soon as commercialism comes into the picture, it becomes that much harder to offer up a good lesson.
The Children's Television Act of 1996 came after some TV stations were found to be using "The Flintstones" and "The Jetsons" for their educational requirements -- animated shows that had good family men in charge but not much else.
What hasn't been mentioned in all of this is the key factor of viewership, which should be considered the next time TV stations offer up a flimsy argument when trying to sell a bill of goods. Or, just maybe, a network will get low ratings for a kids-targeted educational show because it was just plain bad -- kids turned it off, and so did advertisers. That's a good lesson all the way around.