Why it's Crunch time for children's breakfast television

Nickelodeon has handed over control of its breakfast show to its audience, Ian Burrell reports
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Those of us who wasted precious childhood hours enduring the likes of Timmy "I'm utterly brilliant" Mallett or the less than fandabidozi Krankies might well consider that even at the age of 10 they could have done a better job of making kids' TV themselves.

Future generations may get the chance to do just that. After 11 years of producing television for the nine-to-13-year-old demographic, Nickelodeon in the UK has finally woken up to the notion that children might not be as impressed with the puerile behaviour of ludicrously attired adults as was previously believed. The station has chosen to give children various production roles in the making of a programme that it hopes will change the face of breakfast television. Nickelodeon executives believe The Crunch will fill a gap in the current early-morning schedules by offering children their own equivalent of the traditional breakfast-television format.

John Donaldson, its director of programming, says that The Crunch is the first step towards children having control over scripting, filming and presenting shows. "We need to give control over to them. They don't care what the adults think."

According to Donaldson, the familiarity of children with the latest mobile phone and television technology is a good reason why young audiences could, and should, be given the opportunity of influencing the content of the programmes they watch. "That is where the future of kids' television lies. Kids are used to texting and interactive TV. There should be a time when they can dictate what goes into a show and what guests are interviewed," he says.

Donaldson, who worked on Channel 4's Big Breakfast, thinks that children deserve their own version of that kind of show. "On breakfast TV at the moment there's no other channel that allows kids to have this amount of freedom," he says. "The philosophy of Nickelodeon is that kids are at the heart of everything. It's not just a tokenistic thing."

During an edition of The Crunch filmed last week, Holly Gibbons, 10, from Leigh-on-Sea in Essex, was able to perform the role of sound engineer. The experience may not have convinced Holly that she has a future as a sound technician; she was assigned a yellow contraption with four large red buttons, each capable of replicating various bodily noises. Nevertheless, her efforts were broadcast and these are early days, both for Holly and The Crunch project.

Luke Edwards, also 10, from Kenton, north-west London, seemed to enjoy his experience as a runner, even more so when he got to stuff platefuls of food down the front of his T-shirt as part of the show's finale. "Very great" was his verdict, and a future career in the industry is a distinct possibility "because I want to be famous".

Another lad, called Brandon, actually got to wield a small camera (the "kidcam", as it is known on the set). The young cameraman's efforts, which were shown on air, were regrettably curtailed when he started to vomit and departed the set clutching a large bowl.

The Crunch, which first aired on 10 Januaryand hopes eventually to find a pint-sized version of Johnny Vaughan and Denise van Outen, claims it will be the real deal.

"This is the early stage of being able to give more over to the people who watch the show," says Donaldson. "Shows will evolve, so that later the kids have complete control and people like me in the gallery will be redundant, because they'll make all the decisions from the floor."

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