Call#: Van Pelt Library PN1992.77.S43 L4
The fifth chapter of Lesser’s book, titled “Production” discusses the nuts and bolts of how to get and sustain children’s attention using television that is both entertaining and educational. Many different techniques were researched and used in creating “Sesame Street,” including repetition, action, humor, anticipation, and variety in style. In particular, I would like to focus on his discussions on animation and music. Animation, he says, is useful because it can show things that are not naturally occurring or easy to film live. It can give life to abstract shapes, letters, or ideas, and it can strengthen the elements of suspense or surprise in a scene. It feels obvious that animation appeals to children, but Lesser was able to use documented research on children and television to prove it and explain why.
This same process applies to his discussion of music. Children drift in and out of full attention and focus when watching television, and auditory clues are signals to them of a change in scene or the entrance of a familiar character. These clues redirect their attention to what’s going on in the program. Children respond very differently to audio than adults, who just expect music to exist in the background of what they’re watching. Music is also an aid to memory when teaching a sequence of ideas like the alphabet, the days in the week, or the order of the months. Children will have a much easier time singing the alphabet than reciting it, because the song helps them remember the order. Producers often underestimate the number of sounds that children can differentiate. Lesser provides a list nearly a page long of sounds, showing that children can differentiate the sounds of all different kinds of emotions, or things as specific as “being-hot-in-the-sun music” and “being-cold-in-the-snow music.” (p. 105)
Sound itself can be used as a teaching device in place of words. Lesser provides an example of a Sesame Street character telling a story almost entirely in sound effects, but the message is communicated equally as well if not better than it would have been with dialogue. Music can also encourage children’s participation, from singing along with the words to getting up to dance to the music. It is important to remember when creating programs for children, though, that music must be integrated with visual movement on screen to be successful. Still visuals completely counteract any effect that music would have. This explains why Fantasia was so successful. Because of the visual motion paired with the symphony’s performance, viewers were much more likely to be attentive and interested for longer than if there had just been music without active visuals.
With all of this information, it is easy to see why musicals would be much more successful children’s entertainment than dialogue-driven stories without songs. Children are able to concentrate better, learn the words to songs, understand the emotion of a scene, and feel compelled to sing along when music is part of the experience. Kids watch movies over and over again, and knowing the songs is another reason to enjoy each viewing.