Just read a not-very-convincing bible for a SF show for 10-12-year-olds ("tweens"). Here are a few things missing from it:
a. a FEW compelling characters
We care about characters when they have problems and drives. If a kid is a student journalist, then we need to know why he's driven to find out the truth? Clarisse Starling wants to make the lambs stop screaming. Why does someone become a truth-seeker? Because truth was hidden from him early on, and it mattered. Say if a parent left suddenly.
Don't be afraid to go into the darkness of the character, even if it's a kid's show. Kid's shows are all about the darkness. What makes it a kid show is it's about kids, and you don't show violence and sex. But just because it's kids doesn't mean they don't want jeopardy and stakes. If your hero kids are uncovering a conspiracy, we need to know that there's some strong reason why they are willing to risk their lives to uncover it, something beyond curiosity. And they should
be risking their lives, not just risking "getting in trouble."
Harry Potter has someone who's trying to kill
him. Babe is going to be sliced into bacon if he fails -- his mother already was.
Too many characters is as bad as no characters at all. Tolstoy can have as many people as he likes in War and Peace
but this is a TV show. Who do we tune in every week to watch? Why do we tune in to watch them?
b. a focused template
Each episode, what happens? This needs to be something that can happen consistently every episode. The audience needs to know what they're going to tune in for.
Give us as little
information as we need to really get the show. Just as bad money drives out the good, unimportant information crowds out the important stuff.
d. don't confuse spectacle for story
Even when your science fiction story takes place on the asteroid belt (this one doesn't, so I'm not giving anything away) and everyone's wearing their own personal rocket pack, your stories are still about PEOPLE. No one is tuning in to a fiction show again and again to see personal rocket packs work. Partly that's because nothing you can do on a TV show will match spectacles like Star Wars I: The Phantom Menace.
But mostly it's because rocket packs don't touch people's hearts. Other people's hearts touch people's hearts.
A story is about:
a. a hero or heroes(we care about)
b. who have a problem, an opportunity or a vision (we care about)
c. who face an obstacle or antagonist, and/or their own flaws and/or an intimate opponent
d. if they succeed, their world will be better (in a way we care about) -- stakes
e. if they fail, they'll be worse off than they were -- jeopardy
Rocket packs can't compete. Human beings have been telling stories since we learned how to talk. If someone digs rocket packs, they're just going to buy a video game where they get to fly around with one. If you can rent the PS2 game Treasure Planet
(based on the movie, which had a good story with heart), and fly around yourself, why would you watch someone else fly around? Only if they're part of a story you care about.
I work in a slightly different pool from yours - European animation, for the most part - and I often run across broadcasters wanting kids to be the main characters, because the show happens to be for kids. The theory being that all kids want to see is themselves, I suppose.
(To the point where in one recent episode, which features a kid sort of traveling through time and space and thus having a completely different set of characters around her in every episode, we had a fairly satisfying mix of adventure, humour etc. - but then one of our broadcaster suggested that, while our main characters (the main kid and another older character) were rummaging around this castle, they should run into another kid, to make it more appealing to kids... That's right, completely stall the action, introduce a new character - just to get a kid into the show. It sure boggled my mind. Even more so since the star of the show is already a kid.)
But anyway, the thing is, when I grew up, all the shows I would watch and that appealed to my age group at, say 10-12, would star grown-ups: Star Trek, Bonanza, Six Million Dollar Man, Flintstones etc. - or a mixed bunch, a la Little House On The Prairie. - or it's just not an issue - say, The Pink Panther animated series.
Do you find much pressure from those capable of greenlighting a series for a younger audience to have the series have kids as main characters?
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