Educational Cable Outlet for Children Is Announced

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Two of the biggest names in children's television, Nickelodeon and Children's Television Workshop, paired up Tuesday to announce the creation of a noncommercial cable channel aimed at providing educational programming for kids between the ages of 2 and 14--including reruns of "Sesame Street."

The new network, to launch in January with the name Noggin, initially will feature repeats from both companies, ranging from CTW fare originally produced for public television, such as "3-2-1 Contact" and "Ghostwriter," to Nickelodeon's "Blue's Clues" and "Nick News."

Executives at both companies said that each will produce some original series for Noggin after its first year of operation.

David Britt, president of Children's Television Workshop, said that the company's contracts to produce new episodes of "Sesame Street" and other PBS series will not be affected by the joint venture. Similarly, first-run episodes of "Blue's Clues," "Gullah Gullah Island" and "Nick News" will continue on Nickelodeon.

Herb Scannell, president of Nickelodeon, the highly profitable cable network for children, said that at a time "when many television networks have abandoned their responsibility to do more than just entertain," the two companies are hoping "to make learning cool."

Nickelodeon executives view Noggin as a way to help drive cable operators to add new digital channels for their subscribers. The new channel will be the main component of a new, multi-channel digital package--including "The Suite," a collection of music channels from MTV and VH1--that will be offered to cable operators. Noggin also will be offered as a separate, basic-cable network.

Viacom, through its MTV Networks division, plans to start marketing the package next week at the annual convention of the National Cable Television Assn. in Atlanta.

For the Children's Television Workshop, the joint venture represents an opportunity to expand its programming and get into the network business. "Our two companies share common values," Britt said in an interview, "and we felt it was an economic necessity for us" to have ownership in a network.

Since last fall, broadcasters have been required by the Federal Communications Commission to provide at least three hours a week of educational programming for children. Nickelodeon and other cable programmers are not covered by the same public-interest requirement, and TV executives have complained that they are at a disadvantage in trying to hold children's attention against entertainment shows.

CBS is dropping CTW's "Ghostwriter" series from its children's lineup in favor of animated educational programming for next season, and Britt said that CTW has no deals for series with the other major commercial networks at this time. CTW, he said, has two new series in development for PBS, including "Dragon Tales," about children's emotional lives.

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