HBO Launches Spinoff With Pair of Excellent Kids' Shows

TIMES STAFF WRITER

If HBO's sneak peek Tuesday night at its two new kids' shows is any indication, the network's spinoff of a 24-hour HBO Family channel--officially launched today--is going to give tried-and-true PBS and Nickelodeon some real competition.

Both series--"A Little Curious," for preschoolers, and "Crashbox," for grade-school kids--are solidly educational and dynamite entertainment to boot. If one has an edge, though, it's "Crashbox," set for Mondays at 4 p.m.

Waggishly promoting logical thinking, this visual blast of a show takes viewers inside a machine whose gothic innards are made of metallic junk--wires, nuts and bolts, gears and levers--where offbeat little patchwork robots access smart and creative games.

A sampling: In "Skeleton Crew," a surly skeleton pirate uses his own bones to lay out math problems on his ship's deck. "KBOX Radio Scramble," hosted by a robot disc jockey, scrambles words ("chahadee"--"headache") for kids to figure out; clues are found in songs and announcements.

"Poop or Scoop," a video clip carnival game, has a sideshow barker trying to trip up viewers with animal facts or falsities. Viewers decide whether the info is just "poop" or "the real scoop."

"Word Shake," looking like an early talkie movie, has a French chef who stirs up nonsense phrases in his pot--"disturb honey" becomes "The Easter Bunny"; a mystery guest at "Haunted House Party" must be identified; in the first episode it's a historical figure.

Vocabulary game "Revolting Slob" features a truly disgusting bodysuit puppet in his abode. Tonight, Slob slobbers over his rotten baked beans, and an announcer asks if he is salivating, saluting or salvaging? Are his beans ransacked, rampant or rancid?

The pacing allows viewers time to think, and a review of correct answers follows each game, and repeats at the end.

"A Little Curious," which is set to run Mondays at 7:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m., helps preschoolers explore basic learning concepts. It features a creative blend of film clips, music and computer, traditional and stop-motion animation and an unusual cast of characters: Plush, a toy dog; Little Cup; Bob the Ball; Doris the Door; Pad and Pencil; String; and the Shoe Family--mom- and dad-type shoes, and sneakers and Mary Janes.

Tonight's preview episode puts the spotlight on "Loud, Soft, and Shake." The shoes do the Hokeypokey ("Shake yourself about"), Plush shakes an apple tree and gets more than he bargains for, and Little Cup makes a milkshake.

The Shoes tiptoe softly and do a soft shoe; tap dancers tap loudly; Doris the Door opens to show a loud electric drill and a roaring airplane taking off; and real kids have a feathery pillow fight.

Then Doris proves she's an "old softy," reminiscing about being a young door in the '40s--her animated image becomes part of a cheerful black-and-white film.

While there is a lot going on, the rhythm isn't frenetic and the tone is gentle. Music, too, is an outstanding component, starting with the theme song sung by the Manhattan Transfer.

* "A Little Curious" can be seen on Mondays at 7:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. on HBO Family. The network has rated it TV-Y (suitable for very young children). "Crashbox" is shown on HBO Family on Mondays at 4 p.m. The network has rated it TV-Y7 (suitable for children age 7 and older). The cable network will feature a special preview of both shows on HBO Tuesday night, "Curious" at 7 p.m. and "Crashbox" at 7:30 p.m.

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