”We’re trying to make television a much less passive experience,” says producer Karen Cooper of KTV (Saturdays, syndicated, check local listings), the half-hour news-entertainment show that moved into syndication in September after two years on cable’s CNBC network. The show, intended for 6-to-12-year- olds, offers a variety of segments — from Oprah-style audience debates on topics like whether schools should require pupils to pursue volunteer work, to ”Do It,” a project kids can work on after they’ve turned off the TV — that are designed to get viewers involved. KTV also features interviews, conducted by a team of reporters 11 to 14 years old, with such prominent figures as Civil War documentarian Ken Burns and author Alice Walker (The Color Purple).
Some of the topics that KTV guests and audiences have debated — such as the merits of Afrocentric schools and the pros and cons of marketing high-priced sneakers to inner-city kids — are relatively sophisticated for young viewers. ”We were a little bit afraid that we were going to get huge letter campaigns from parents saying you can’t expect kids to go up against these issues,” explains Cooper, who has a master’s degree in educational media from Columbia University. But as she sees it, ”No philosophical theory is worth its salt unless you can explain it to a child. The issues are scary and controversial, but the kids always have really amazing comments.”