Imitatable Behaviour – Eat, drink, and be wary!
Can a cartoon influence the way kids eat and drink? Beats me.
But apparently the kids’ TV networks of North America think so. Childhood obesity is a growing problem (so to speak). And network execs have dutifully adopted healthy eating initiatives to encourage viewers to make better food choices.
So take a moment to add eating and drinking to your imitatable behaviour check-list. The Standards & Practices people are paying attention to what you put in your characters’ mouths, even if some parents aren’t doing the same for their husky offspring.
Of course, it’s ironic. The episodes we write often end up sandwiched (mmm, sandwiches) between commercials for Happy Meals, snack foods, and kids’ cereals — part of a complete breakfast! (As an experiment, I randomly turned on a kids’ network. The commercial in progress was for Corn Pops and the very next one was for Honeycomb.) Yet we are called on more and more often to cut back on depictions of junk food consumption within the shows themselves.
Sometimes you can’t even get away with making fun of the issue. In “Great Bowls of Ricky,” an episode of Ricky Sprocket: Show Biz Boy (Studio B), the child star gets to design his own breakfast cereal. As a parody of kid-oriented cereals already on the market, I had Ricky and his friends suggesting all their favourite ingredients: raisins, mini-marshmallows, honey, cinnamon, and “a chocolate coating that turns your milk into chocolate milk so if you accidentally bring it up through your nose, it’ll smell good.” The note came back to make the cereal healthier! So the honey was cut and the chocolate coating was changed to strawberry coating.
I learned early on that anything that even looks like alcohol is also a no-no. I once had a character sipping a “fancy umbrella drink.” A note came back to make sure it didn’t read as an alcoholic beverage. So I changed it to sipping lemonade through a curly straw.
In the rush to jump on the healthy eating bandwagon, the occasional misstep is made. In one show I wrote, the dessert for a pizza-themed party was supposed to be an ice cream pizza with strawberry sauce, coconut and banana slices for toppings. In a later draft, I discovered that “ice cream” had been changed to “cream cheese.” It only hit me as I was thinking about this topic that cream cheese is higher in fat than and calories than the ice cream (unless it’s some yummy Haagen-Dazs.)
Mining comedy from characters who eat all the time is no longer in vogue. When I see “loves to eat” in a series bible, I know that’ll change by the time the series goes to air. The exception is if the character likes to eat something healthy. McMeer, a character on the preschool series Zigby, loves to eat mangos. But these days, junk food-loving characters are out of luck. Even Cookie Monster has had to learn that “Cookies Are A Sometimes Food.” Luckily for us, no one is monitoring our food and drink consumption. (But just in case, you may want to put duct tape over your webcam….)
“Hey, hey, hey! It’s Fat Albert!” This cartoon series may have done a generation of viewers a disservice by not showing the negative consequences of childhood obesity such as high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes.