The Children’s Program category in the Primetime Emmys has been filled and won by harmless Nickelodeon and Disney Channel comedies the last two years. And before that, regularly (and deservedly so) won by Linda Ellerbee’s Nick News specials.
But this year, there’s something different in the mix of comedies and musical movies. Cartoon Network presented their first two original live-action series in Unnatural History and Tower Prep, both of which a breath of fresh air in what has become a field of fluff.
Cartoon Network’s first effort was Unnatural History, a series focused on Henry Griffin, a teen moving to a Washington D.C. high school after growing up with his globetrotting anthropologist parents and the mysteries he uncovers at the connected National Museum. The series successfully mixed humor with the mysteries of the nation’s greatest treasures and history as well as the everyday navigation of high school life.
But it was the network’s 2nd series that really broke the walls of children’s programming convention. Tower Prep told the story of Ian Archer, a regular teen who suddenly wakes up and finds himself trapped at the secluded school where he finds he, like all the students there, has unique abilities.
It began its first season as a promising mystery and finished as an ambitious, intriguing and thought provoking thriller. It challenged the norm and broke down what have become very constrictive walls in the children’s programming arena.
A series that can be enjoyed by children of all ages.
After having caught up with the series in March, I had this to say about the series, saying Tower Prep should be the gold standard in children’s programming:
After catching up with the series’ last nine episodes of the season in just two nights of viewing (finally), I was left in awe and disbelief.
In awe at how thoroughly engrossing the series became and in disbelief that there aren’t any series anywhere close to the ambition of Tower Prep.
I did not expect… no, I actually never dreamed a scripted children’s program like Tower Prep could ever exist.
Not only is it a show I wish other children’s and teens programs would be like, Tower Prep is a show I wish most “grown up” shows were like.
Ambitious, ready to break down the walls of its own genre, demo, and target audience. Like any television series, it’ll have its flaws, but Tower Prep developed week after week; its story moving with a brisk pace, peppered with both questions and answers as well as plenty of action and adventure to keep you along for the ride.
A chapter in a lesson on how to write an intricate mystery with bits and pieces of humor and high school angst thrown in. Seemingly inspired by series like Lost and The Prisoner (creator Paul Dini was a writer on Lost), Tower Prep made for a rewarding experience for all ages.
[Tower Prep realizes] the youngins these days aren’t dumb, both able to reach audiences of all ages.
Sadly Tower Prep‘s first season ratings keep it on the bubble today and whether or not ambitious genre/target audience-busting series are commercially viable can fill up a whole other post.
But Tower Prep, artistically and creatively, is very sound and more than deserving of a second season. Well-written story, great cast, twists and turns, intriguing, exciting, action-packed… and one hell of a cliffhanger.
If only other television series, especially those aimed at teens and below, opened their minds, expanded their horizons so to speak, and thought out of the box instead of squeezing into a crowded old carton. Us viewers would be pretty spoiled… and deservedly so.
The official Academy description for the Children’s Program category reads: “For a fictional entertainment program designed for children (ages 2-16) in any format. The program’s target audience is the child but does not preclude family viewing.”
Tower Prep more than fits that description. While designed for children, the series was and is more than accessible for the entire family.
A script tighter than most primetime series, an incredibly engaging story, a talented young cast; Tower Prep is one of a kind. The series more than does its part to stand out and above the rest of its peers and it has effortlessly made a case for strong, legitimate Emmy consideration.