On mapping the future of local entertainment and the need for Nigerian child stars

Investing in the tomorrow, starting with today

Dedicated programing for children has always been a genre in media and literature. But nothing has become as ubiquitous with children programming as the holy trinity of: Sesame Street and the children’s channels Nickelodeon and Disney.

As it is done elsewhere

Nickelodeon starts off with usually mature child actors from ages 14 and up, although they have younger actors. Disney Channel hires approximately 1200 professional and nonprofessional child actors on a yearly basis. In an attempt to find persons with the potential they seek, casting directors employ talent scouts who search for these children in acting agencies, theatre groups or local talent shows.

Many of these child stars start off as faces on TV commercials. Requiring minimal time and obligation and offering the promise of exposure, this non-speaking genre is the gate into entertainment for many child stars. After building up a portfolio a.k.a. screen credits, they audition for bigger, more noticeable roles. Agents and managers are hired, often by the child’s parents to negotiate equitable deals for the child as soon as he/she secures their first bankable job. It doesn’t end there. There are labour laws e.g. Coogan Bill, that protect their rights as actors, from abuse to schooling and other activities which they might engage in as professionals.

It is interesting to see as these mediums do not only continue to flourish in the western world but also feed off the talents and opportunities here in African countries, where the equivalents of these child dedicated programming are more or less, absent.

What we have had VS what we have now

That is not to say there hasn’t always been dedicated programming for and by children in Nigeria. Anyone above the age of 18 will remember NTA’s “Tales By Moonlight”, which has been in syndication since the late 80’s and featured a retelling and occasional reenactment of Nigerian folktales with the express purpose of transferring oral knowledge of these folk tales to a new generation of Nigerians. “Tales By Moonlight” was the first show of this kind of actively introducing children into its studio audience and eventually incorporate their opinions and input into the show.

But the show was ultimately about its adult host and not until “Speak Out”, also started by NTA in the early 90’s, did children and young adults become the focal point of a children’s oriented show. “Speak Out” was the platform on which child stars like Derenle Edun and singer Niyola started their entertainment careers. But Speak Out was an intellectual quiz show, that pit primary and secondary schools in Lagos against each other. It inspired a whole genre of related shows both on-screen and off, including the “Cowbell Math Olympiad” which still exists in some form today.

But child oriented entertainment shows didn’t really happen till the late 90’s – early 2000’s, the era of the “Kids Know Better (KKB) show”. The “KKB show” started around the time media giant Tajudeen Adepetu was putting out his first set of family oriented shows including “Everyday People” that had child and adolescent actors as series regulars in fully fleshed out three dimensional roles.

The “KKB show” capitalized on this medium, creating an entertainment skit show with regular child actors in the vein of classic Disney show, The “Mickey Mouse club” and the option for recruiting new cast members. Before long the “KKB show” had been syndicated across independent television stations across the country and has endured in a more subdued form until today. There haven’t been any contemporary variety shows which have managed to capture the imagination of a generation of young Nigerians quite like the “KKB Show” did at its Zenith and save for a handful of syndicated television serials with one or two child actors, the genre is all but gone from Nigerian television.

Parents, stereotypes and going forward

One of the reasons a new generation of young Nigerians are being robbed of the opportunity to embrace creating television content is because of the conservative nature of Nigeria’s society. Parents want to protect their kids from the spotlight due to media industry stereotypes of drugs and heavily publicised pitfalls of the Nigerian celebrity life. But even more telling is the complete disdain for the arts, by showrunners who are usually of a much older generation. The few shows aimed at a younger audience currently on air are usually heavy on educational content and light on entertainment instead of being a balance of both.

Entertainment is projected as a possible mainstay for Nigeria’s economy. But while the pre-existing music and film industries have gotten interest from foreign and local investors, it is important to map a bankable future by investing in creating local entertainment for Nigeria’s young. Nigeria is missing out on the value of having young careers mature into well-rounded artists with years of experience acquired from years as a prodigy, the likes of which we have see in Hollywood. To take a hint, Genevieve began her acting career at the age of 8 on popular television soap opera Ripples, now imagine how better Nollywood would be if we had 20 more like her.

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