NEW YORK – When Tom Ascheim talks about
Noggin, the cable network that he heads for youngsters, he sounds
like a father (which he is, of kids 9, 5 and 2) crossed with a child
psychologist (which, it seems, he is steadily becoming).
“A developmental tumult permeates both tweens and preschoolers,”
he says. Among all kid audiences, those two “felt like the richest
ground to mine.”
Noggin — a 3-year-old, education-driven, commercial-free channel
for kids available on the digital tiers of cable — is being
relaunched with a new dual focus. As of April 1, it will concentrate
on two oddly compatible audiences: As Noggin it will play to
preschoolers, and as “The N,” it will aim for the kids known as
One channel, two constituencies and even a new name.
Preschoolers are “kind of an obvious target when you want to do
educational TV,” Ascheim says. “They’re already asking, Why? How
much? How does that work?”
What of tweens? Their age range, roughly 9 to 14, may seem wide.
Yet they share a common bond: If you’re a tween, “everything is the
most embarrassing ever — and you’re scared to ask anybody
anything,” says the 39-year-old Ascheim.
In some respects, Noggin hasn’t changed since it began in 1999.
It still aims to educate. And it still shuns commercials — it is
paid for by the cable affiliates and satellite-TV providers that
carry it. It remains a co-venture of Nickelodeon and Sesame
Workshop, flush with its stable of Muppets and 30-year library of
But despite its financial success — Ascheim says the network
turned a profit last year — Noggin’s profile could be higher, its
identity more sharply defined in a crowded kids-TV universe that
includes Nickelodeon, Disney Channel, Kids’ WB, HBO Family and PBS
Kids. He’s electing to leapfrog early grade-school viewers and
concentrate only on preschoolers and tweens.
So from 5 a.m. to 5 p.m. the rededicated Noggin will air shows
like “Sesame Street,” “Blue’s Clues,” “Franklin,” “Kipper,” “Little
Bear” and “Maisy” acquired from public television as well as from
premium and ad-sponsored basic cable.
There’s a short-form show called “Ubi,” whose characters are,
simply, human hands. Another interstitial series, “Tiny Planets,”
finds computer-generated fuzzy creatures solving basic problems. The
Muppet gang headlines a new, interactive spinoff of “Sesame Street”
called “Play With Me Sesame.”
“All the things kids do — running around, coloring, playing
computer games — are funneled into the experience,” says
Then, at 5 p.m., as preschoolers’ bedtime looms (yeah, right),
Noggin gives way to The N. Repeats of familiar Noggin titles like
“Clarissa Explains It All” and “Ghostwriter” will be supplemented by
new shows like “Degrassi: The Next Generation,” a a followup to the
successful “DeGrassi High” and — “A Walk in Your Shoes,” which
takes two young people from different backgrounds and invites each
to briefly share the life of the other. For example, a Christian
girl from New York hangs out with a Muslim girl in New Jersey; a
young country music performer spends time with a budding rap
Of course, TV already caters to tweens with such programs as the
live-action “Lizzie McGuire” on Disney Channel and ABC, the toon “As
Told to Ginger” on Nick, and even the Fox network’s prime-time hit
“Malcolm in the Middle,” whose title character is, in other words, a
While the concept of “tweens” comes mainly from marketing
circles, UCLA developmental psychologist Patricia M. Greenfield says
they’re more than a demographic.
“They used to be considered as just kids, but it’s an age group
with some homogeneity and real differences from the age groups below
and above it,” she says.
Ascheim says his network’s research found tweens are united by
low self-esteem and a rigid world view as they face the onset of
puberty and hunker down to cope with perplexing life changes.
“They are uniquely ill-prepared to make good choices at a time
when they’re confronting huge life decisions like sex and drugs,” he
says. “We thought, `That’s a group we need to focus on.’ “
The N’s logo features an open hand (connoting honesty) and a
swash suggestive of the “at” sign and, thus, computer
interconnectedness. Like Noggin, The N on cable will coexist with
its own Web address.
On the Net: http://www.noggin.com/ and http://www.the-n.com/ (both go up
on April 1)