When Romema ruled

Like a former movie director describing the golden days of Hollywood, Tslilla Rose grows nostalgic when she talks about the golden days of children's television at Channel 1, when it had a captive young audience. But with the station currently plagued by financial uncertainty, things have changed since Rose and her Children's Programming Department dazzled Israeli kids with the likes of Ritchratch, Hahatul Shmil, Shalosh, Arba, Hamesh Vahetzi and many other popular shows. So she decided to do something about it, offering parents a nostalgic trip back to those days by working on a new CD tracing Channel 1's kids' TV glory days, entitled Miritch v'ad Ratch - The Moving Moments from Beloved Children's Shows. "The idea behind the DVD was that the parents who grew up on the shows should remember them, and show them to their children, for parents to share their experiences with their child," Rose explains. "Our worldview was that one had to take childhood and the children seriously, and with a sense of responsibility," she says of the period that ran from around the mid 1970s to the appearance of commercial TV around 1990. Top artists, writers, designers and musicians worked on the shows, a far cry from today, when the channel's budget cuts make such efforts practically impossible. But back then, Rose and her staff had big dreams. "I always thought that a child is like a sponge, and television is part of his cultural and ethical treasure. And that's why it was very important to be very, very responsible about what you gave the kids. And I believe during this time, before commercial TV, we created programs that became cultural milestones, programs that disproved the theory that television is by nature a vulgar and shallow medium." Neil Weisbrod, current head of Channel 1's Drama and Arts Department who worked on Shalosh, Arba, Hamesh Vahetzi and other such shows during this period after making aliya from the US, recalls working on the programs was "my childhood - I learned about the holidays and the songs. It was my growing up in Israeli culture. There were lots of shows, mostly original, and a lot of energy, facilities and budget was put into making them. It was a major goal to make creative and good children's television. "We were all part of something bigger. The shows were also made to speak to the kids, that it was original Israeli material that spanned the spectrum and offered a lot of work... there was just a lot of it and it was important." When he sees the shows now, "I feel good because a lot of people in their 30s get excited because they watched it when they were kids. That makes it fun, that I was part of that. It's a good feeling." Rose, who trained in the UK, knew from the start she wanted to work in children's TV here. "We stood up for the idea of public television giving the children programs that were high quality, rich in content, ideas, of different styles, and which were creative," she says. So it was that she helped oversee the launch of programs - many included on the disc - like Ritchratch, which she calls a "breakthrough." Influenced by what she'd seen in the US and Europe, it simply "gave children control of the screen, let them run the shows." There were kid hosts, kids performed the skits and sang the songs, and the show was a major hit. "The thesis that children pay more attention to other children proved itself, because the program became a big hit and won prizes," she recalls. Rosh Kruv, circa 1975, according to Rose, "was a very daring program, a musical program with a culture of nonsense in between, which was also new," she says. Among others, it featured a young Hanna Laszlo, Ruti Navon and Gali Atari. Its premise had a group of musicians and actors on a rooftop with an audience of kids, whom they provided with music and sketches. There were other fine shows, she says, like Autotot, with each episode dedicated to a different letter of the alphabet, and featuring songs and stories and an animal connected to that letter. There was Telepele and Shalosh, Arba, Hamesh Vahetzi, featuring puppets Chompy and Ein Shem and hosts Yona Elian and Sassi Keshet as well as Yisrael Gurion and Nira Adi. "The episodes were always based on stories from Jewish tradition or fairy tales, with wonderful costumes, songs and stories," she recalls. Hahatul Shmil in the early '80s featured Natan Dankner as a cat with his own club, who delighted kids and hosted singers like Yaffa Yarkoni and Yehoram Gaon. Much of its success was owed to the scripts by the talented Talma Elyagon and Leah Naor, says Rose. And there was also Mesibat Gan, with Yaron London interviewing youngsters about serious subjects, another part of the major effort extended to children's television. While she doesn't see too many of today's programs, she believes that they're not always on the right, simpler track that made Romema such a children's TV powerhouse when she was there. "The moment you give the children something to think about - and not just to excite them, which passes in a moment - when you make a good show, you present them with problems, questions, things to think about, dreams for the future... That's what we gave, that's what makes quality children's TV. You have to give them a chance to stimulate their senses and food for thought, and that's what we did." Too many of today's shows for kids on commercial, cable or satellite TV focus too much on just exciting the kids, she says. "Ultimately, the children stop reacting, because you get so much of it. That's what's happening, and I think television gives children part of their social value system, and that's why they need to get culture, values - it's part of television's responsibility." To that end, she has been pushing for saving public broadcasting, "whose quality is based on having a sense of ethical responsibility for Israeli children. That's its job, and my dream always was - and it should only come true - that there be one quality nonprofit channel supplying only quality children's programming in Israel, without interruption." The children haven't changed, she says, just "the packaging, the language, the rhythm, the style. Give them... programs about themselves, about other kids, to know about the world they live in, and they should enjoy and get some benefit out of them, instead of just having a good time and forgetting about it. It should provide them material for learning and thinking about this world, developing values... getting to know themselves through the program." Reflecting back on Channel 1's classic shows, she says: "I was privileged to work with wonderful producers who really cared for children and did a good job. I had dreams; I always told my producers: Dream about an idea, and then we were privileged to execute it, and this can only be done on a public station whose goal is not making money, but providing good programs for children. And we were privileged to do it."