Giving News a Kids View

Mar 17, 2003  •  Post A Comment

Al Primo wants to do for kids programming what he did for local news in the late ’60s with the Eyewitness News format: Reinvigorate it and redefine it and give representatives of the audience a role in the program.
“This is going to be my legacy,” Mr. Primo said. Burbank, Calif.-based Parrot Syndication Services has sold Eyewitness Kids News, his half-hour weekly, 50-50 barter show targeted at 13- to 16-year-olds in some 88 markets representing just over 50 percent of the country.
“The idea is to get the voice of the child into the news process,” Mr. Primo said. He broke the old local-news mold in 1965 when he reconceived the players as a team of anchors and a diverse group of reporters with cameos by people whose lives would be affected by the story being presented.
He was a young news director at KWY-TV in Philadelphia. “Like most things you do in Philadelphia,” he said, “no one notices.”
They did notice soon after he applied the same template at WABC-TV, New York, which was, he said, a “laughingstock” before he became news director in 1968. There his newsroom over the next few years would include the soon-to-be legendary and parodied (Geraldo Rivera and Roseanne Scamardella (who inspired Gilda Radner’s Roseanne Roseannadanna on Saturday Night Live) and numerous other larger-than-life characters who reflected the Big Apple’s diverse population. And WABC’s news would become a powerhouse.
The pilot for Eyewitness Kids News features an array of kids who manage to engage even the adult viewer without being off-putting. Mr. Primo thinks there is room in the ensemble concept to rotate kids as they age instead of coolly ushering them off the show, which is all about kids talking to kids about a wide range of subjects while adults remain very much in the background.
Each half-hour comes complete with a feature from Children’s Express, the international news service, and a 90-second window that can accommodate everything from a simple local-events calendar to a kid-on-the-street feature or a short story.
Mr. Primo, who is working with hopes that news directors and station executives will be inspired to produce their own segments for the show and to see Eyewitness Kids as a sort of adjunct to their own news programs.
Among the stations that have signed up are news-driven KTVK-TV in Phoenix, WCVB-TV in Boston, WESH-TV in Orlando and KABC-TV in Los Angeles. Each agrees to play it twice-between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m. Saturdays and in the same time frame Sundays. “The way I’ll produce it will serve a sophisticated and simple audience at the same time,” Mr. Primo said.
Eyewitness Kids News will be fed twice, once with all the Eyewitness identifiers and once in generic form so that if no station unwittingly helps promote another station in town that identifies itself as Eyewitness News-a label Mr. Primo never could copyright.
“If there were royalties from Eyewitness News, maybe I would be on my boat now,” he said. “Do I have to work? Of course, I have to.”
After 10 years with ABC stations and ABC News, Mr. Primo went independent with a series of ventures, including Eyewitness Newservice, Now It Can Be Told, starring former protege Mr. Rivera, and other syndicated and Internet projects.
“I want ideal time slots. I want it to grow,” And he wants to do it according to his vision.