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'Peep' series to debut on commercial TV

| Tuesday, June 3, 2003

WGBH, the leading creator of programming for the Public Broadcasting Service, will produce its first children's series for a commercial network.

WGBH-TV's "Peep and the Big Wide World," a 30-minute science show for children ages 3 to 5, will debut on the cable networks TLC and the Discovery Channel next year, station officials said last week.

The agreement "gives more people the chance to see the programs that we think are worth seeing and are valuable," said Andy Griffiths, the station's vice president for finance and administration.

The station has done other more limited projects for commercial television, including a short documentary series on the automobile for TBS.

WGBH has produced several well-known children's shows, including "Arthur," "Zoom" and "Between the Lions." It's also known for producing "Masterpiece Theatre," "Nova" and "Frontline."

The "Peep" series, which will have 26 episodes, introduces science to the very young, mixing live action and animation in the adventures of a chick, a young robin and a duck.

Officials said they approached other networks after being turned down by PBS, which, at that time, was looking for shows for slightly older children.

WGBH spokeswoman Jeanne Hopkins said it didn't appear likely the station would produce many more shows for commercial television.

"These opportunities don't really come along," she said. "It happened to be one and we found a place and it works. We're not seeking this as a way for 'GBH to operate."

John Wilson, PBS' senior vice president for programming, said the arrangement, while unusual, was understandable given that PBS had turned down the show.

"When WGBH told us they might be taking it to Discovery, obviously I had a twinge, I'm competitive enough not to want good programming to go anywhere else," Wilson said Wednesday. "But at the same time I can't justifiably demand that WGBH produce exclusively for PBS."

Wilson said he believed it was fair to call WGBH the leading producer of PBS programming given its footprint on the network's schedule.

Kathryn Montgomery, president of the Center for Media Education, a nonprofit public interest group focused on quality media for children and youth, said it was "very disappointing" that PBS wouldn't take the series.

"I think it's a disturbing trend if public television is not able to take advantage of the production skills and talents of such an important station," she said.

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