Outside the box
Published 24/11/2013 | 01:00
When I was a child, which is not that recently, children's programmes were only shown between three and six o'clock in the afternoon on just a couple of channels, and we raced into the living room at the same time every day to watch the latest episode of 'Scooby Doo' or what have you.
Now, of course, things have changed. Your average Irish six- or seven-year-old is a jaded sophisticate who routinely embarrasses you by finding some clever new function on your smartphone that you'd never heard of. And frighteningly, some of them are beginning to struggle with the concept of live TV.
In America, where on-demand streaming services such as Amazon Prime are commonplace, children under seven or so are apparently baffled when confronted with a TV show they can't pause or rewind or watch again and again.
They're used to watching what they want, whenever they want, and their expectations form a stark vision of television's future.
Child viewers are also big business, and the streamers and TV networks are battling hard for their custom.
Netflix has noticed that junior viewers watch shows differently than adults – for instance, if they like a particular episode of a show they'll watch it obsessively.
So when Netflix picked up the PBS animation 'Arthur', which follows the worthy adventures of a bookish aardvark, they only bought 30 of the 165 episodes on offer, knowing that would be enough to hook younger children into repeated viewings.
Amazon Prime reckons that about 70pc of its most re-watched programmes are kids' series, and have invested heavily in buying in shows for streaming from Nickelodeon and others.
When they can get their hands on them, most children would rather watch their favourite show on a phone or a tablet than on television.
Both Disney and Nickelodeon now offer phone and tablet apps that give viewers streamlined access to their shows.
Episodes of 'Sesame Street' can now be seen in advance for $4 a month on YouTube. And Disney is offering particularly impatient nippers online access to bulked episodes of shows before they're shown on TV. It's a far cry from 'Wanderly Wagon', that's all I can say.
I'm not entirely sure if it's good news or not, but 'Downton Abbey' will definitely be back for a fifth season.
I lost the will to watch about halfway through series two, when I felt that the battle between drama and silliness had been lost.
But not everyone agrees with me, because the recently concluded season four was the highest-rated show on British television this year.
This is despite the fact that the latest series included a rape, inter-racial romance, abortion and a very nasty road accident.
In other words, it's a soap with nice costumes, but a hugely successful one, and creator and writer Julian Fellowes has handled his evolving storyline and viewers' expectations with considerable skill.
Season five will appear next autumn, no doubt replete with fresh scandal. Meanwhile, the Earl of Grantham, his extended family and staff will return for a special Christmas episode.
There's more than one Wahlberg, as you may be aware. Though movie actor and former pop star Mark is the most famous member of the family, he's the youngest of nine siblings raised in a mainly Irish Boston family.
His brother Donnie also acts, and currently co-stars with Tom Selleck in the cop show 'Blue Bloods'.
For reasons best known to themselves, both brothers have agreed to appear in a new reality show that will air in the US on the A&E network in January. 'Wahlburgers' will be set in a restaurant of the same name that the brothers run in Boston.
Donnie seems to be the main man behind the project but Mark will also be involved as will their brother Paul, who's the restaurant's executive chef, and their mother Alma.
As you may have guessed, the place sells burgers, and the Wahlbergs are planning to open another restaurant in Toronto next year, which may explain their sudden enthusiasm for reality television. But Donnie was refreshingly frank when explaining what inspired the name of their restaurant.
"They called us that as kids," he said. "They used to tease me. They'd say, 'Hey, Wahlburger'. That's if they weren't calling me junior jailbird because of my older brothers being inmates at that time".
Mark also did a stretch inside as a youngster – you don't mess with the Wahlburgers.
Animator and writer Seth MacFarlane recently collaborated with Mark Wahlberg on his hilariously profane comic movie 'Ted'. MacFarlane is a kind of one-man entertainment company, having created the long-running adult animated comedies 'American Dad!', 'Family Guy' and 'The Cleveland Show'.
For some years, critics have been predicting the onset of MacFarlane fatigue, but it doesn't look like it will be happening any time soon.
He's currently working on a new movie, two new TV sitcoms and last week Fox announced that it has commissioned him to create a brand new animated comedy.
Written by MacFarlane and Mark Hentemann, 'Bordertown' will be set in a desert community near the US-Mexico border and focus on the conflicting lives of neighbouring families.
Bud Buckwalk is a border patrol agent paid to catch Mexicans illegally sneaking into the States, while Ernesto Gonzales is a proud and legitimate Mexican immigrant.
Fox has ordered 13 episodes for next year's autumn schedule, while MacFarlane's new film, 'A Million Ways to Die in the West', will be released next May.
And finally, while it would be easy to dismiss your average TV star as a vain, overpaid, self-absorbed pinhead, Jon Cryer renewed my faith in celebrities during a recent interview on Conan O'Brien's chat show.
Cryer is most famous for playing the hapless Alan Harper on Chuck Lorre's long-running and sometimes controversial sitcom, 'Two and a Half Men'.
I always thought Cryer was the real star of the show, a suspicion that proved correct when Charlie Sheen was booted off in 2011 and the ratings failed to plummet as naysayers had suggested.
'Two and a Half Men' has ploughed on regardless, and season 11 is currently running here on Comedy Central.
While chatting with O'Brien about the show, Cryer revealed that his full head of hair is "an elaborate illusion".
"This," he explained, "is the work of several talented professionals making the most of, like four hairs."
It turns out that his black thatch is painted on in the studio. "They basically just paint it, they get a roller type thing and just whoosh it along the top," he said.
A fascinated O'Brien then wondered what happened if it rained. "You're out of luck," Cryer deadpanned.
"You get the nice little rivulets going down, but happily your eyebrows channel it down the side."
You wouldn't catch Charlie Sheen admitting to something like that.