Wolfblood leaps the channel divide

Back in October, I was extolling the virtues of Debbie Moon’s werewolf drama serial for CBBC, Wolfblood, among other drama series on the children’s channel:

Young Maddy is a 14-year-old girl from a reclusive family ‘pack’ of wolfbloods (the series rejects the term ‘werewolf’). Her parents lock themselves away every full moon rather than risk roaming in the woods – partly to ensure the safety of the locals, but mostly to ensure that their family secret is not discovered.

Part of the reason for writing that post was to give publicity to an under-rated section of Britain’s TV drama output. It’s been wonderful to see news of Wolfblood’s ongoing success as countries around the world have acquired the series, and to know that a second series is imminent.

Part of the reason why shows on CBBC need as much publicity as they do is that, now that they are no longer shown on BBC1 or BBC2 in the afternoons, there’s less chance of grown-ups discovering their joys. When it was first announced that the strands would be phased out, I wrote in The Stage’s now-defunct TV blog, TV Today

These days, while CBBC content remains on air until 7pm, there’s little room to encourage the channel’s viewers to partake in shows on BBC1, 2, 3 or 4. Once the decision to not watch CBBC is made, their attention could wander anywhere else. With so much money being ploughed into good quality shows, particularly by outgoing CBBC commissioner Damian Kavanagh, it’s criminal that there’s seemingly little thought in how the Corporation can encourage the CBBC viewer of today to become the more general BBC viewer of tomorrow.

Maybe there’s a compromise that can be reached. On Freeview, CBBC shares digital spectrum space with BBC3 (hence why the former closes down at 7pm just as the latter starts up). As part of the BBC’s cost saving measures, why not free up an hour either side of the 7pm switchover to form a 6pm-8pm zone, repeating the best family friendly content that straddles that difficult gap between childhood and adulthood — the gap that the now-defunct BBC Switch brand was originally supposed to address? At least that way, CBBC’s regular viewers would recognise that their viewing habits needn’t drift away from the BBC as they get older, and parents would get a better chance to appreciate some of the love and care that the Corporation devotes to its programming for younger viewers.

Given that the 7pm BBC3 slot is so frequently given over to reruns of Doctor Who — itself a family-friendly show which, despite always being commissioned by the “adult” drama department, has never forgotten that children are at its audience core — such a solution would not be a million miles away from where we are now.

I’m happy to say that, while the concept of a formal ‘changeover zone’ isn’t quite in place, the principle is at least being put into play. From tonight,Wolfblood begins reruns at 7pm on BBC3.

Part of me feels validated for having an idea which somebody at the BBC clearly also had. But mostly, I’m just really chuffed for Debbie and the rest of the Wolfblood cast and crew, whose hard work is about to get seen and appreciated by a whole new set of fans.

Why CBBC is my desert island channel

Imagine if your television developed a weird fault. Whatever channel you tuned to next would be the only one it would ever receive again. Which one would you choose?

I’d find the temptation to stick with one of the more mainstream channels, such as BBC1 or ITV1, hard to resist. I might try and select a channel with a bit of culture in it – BBC2 would serve well in that regard (and would satisfy my QI cravings) or BBC4 (ditto, Only Connect).

But honestly, I think the channel with the widest range of enjoyable programmes at the moment is CBBC, the Corporation’s channel for children. It regularly produces output that is lively, engaging, challenging and fun.

A case in point is a series which finished this week. Wolfblood is a new take on the werewolf genre created by Debbie Moon. Young Maddy is a 14-year-old girl from a reclusive family ‘pack’ of wolfbloods (the series rejects the term ‘werewolf’). Her parents lock themselves away every full moon rather than risk roaming in the woods – partly to ensure the safety of the locals, but mostly to ensure that their family secret is not discovered.

In contrast, Maddy (Aimee Kelly) – who at the start of the series is not quite old enough to experience her ‘time of the month’ – is constantly tempted to share the burden of her secret with her friends, especially when the new foster kid at school, Rhydian (Bobby Lockwood), also turns out to be a wolfblood. And when he discovers that he has a family who live wild rather than Maddy’s domesticated parents, further conflicts arise.

Every drama thrives on friction, and there is plenty here. Intrinsic to the school setting are the usual kids-versus-teachers, geeks-versus-fashionistas setups. But the best conflicts for us as viewers are those that build up between friends and family. Maddy’s best friend Shannon (Louisa Connolly-Burnham) has been convinced for years that there are werewolves on the local moors. Maddy’s need to keep her family secret while also wanting Shannon to know that her theories are correct forms one of the biggest drivers to the whole series. And the more serious side to Shannon’s obsession isn’t shied away from – in one episode, she reveals that her parents are sending her to counselling because of her determined belief in supernatural beasts. In a couple of lines, we see that the series has at its heart a heroine who, by keeping a secret she knows she must not divulge, is risking her best friend’s mental health.

Wolfblood finished its first 13-part series on Monday, and CBBC celebrated by repeating the first 12 episodes back-to-back in the run up to the final episode’s premiere. It’s still on iPlayer for the next couple of days: download it now and savour it at leisure. There are a couple of dodgy moments (I recommend watching the being-a-wolfblood-makes-you-an-awesome-streetdancer episode through your fingers), but a second series has received a well-deserved commission.

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