Five Gripes About Children’s Television


Lab Coats– Perhaps the most common stereotype about scientists is that they always wear lab coats. This is reinforced in children’s shows, where the “scientist” host wears a lab coat. They wear it everywhere, 24⁄7. Think Bill Nye, Beakman’s World, Nina and the Neurons, etc. When you see a children’s television host wearing a lab coat, you know they’re a “scientist”. Of course this reinforces the idea that scientists are the “other”. You know scientists couldn’t possibly live in your neighborhood, since you never see anyone mowing their lawn or out for a morning jog in their lab coat.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at


I think the lab coats one is not really a problem. It’s like TV doctors always having a stethoscope or a hoodie for a hacker. Cheap cinematic tropes get an audience beyond a whole lot of boilerplate commentary fast. Yes, they draw on stereotypes, but not all stereotypes are as destructive as race or gender. The image of a scientist as someone who is careful enough to keep a lab coat clean, always has a pen/paper on which to keep organized notes – these are reflective of the platonic ideal of Scientist, and an actor embodying that role can use those symbols to talk to an audience. And, honestly, there are a lot of labs where such coats are worn as a matter of practicality and safety, so it’s not as if the coat is outdated or idiosyncratic.

In children’s TV, it is arguably important – kids learn by repetition, and that association with a particular mnemonic is useful. Now, the scientist needs to take the coat off from time to time – it’s dumb if they’re still wearing it while on an archeology dig, for example. But overall, I think the coats do more good than harm for kids’ TV.

Note: TV here is a stand-in for media, since a lot of the kids I work with will spend far more time each year watching YouTube and its online siblings than an actual TV signal. :wink:


I agree. My big peave is when scientists are portrayed wearing lab coats where no scientist would, just as at a ball game, or while mowing their lawn.


I remember calling out Nina and the Neurons. At the time, I thought I was being grouchy and ranty about it.

Perhaps the blame lies with the ‘stage presentations’ insisting on strong branding for all their characters, to remove any doubt that the person in the white coat is always the scientist.

Personally, I think continuous branding and strict adherence to format can get in the way of objective presentation. I happen to write sci-fi (in addition to non-fiction), and prefer to write a story as I want to tell it, breaking writing rules, not caring for word count, and being mildly anarchic. That’s not something TV is known for.


Most TV isn’t known for it because most of the audience cannot follow it. I write scripts for live interactive theater productions. We require very simplistic plots because most people get lost easily – we’ve tried. It’s pretty much one deviation from trope is all you can have in a given plot arc. “It’s like X but with small change Y.” The more complex the drama, the smaller the audience, generally. That’s why things like Game of Thrones or Lost draw such envy from writers… every once in a while, a story manages to hit that magic formula that allows it to be as complex as it wants to be while still retaining people. No one has ever figured out what allows those rare stories the power to engage complexity without driving away eyeballs.