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Parents muscle in on playtime

SCREAMING babies, hyperactive tots and general pandemonium are some of the scenes you may expect during taping of ATV's new children's programme, Showkids Challenge, but the aspiring Macaulay Culkins and Shirley Temples are surprisingly well behaved.

Hosted by Helen Lesley, Showkids Challenge is a combination talent show and game show, allowing children in Hongkong to display talents for acting, magic, singing or dance.

Although changes to the format are bound to come, for the moment four acts are featured per show. A guest professional from the entertainment world does a short performance and judges a quiz segment which rounds off the programme.

''ATV asked me to do something along the lines of a talent show, making a game everyone could play,'' Lesley said. ''Originally they said it was supposed to be competitive, but I changed it to emphasise participation and fun.'' As presenter and creative co-ordinator, Lesley is the driving force, in charge of auditioning the acts, writing the scripts, and organising guest appearances.

Throughout the taping, technical difficulties forced the youngsters to reshoot scenes several times, and although there were cries of ''all this rehearsing is boring'', Lesley kept everyone entertained with the Mexican wave, a host of anecdotes and periodic renditions of nursery rhymes even as she reworked scenes and lines with producer Gordon Cheung.

BUT while the children sat happily amused, the parents kept asking if they could leave to check on their cars or to make phone calls, making them the most difficult group to work with, a situation which Lesley also experienced during the auditions.

''We had open auditions for any child under 13 on the coldest day of the year and hundreds of kids and parents turned up,'' she said.

''But the parents get so enthusiastic I've had to turn some away because I'm looking for kids.'' Enthusiasm throughout the five-hour taping was not dampened by the performances which ranged from a girls' dance group who wiggled to whistles and clapping from the studio audience, to the four children of the Abbott family, who sang in English and Chinese.

Some of the children have appeared on television before, and they had polished acts and smiled to the camera as if waiting to be cast in Home Alone 3, while others just had fun, oblivious to the bright lights.

ATV has made a concerted effort to focus on quality children's programmes, launching Showkids Challenge with a new show called Teacher Andrew on ATV Home, which features a comedian who gives tips about school life and arts and crafts.

''Children's programmes are very important to us because we always want to have young people from different backgrounds involved with television,'' said Mr Lam Choi-long, public relations officer at ATV. ''And Helen is so good with kids, so we really have a good thing going here.'' ATV is banking on Lesley's popularity to make Showkids Challenge a success, but with the presenter co-hosting Tube Time and her old show On the Box just leaving the airwaves, there is the possibility she will become over-exposed.

Lesley dismisses the idea as an adult problem and says children like to see a familiar face, and she has stacks of letters from young viewers praising the shows to prove her point.

Showkids Challenge airs at 5 pm on Fridays with a repeat at 4.30 pm on Sundays.