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C.P.B. Awards $4.5 Million for Preschool TV Series

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The Corporation for Public Broadcasting last week announced a grant of up to $4.5 million for the development of a new public- television series aimed at preschool viewers, tentatively entitled "The Puzzle Factory."

The half-hour weekday show, which would air beginning in late 1993, plans to center on a group of multicultural, humanlike puppets developed by Kevin Clash, an Emmy Award-winning puppeteer on the Public Broadcasting Service's "Sesame Street" series.

The puppets will be featured in stories set in a workshop filled with blocks, jigsaw puzzles, and other props, all used to help the characters solve everyday problems. The series will encourage the target audience of 2- to 5-year-olds to make choices and take risks, its developers say.

The c.P.B. grant, one of the largest in the organization's history, follows a solicitation last summer for a new preschool series to complement "Sesame Street" and "Mister Roger's Neighborhood," two mainstays of the public- television children's schedule.

Lancit Media Productions Ltd., the producers of the popular educational show "Reading Rainbow," and KCET-Tv, the major public-television station in the Los Angeles market won the solicitation process.

"This was a very competitive round of material that we got," said Mary Sceiford, the associate director for children's and educational programming at the C.P.B.'S television program fund. "The edge probably went to this project because we felt they understood the interest and the needs of the 2- to 5-year-olds."

The grant is contingent on the show's producers securing additional producation funds, C.P.B. officials said.

Other Debuts Meanwhile, PBS is preparing to premiere two other new series aimed at preschool viewers.

On Jan. 13 at 8 A.M. Eastern time, the first episode of "Lamb Chop's Play Along" will air.

The half-hour weekday show features the well-known puppeteer Shari Lewis and her puppet creations. Viewers should check local listings for air times.

Beginning on April 6, the same time slot on the PBS schedule--8 A.M. weekdays, with several repeats-will be taken over by another children's series, "Barney & Friends."

The new series, based on a popular home-video series, features a large purple dinosaur, among other characters.

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