Please excuse Chief Justice Michael Stailey while he puts on his sweater and sneakers.
Our reviews of Pioneers Of Television (published January 23rd, 2008), Pioneers Of Television: Crime Dramas (published March 5th, 2011), Pioneers Of Television: Science Fiction (published February 18th, 2011), and Pioneers Of Television: Westerns (published February 19th, 2011) are also available.
"In television's first decades, local kids' programs shaped the childhoods of millions of American youngsters."
In an age where Nickelodeon, Toon Disney, and PBS Kids rule the airwaves for the 10 and under set, we've completely lost the once proud artistry of local kids television. It's sad, really. What was must-see morning and afternoon programming drawing upon amazing talents and regional idiosyncrasies, has since given way to fast food for the mind. But the echoes of that long dead art form lives on in the hearts and minds of those who grew up with it, and PBS' Pioneers of Television series is keeping that dream alive.
Narrated by Kelsey Grammar (Frasier), this particular installment tackles kids television from the dawn of the medium in the late 1940s through its ultimate demise in the early '80s. And while there are some notable omissions in this pedigree (e.g. Bob Keeshan's Captain Kangaroo, Bill Jackson's Dirty Dragon and Gigglesnort Hotel) the players and programs it does cover is done so with all the love and respect they deserve.
After all, these shows weren't designed to sell toys or sugar-laden breakfast cereal, they were pure entertainment that wanted nothing more than to make people laugh, kids and parents alike. There were no educational requirements, no focus groups examining every minute detail, and no talking down to the lowest common denominator. These amazing men and women understood that funny transcends age, background, and intelligence. What entertained them as performers would certainly do the same for their audience.
And what a lineup of performers they were…
Time for Beanie, Los Angeles, CA (1949-1954)
Sam & Friends, Washington DC (1955-1961)
Wallace and Ladmo, Phoenix, AZ (1954-1989)
But it wasn't just the obscure performers who cornered this market. There are more than a few familiar names and faces who populated the genre before moving onto bigger projects…
Merv Griffin—The Lucky Duck Show, Miami, FL
Another interesting concept that spun out of this genre was that of franchising. Two shows in particular forged a path that would take a successful show from one market and replicate it throughout the country using a highly controlled business model.
Romper Room (1953-1994)
Bozo's Circus (1949-2001)
There are many more shows and performers touched on in this 55-minute documentary, and suffice it to say this genre changed the face of television. Not only were the shows educating and entertaining kids, they opened a pandora's box to innovative advertising execs who used this captive audience as a powerful market segment. This darker side of children's TV lead advocate Peggy Charon created "ACTION for Children's Television" to prohibit selling products to kids, and inspired actor Bill Cosby to earn a PhD in education and create Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids to use the medium for what it did best. Nobody believed the show would work, and yet it became a landmark cornerstone in animated television history.
Ultimately, in the late 1970s, with changes in the financial structure of the industry, the shows became less profitable for local stations and the genre began to die out. But not before the impact these artists and their series had on the culture of America left an indelible mark on us all.
Presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen with standard Dolby 2.0 stereo, the documentary offers up a wide range of clips in varying degrees of quality. It's unfortunate we didn't have the foresight to capture more of these programs when they aired, but no one at the time thought what they were doing would affect us 50 and 60 years later. Sadly, there are no bonus materials, so you'll have to scour YouTube and other video resources—like the Museum of Broadcast Communications or the Paley Center for the Media—to satiate your curiosity.
Not the least bit guilty.
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