If your child stays home sick from school nowadays, they have countless TV options. We talk a lot about the 24-hour news cycle, but what of the 24-hour kiddie entertainment cycle? Not only can you stream almost any episodes of the massive canon of children’s entertainment, many TV providers see to it that you can get annoyed on-demand. It’s so hard for us to grasp, I think—those of us who were born before 1990. I was born in 1977, and the most that the greatest TV minds of my generation could expect was 19 hours of Pinwheel.
But that was only if your little sickly self defaulted to that fancy new cable contraption your parents brought home. I mean, there was always The Price Is Right. And, more importantly, there was PBS.
The beauty of PBS programming is its affiliated model. Have a puppet and a dream in Mississippi? Make a short, cheap, freaky kids show and they will play it all over the nation for decades. And the budgetary and technological limitations of the time (combined with the weird patterns decorating any 1981 household and a six-year-old’s fever) make for a very bizarre, memorable experience. One that feels intimate…as if you are the only kid in the world watching it. Here are some of my favorites:
About Safety Fuel embargoes, strained relations in the Middle East, recession, employing Vietnam Vets, women’s lib—all these concerns pale in comparison to the true American crisis of the 1970s: pushing at the water fountain.
Enter About Safety, produced by the Mississipi Authority for Educational Television (the state bird is the Catchy Title) beginning in 1972. It introduced us to a whiny frog named Clyde, who was clearly raised in a barn. Pushing people at the water fountain, running on the bus, failing to appreciate the solemn duty of being a safety patrol. To speak frankly, Clyde’s safety lessons seemed a bit quaint by 1979 or so, with growing milk-carton-driven public awareness of abducted and exploited kids. But your favorite neighborhood scoflaw polywog reran for years, first in About Safety then in his very own Clyde Frog Show. It was all very surreal: black backdrops and jerky marionette accusations. But I LOVED it. Can still sing the theme song, thankyouverymuch.
Zoom A show that bowed in 1972 and reappeared in 1999, urging kids to get up and do it. It also urged kids to speak Ubbi-Dubbi, adding a “ub” before the vowel sound in words. Fubucking wubeird.
3-2-1 Contact What can I say? It was the answer. It was the reason. That everything happened.
And they were college kids hanging out in a greenhouse not growing anything illicit. Oh and Trini got stranded in the desert. And now The Bloodhound Gang and the Case of the Cackling Ghost! It all makes perfect sense and now I know science.
Inside/Out Okay, so remember this?
And then Billy or Bobby or Susie would be confronted by a bully, offered drugs, witness someone cheating on a test. Then — FREEZE FRAME! — Billy/Bobby/Susie has a problem. Show over. Figure it out your damn self. The cliffhanger ending of these 15-minute dramas were meant to spur classroom conversations about decisionmaking, ethics, and values. But they forgot that this would still be playing in my living room in 1983 and I’m six and there’s no classroom and I AM FREAKED OUT. WHAT HAPPENED TO BILLY/BOBBY/SUSIE?!?!
Read All About It You know, just a couple of kids living in their abducted uncle’s cottage with a robot, publishing an underground newspaper. Whatevs.
The Voyage of the Mimi Children travel the globe taking a census of humpback whales, like you do. I still know how to collect rainwater in the forest, thanks to Mimi. I also know that I do not want to be a whale census-taker.
All About You Louise McNamara wears a vest and uses mimes and magicians to teach you about your organs.
As you can tell from All About You (and the next entry), anatomical knowledge was North American Priority Numero Uno in the 1970s and 1980s. This is because the liver was only discovered in 1968 and people were still pretty jazzed.
Slim Goodbody First appearing on Captain Kangaroo, Slim Goodbody was like Richard Simmons turned inside out and given a kiddie show. He sang about our bodies, he exercised, he battled puppets trying to sell you soda. And he never wore pants or let his perm grow out. It was a simpler time.
Vegetable Soup I don’t even know what to say about this trippy 70s cartoon that was, apparently, meant to combat racial stereotyping. All I know is that it was a series of seemingly unrelated, brain-meltingly awkward rock songs. And that every time I close my eyes, I see this image AND I STILL DON’T KNOW WHAT IT IS.
OMG that exercise woman with the Asian kid running in place I will buy dinner for anyone who can figure out, for me, who that 1970s gym teacher was. The one who had three kids stand with her and run around giant cubes. You’d run like mad for 10 minutes then she’d cool you down by chanting “R-E-S-T. R-E-S-T.” It haunts me to this day. It aired well into my early 80s childhood, even though the woman looked as if she had to have a permission slip to buy birth control.
Okay, MamaPop: what did I forget? How many of you were glued to PBS when you were home sick as a kid? And, tell me, does Slim Goodbody turn you on? Even a teensy bit?