Recently, when I was home from work over Presidents’ Day Weekend, I watched a show I spent a lot of time watching as a kid: Sesame Street. Recently, I’ve discovered a bunch of clips from old Sesame Street episodes on YouTube, and I’m surprised at how entertaining they still are to me as an adult. How can you not love Cookie Monster as Alistair Cookie on Monsterpiece Theater?
Or “The Beetles” singing “Letter B”?
Or Ernie dancing himself to sleep as Bert grumbles?
Or an orange singing Carmen, in a clip that was probably done by an animator on drugs?
So imagined how disappointed I was to sit down and discover that the unthinkable has happened.
After forty years, Sesame Street has been dumbed down.
Gone are the pop-culture references that only parents watching along with the kids get. Rather than a cute commercial about the letter F, we get some Muppet on the street trying to get kids to say “finger” and “foot” as examples of words beginning with F. The show is divided into segments, with Ernie and Bert appearing as cartoon characters (blasphemy!) in one of them. Another is “Elmo’s World” and goes on for fifteen minutes. Elmo, a character good in small doses, is basically the star of the show now, with characters like Big Bird reduced to brief appearances in “Elmo’s World.”
The rest of PBS is in a similarly sorry state. (Yea alliteration!) Most of them are now cartoons, except for insipid shows like Barney and Teletubbies. Personally, that disappoints me a lot. And I know I’m not the only one. Back when I did my 25 things, in #12 I reminisced about the old PBS shows and I was amazed at how many people commented in agreement.
I was such a PBS kid. Until middle school, it was practically the only channel I watched. If I ever have billions of dollars, after I end world hunger and most major diseases, I’ll donate a ton of money to PBS with the stipulation that they need to create more intelligent, well-written shows for kids—shows like these ones:
Word! This wasn’t just a fantastic kids’ show; it was a fantastic show, period. I had some episodes on video, and upon re-watch, they’re still genuinely entertaining. The show was about a bunch of pre-teen kids in Brooklyn who were friends with a ghost they dubbed “Ghostwriter” whom only they could see. Ghostwriter couldn’t see, hear, or talk- just read and write, and he appeared only as a circle with a couple of curvy lines over it or as multicolored swirls of words. With the help of Ghostwriter, the kids solved mysteries that went over the course of four or five episodes.
I was so obsessed with this show. The character Rob was my first-ever crush. I’d write down all the clues and try to solve the mysteries on my own. I entered a contest and was thrilled to get one of the consolation prizes—a pen on a string like the kids on the show used.
Square One TV
Another high-quality show. It was all about math, and although it was aimed at elementary schoolers, they had a lot of short songs, skits, and cartoons like on Sesame Street—examples include “8% of My Love,” “ Nine Nine Nine,” and “The Mathematics of Love.”
But the best part of the show was “Mathnet.” It was a Dragnet parody featuring two detectives solving math-related crimes over the course of five episodes. It was hilarious—lots of jokes that only adults would get and recurring gags. There was one episode where they kept talking about an ATM, and every single time they said ATM, they added, “Or, automatic teller machine,” which is actually how I know what ATM stands for. And I honestly did learn a lot about math from it—I knew what the Fibonacci sequence was way before we covered it in school.
Wishbone was a really cute Jack Russell terrier who lived with a twelve-year-old boy named Joe and his mother and loved the classics of literature. Every episode would retell a story like Romeo and Juliet, Silas Marner, or Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, among many others, with Wishbone playing one of the main characters. Meanwhile, in the real world, there’d be a story going on with Joe and his friends Samantha and David that closely paralleled the classic story being told. While they often left out a lot of details, the re-telling was usually pretty faithful. Even in college I was drawing on things I’d learned from this show—I didn’t read The Tempest until then, but had seen it portrayed on Wishbone.
Where In the World is Carmen Sandiego?
This was a game show, and when I was seven, my life’s ambition was to be on it. There was one multiple-choice round with questions about geography; then a memory game round where you had to find the loot, the warrant, and the criminal in that order; then having to locate seven countries on a map of a certain country within forty-five seconds. The grand prize was a trip anywhere in the lower 48. There was always some kind of funny segment with the host, Greg Lee, in the chief’s office—something would happen like the chief’s head falling off or a rude message from Carmen Sandiego herself. I was so sad to hear that Lynne Thigpen, who played the Chief, died in 2003. The theme song and various other songs on the show were sung by the incomparable Rockapella. By the way, it turns out I couldn’t have been on that show anyway—Wikipedia tells me that the contestants had to be from the New York City area. But if I had been, I would have been awesome.