“A four-year-old kid doesn’t really have the capacity to be interested in an artistic creation of substance and scope. As Shakespeare said, ‘They’re mewlers and pukers.’”
--Marshall Karp, Vice President of Daytime Broadcasting, ABC
MEANWHILE BACK AT THE BOOB TUBE
While Children’s Television Workshop dreams and plans for new glories, what, if anything, has commercial television learned from all this? As yet, very little from all signs this season. They have learned to imitate (the sincerest form of flattery but rarely equal to the originator) or to ignore (jam the Saturday airwaves with even more cartoons and maybe the whole Sesame Street fad will blow away).
There are small signs, however, that the major networks have taken note of Sesame Street’s success. The initial “not interested” stance of the commercial networks was actually amended when Sesame Street’s popularity grew to prominence. At that time NBC (National Broadcasting Company) plugged Sesame Street with spot announcements while CBS (Columbia Broadcasting System) funded a Nielson Survey.
Before Sesame Street, a vice president of daytime programming for a major commercial network who worried about whether soap operas were selling suds also worried about whether kiddie shows were pushing oatmeal and soldier dolls. “The consensus among advertising agencies and network executives then was that quality programming for Saturday TV was not commercial,” says Jon Stone. “They believed that the kids would tune out. We hope that what we’ve proved with this show is that this isn’t the case—that kids will watch quality shows and will choose them over sleazy competition. The real gain is that our ratings have shown the networks that quality television is commercially viable.”
Now the vice president in charge of daytime programming on the “Biggies” no longer dons two hats. One vice president safeguards soaps while his twin is custodian of the kiddies. George Heinemann, vice president of children’s programs for NBC; Allen Ducovny, supervisor of the children’s programming for American Broadcasting Company are the powers that be. “Actually I don’t think that any of the networks would have made this move without Sesame Street,” Chuck Jones freely admits about the recent division of labor.
Now, if a parent has a gripe about a particular children’s show, there’s a high-salaried executive to whom he can write to sound off. The same parent can also write to applaud some of the new efforts to educate-while-entertaining the youngsters. There have been some inroads made this season.
After all what could be so bad about a children’s show starring Woody Allen, Jonathon Winters, Tom Smothers and Joe Anne Worley? Especially when their show is entitled Hot Dog. Geared for the child already in school (although some pre-schoolers are reportedly eating it up), Hot Dog is NBC’s Saturday educational luncheon tidbit preceded by a morning of cereal-stuffed cartoons (exception is H.R. Pufnstuf—non-educational but super-entertaining). Hot Dog grew out of an “American Rainbow” special produced in the spring of 1970. The half hour format is basically the same as the spring special. The series deals with such burning questions as “Who invented the hot dog?” “How do they put lead into a pencil?” “What makes popcorn pop?” “Why and how do they shoe horses?” “How do they paint the white line on the highway?” and “How do they make basketballs?” This educational trivia counterbalances the real facts with humorous “sound offs” on the items being dealt with by the series’ stars.
Hot Dog caps NBC’s Saturday morning lineup. The Tomfoolery Show, fits an earlier time slot with ease.
This animated series, done mostly in rhyme, mines the works of such illustrative writers as Edward Lear,
Lewis Carroll and Ogden Nash for its poems, nonsense and limericks. Tomfoolery, directed at the middle
age child (8,9,10, and 11), hopes to help the child “realize that a limerick is a poem which can act as an
opening wedge. A funny poem may lead to a thoughtful, even abstract poems dealing with ideas,
rather than feelings,” it says in its press release. The feeling going around among the 8-and-up group, after
trying to follow the complex and sophisticated play-on-words which Lear’s The Complete Nonsense Book
and Carroll’s Hunting of the Snark utilize is that they are just too far out to be in.
NBC’s “Children’s Theatre,” a special shown the last Saturday of each month, has been given a warm,
Receptive response. These specials are produced for children of varying age groups, but mostly for a group
older than Sesame Street viewers. The first special, For the Love of Fred, a cartoon story of the caterpillar
who has difficulty becoming a butterfly, was enchanting. Of special note was the Children’s Theatre
November special, Pets Allowed, which had Sid Caesar narrating how to handle pets, how pets think and
how children can understand the animals they own. There is much promise in this series. Other offerings
include: a Jonathon Winters comedy; Circus Town, a story about a Midwest community (Peru, Indiana)
which puts on a full-scale circus each year using town residents as performers. Also docketed: Goggles, a
special about spectacles with celebrities James Earl Jones and James Coco, and a Bill Cosby narrated
special about narcotics.
The Columbia Broadcasting Company has added two hours of new cartoons and two minutes of
informational-educational broadcasts. The two-minute spots, In The Know, are presented five times each Saturday at hourly intervals as pauses between cartoon fare such as Sabrina and the Groovie
-Goolies and Archie’s Fun House. The 130 informational segments, which were filmed and produced by
CBS News, cover a wide range of subject matter none of which is vital to a child’s educational process
—unless he’s thinking of becoming a quiz show contestant.
From the American Broadcasting Company there is this promise—wait until next year. A high source has
indicated they are working on a show for the 1971-72 season, tentatively called Curiosity Shop, “that’s
exactly like Sesame Street.”
Mulling over the remark set forth by George Heinemann, NBC’s vice president in charge of juvenile
programming, “Sesame Street is the most wonderful thing to ever come down the pike,” a cynic
responded: “Sure, now the burden of providing children with quality programming has been lifted from
It is inevitable that Sesame Street experience criticism—that’s the price one pays in an experiment. But
one has to point out to those who know it for kicks: Consider the alternatives.