Sesame Street

Weekend Roundtable: Memories of First TV

‘Won’t You Be My Neighbor?’, the new documentary about legendary children’s show host Fred Rogers, might be one of the most acclaimed films of the year. Many of our readers likely grew up with ‘Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood’. What other kids’ TV series do you remember watching in your earliest formative days?

‘Sesame Street’ should be a given for this topic. For almost 50 years, that has been the go-to educational program for very young children, with good reason. What else did you watch?

Jason Gorber

As a child of the early 1970s, I was raised in front of a mediocre CRT TV like most of my generation. We got famous American shows like ‘Sesame Street’ and eventually ‘The Muppet Show’, and those had an indelible effect on my youth. (I named my first cat Muppets.) Raised in Toronto, I was also exposed to some definitive Canadian content like ‘Polka Dot Door’, ‘Mr. Dressup’ and ‘The Friendly Giant’ – shows that played on my set far more often than the likes of ‘Mister Rogers’ or ‘Romper Room’. When I was too young to do so, I’d gorge on cartoons like ‘Rocket Robin Hood’ and ‘Spider-Man’, and would dig on the ‘Schoolhouse Rock’ interstitials, but it was fundamentally the work of Henson and co., along with the TV Ontario/CBC/PBS children’s programming, that really fueled my young viewing habits.

Deirdre Crimmins

Beyond the typical 1980s kids fare on TV (‘Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood’, ‘Sesame Street’, etc.), I remember first watching ‘The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle and Friends’. My dad was never really one for television (aside from watching the Red Sox lose and the occasional episode of ‘Real Stories of the Highway Patrol’), but he loved ‘Rocky and Bullwinkle’. Perhaps it reminded him of growing up with his Russian father? In any case, that was my cartoon of choice too, and it really grew on me. As a teeny tot I loved the silly accents and slapstick gags. Later, as my world became larger than just my family and kindergarten, I started to really enjoy Sherman and Peabody’s adventures through time. And the puns! Finally understanding the jokes behind the jokes made me feel like I was growing up, and gave me another thing to talk to my old man about. Even today, if Moose and Squirrel are on the television, he will pause to watch it. Even if he has seen the gag dozens of time, it will still get a chuckle out of him, and that gets a chuckle out of me.

Brian Hoss

With older sisters around, I recall being stuck with ‘She-Ra’ and ‘Jem’ for good chunks of time, while I of course sought out ‘Transformers’, ‘He-Man’, ‘Mask’ and ‘Voltron’. When things got tough (as in, the living room, cable-equipped TV was on ‘Jem’), I was stuck with a little TV that did not pick up much. You know what that means – ‘Sesame Street’. I honestly think I like ‘Sesame Street’ more now than when I was a kid. In contrast, ‘Mr. Rogers Neighborhood’ was reliably decent.

Adam Tyner (DVDTalk)

There are all kinds of caveats here, so bear with me for a moment. The first TV series I can (1) clearly remember watching (2) as it aired and not necessarily in reruns (3) and was strictly produced with kids in mind and not just something I was tuning into with my folks, was ‘Pandamonium’.

I can say with just about absolute certainty that anyone reading this has either never heard of ‘Pandamonium’ or has somehow scrubbed it from their minds. That’s understandable, seeing as how this short-lived cartoon from 1982 is about as forgettable as they come. Three talking pandas (who could join together as a single, composite panda with magic powers) jet-set across the globe to find pieces of a shattered pyramid before an evil wizard could wrap his spindly fingers around ’em. Believe it or not, this sloppily animated series was an early effort by Marvel Productions, decades before cinematic universes and all that.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen ‘Pandamonium’ come up in any of those nostalgic “Hey, remember the ’80s?” lists. Even back when I was around 4 and this was still on the air, I’m not sure any of my friends ever talked about it. It was barely a blip on anyone’s radar before fading away, but for whatever reason, I remember.

Josh Zyber

It may be uncomfortable to remember now, but Bill Cosby was a powerful force in children’s entertainment during the 1970s and ’80s. I watched a hell of a lot of ‘Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids’. I also remember him hosting ‘Picture Pages’, though I think I was older by the time he took over that show.

Less controversially, ‘Captain Kangaroo’ dominated a lot of my early TV viewing. Aside from his red jacket, I can’t remember a single thing about the show today.

Your Turn

Tell us in the Comments about the shows you watched when you were a wee tyke.

20 comments

  1. njscorpio

    My first word was “Bert”. My mom didn’t know what I was getting at initially. I was pointing at Bert on tv going “Bert! Bert!”.

  2. njscorpio

    Doesn anyone recall ‘Today’s Special’ on Nick? With Pinwheel Bunny, and a kid that would draw with his crayon and it would become real things he could interact with. From that Nick era, I also loved Danger Mouse, David the Gnome, and Adventures of the Little Koala.

    • Having a younger sister meant that I got to enjoy some shows after I was too old to be watching them, and ‘Today’s Special’ was one I enjoyed during the summer months. In fact, my magic words to this day are still ‘Hocus pocus, ala magokus!’

  3. Bolo

    Ringo Starr narrating ‘Thomas the Tank Engine’ stands out in my mind. Ringo really brought a lot of charm to what would’ve otherwise probably been really boring. I remember my sisters and I would watch and try to imitate his voice.

  4. Elizabeth

    My parents didn’t have have cable until I went to college in the late 90’s so it was all rabbit ears and bowtie antenna reception for my childhood. And living in a rural area, that meant a limited selection of channels and none of them were public broadcasting. So no Mr. Roger, Captain Kangaroo, or Sesame Street for me. The closest I got was the Muppet Show playing on Saturday mornings. Many of my fondest memories weren’t kids shows though. I remember watching episodes of the Twilight Zone at 11:30 in the evening and Benson. In the summer, I’d add The David Letterman Show to that late night roster.

    And then NBC broadcast what would become one of my most enduring TV memories: V. Sure, it was followed up by what I now recognize as lackluster V: The Final Battle but I still ate it up as a 7 year old kid. I suppose that is really not “kids” TV, but I was a weird kid.

  5. photogdave

    Cartoons: Battle of the Planets, Star Blazers, Speed Buggy, Frankenstein Jr, The Clue Club, Super Friends, Tarzan, the Groovie Ghoulies.

    Live Action: Kroft Superstars with Wonder Bug, Bigfoot and Wild Boy, Dr. Shrinker, Electra Woman & Dyna Girl etc.; Land of the Lost, The Electric Company, Banana Splitz.

    • Judas Cradle

      Yep. All of those!
      Plus The Hilarious House of Frightenstein, Little Rascals, Johnny Socko, Mulligan Stew, Sigmond and The Sea Monster, Wacky Races, Fraggle Rock, Electric Company, Romper Room, Captain Kangaroo

  6. SteveB

    When I was about five years old, my uncle let me stay up with him to watch “Son of Frankenstein” on the local late night horror show. (My mom was NOT happy when she found out.). I had dreams of being chased by the monster afterwards, but from that night grew a love of horror movies. I still love horror movies – good bad and anything in between.

    As for TV shows, it was Captain Kangaroo (with Mr. Green Jeans and bunny rabbit) and the Casey Jones show, which was a local kids TV show that was on every day about noon. Years later I was at a parade for Grand Old Days in St. Paul and there was Roger Nelson, the man who played Casey Jones on TV, in his Casey Jones railroad outfit. The greatest thing was that all the people running up to him, were adults – who undoubtedly grew up watching his show every day. I was one of them.

      • Timcharger

        But then again, as many high-def scholars have stated. They can absolutely pardon themselves. E, Aaron, & Luke can defy Josh’s subpoena to respond to Roundtable questions under oath, While no one is above the law at HDD, they can absolutely do whatever they want. Julian, you’re a leaker; spreading fake news. Josh, stop the witch hunt.

  7. William Henley

    The funny thing is, the earliest memories I have are of live action, but I am sure I must have watched cartoons as well. I am thinking my earliest memories of live action predate cartoons by about 2-3 years.

    Earliest memories of Live Action are Little House on the Prairie, Dukes of Hazzard, Dallas, Falcon Crest, and Sesame Street (I do remember Mr Rogers, but not until later, although I am sure he was on and I watched him).

    Earliest memories of Cartoons are The Get-a-long Gang and Muppet Babies (I still love this show, and would love to see this released on DVD or another current format, but I am sure all the various copyrights are what has held this show up getting a home video release).

    I think when I was old enough to start choosing which shows I watched, I also watched The Cosby Show, 3-2-1 Contact, Square One, Reading Rainbow, Mickey Mouse Club, Mousercise, and Full House (I had such a huge crush on Jodie Sweetin for most of my elementary and middle school years).

  8. Timcharger

    Josh, this Roundtable topic made me think literally of the first TV, the first TV itself that I actually owned.

    Our first car, that’s supposed to be a thing for many. Memories. Freedom. Rite of passage. But for HDD fans, our first TV must be a thing too.

    What memories we have of the first TV, you could call your own. Hey, I can watch what I want; that’s my TV. Future Roundtable topic? Or did I miss this topic already covered in years past?

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