I know I’m not the only middle-aged adult with vivid, fond, and yes, sometimes even scary memories of the TV shows I watched as a child. As a very young immigrant to the U.S., these shows were my main source of instruction in the language, culture, and shared myths and fantasies of my new country. They also conveyed a tacit vision of what adults thought about children at that time – their needs, their interests, and what might entertain and/or educate them.
In this blog, I want to talk about the children’s shows we watched when we were young, from whatever years that constituted for each of us. I’d like to focus on shows that were created specifically for kids, not the sitcoms or other general-audience shows that we also watched (although that could be a great topic for another blog).
One of my most vivid memories from my earliest days of TV watching is the day that I watched the live broadcast of the Pinky Lee Show when Pinky Lee appeared to have a heart attack right in front of his studio audience and millions of young, impressionable at-home viewers. For those of you too young to have seen his show, Pinky Lee was clearly the inspiration for the Peewee character in Peewee’s Playhouse. He was a demented clown-like and child-like little man in baggy pants, a loud checked jacket, a bow-tie and a funny little hat, who jumped and ran around a lot and sang funny songs. I remember that he was very mischievous, always doing what he was told not to do, and often egging his audience on to misbehave as well.
On the day in question, I was sitting on the living-room floor watching the show as my mother was in the kitchen. I think it was at some point near the end of the show when Pinky suddenly stopped singing and running around and clutched his chest, looking straight at the camera, and said something like “Somebody please help me” before he keeled over onto the floor. I think the camera stayed on the empty spot where Pinky had been standing for a few seconds, and then the TV went blank. I remember running breathlessly into the kitchen and wailing at my mother, “Mommy, Pinky Lee fell down! Pinky Lee fell down!” before I burst into tears.
Some accounts say that Pinky didn’t actually have a heart attack but only collapsed due to some other ailment, but who knows what really happened? At the time, I was sure that he had died, but he apparently survived this incident, though his TV career was never the same again. Needless to say, this was a very traumatic event for me, something that could only have happened in those early days of live, unedited TV.
I guess this is a pretty macabre memory. I do have plenty of cheerful recollections as well, like my memories of Ding Dong School (one of the key ways that I learned English), Shari Lewis’ puppet show, and Captain Kangaroo, to name just a few.
Can you remember some of the first kids’ TV shows that you watched? Do you have gaps in your memories that you wish others could fill in? I’d love to hear from you!