One of my favorite shows when I was growing up was Watch Mr. Wizard. This was one of commercial television’s earliest educational efforts for grade-school and pre-teen children. Conceived and hosted by the affable Don Herbert, it made science exciting and understandable for kids without any glitz or special effects and without dumbing the science down. The 30-minute show premiered on the NBC station in Chicago in 1951 and moved to the NBC network in New York in 1955, where it ran for another decade, with a brief revival in 1971-1972.
Herbert played the role of Mr. Wizard, a friendly scientist that the neighborhood kids loved to drop in on at his home, where he would have them assist him in carrying out simple but fascinating scientific experiments. The style of the show was very low-key, with Mr. Wizard and his assistant seeming to ad-lib all their dialogue.
What I loved about this show was that Mr. Wizard treated his child assistant with respect and dignity, never talking down to him or her. And each assistant seemed to be smart and capable. I also loved the fact that his assistant was often a girl, despite the fact that in those days, girls weren’t expected to be interested in or good at science. The experiments demonstrated on the show were fascinating and magical, but not so complicated that you couldn’t recreate many of them at home on your own.
Watch Mr. Wizard was quite a TV sensation for a while and generated an interest in science for many children. There were Mr. Wizard science clubs all across the country with a combined membership of over 100,000. There were Mr. Wizard science kits for purchase, and Herbert also created a very successful business supplying science films and other educational materials to schools.
Sadly, the simple format and gentle pace of the show seemed outdated by the time NBC finally cancelled it in 1972. In 1983, Herbert developed a faster-paced science show called Mr. Wizard’s World, which ran on Nickelodeon until 1990, with reruns broadcast until 2000.
You can still "Watch Mr. Wizard" on these DVD's: Kids' TV of the 50's, Watch Mr. Wizard, Watch Mr. Wizard - Electricity and More, and Watch Mr. Wizard - Everyday Illusions and More. Several paperback books written by Don Herbert are still available, including Mr. Wizard's Experiments for Young Scientists, Mr. Wizard's Supermarket Science, and Mr. Wizard's 400 Experiments in Science.