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LET’S CELEBRATE INTELLIGENT, entertaining, illuminating, and charming television provided by the Public Broadcasting Service, now in its 50th year. This non-commerical, free-to-air public broadcaster was founded on November 3, 1969, with National Educational Television a precursor established in 1952.
On October 25, 2020, The New York Times celebrated 50 years of PBS with “Why We Turned to PBS: 50 Reasons Over 50 Years.” Here are tidbits gleaned from this article, together with my own taking part in the celebration.
Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. Jennifer Harlan calls Fred Rogers’ program “Empathy and honesty wrapped in a cardigan…. The soft-spoken, cardigan-wearing, former Presbyterian minister was concerned with not just the academic but the emotional education of children.”
A visit to Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood was an entertaining, yet calming rest period for Daughters Suz and Beth. They both learned a lot from TV (Daughter Suz learned to read by watching commercials). But, as Jennifer writes in The New York Times, “Mister Rogers taught viewers of all ages to not be afraid of their feelings, to always look for the helpers and to like themselves just the way they are.”
Julia Child, The French Chef. Rachel Ray recalls how Julia Child “took something that was considered complicated, or precious, or for a very elite few, and made it digestible for people and fun.”
Prior to Julia, my only culinary achievement was mixing peas and pine nuts with rice. Encouraged by her TV show, I bought Mastering the Art of French Cooking and, before long, I learned to flip omelets by hitting the handle of a tilted skillet.
And just as she would occasionally have garlic kicking across the room, I would joyfully continue my own culinary adventures.
Sesame Street. Kal Penn, host and creator of “Kal Penn Approves This Message” on Freeform, writes, “One of my earliest memories of watching TV was Sesame Street.”
Kal recalls, “As the son of immigrant Americans it was one of the few, if not the only, inclusive pieces of television for a very long time. I think that probably played some role in feeling that the characters and the creativity were boundless. Just being able to see ourselves in children’s television in a way that lets you know that where your parents are from is OK, and your family structure is OK, and all of the things that you’re otherwise ‘othered’ about in the world.”
Agreed, we’ve had enough of “us versus them.” This wonderful TV show suggested otherwise as early as 1969.
Upstairs Downstairs. Alexis Soloski writes, “Decades before Downton Abbey, other feet climbed the servants’ stairs of an elegant manse. In 1974, PBS debuted this British drama, set above and below stairs in the London home of the aristocratic Bellamy family.”
Goings-on at 165 Eaton Place, Belgravia, evolved from the Edwardian era, to the Great War, the Roaring Twenties, and the Great Depression.
The cars of Upstairs Downstairs included a Rolls-Royce and Humber Pullman MkI, though I don’t recall anything quite as sporty as Henry Talbot’s 3-Litre Bentley from Downton Abbey.
The Electric Company. Alexis Soloski writes that The Electric Company, making its debut in 1971, was “the cool cat big sister to Sesame Street. Each of its 780 half-hour episodes, produced by the Children’s Television Workshop, taught kids phonics with blinding ‘70s visuals and short sketches that deployed parody, satire, surrealism and doo-wop.”
Like Sesame Street, The Electric Company was entertaining (and grammatically enlightening) for parents as well as kids. I remember Morgan Freeman and Rita Moreno as part of the original cast as well as contributions from Tom Lehrer.
The article in The New York Times gives 45 additional reasons to celebrate the Public Broadcasting Service. Happy Fiftieth, PBS!! ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2020