Thursday, April 22, 2021

Child of the 1980's - Early Educational Television Shows


                I don’t know about anyone else, but few things got me more excited during my elementary school years than walking into a classroom and seeing a television.  The big old television sets on the rolling cart meant that we were going to get to watch some sort of video.  Granted it was an educational video, but a video nonetheless.  Sometimes we would get the retro filmstrips with the audio that didn’t quite line up but mostly it was one of a few educational television shows geared toward kids between 6-10 years old.  As a child of the 1980’s these three shows coming up were a huge part of those classroom video days.  Do you remember them?

                For the younger children of the 1980’s, born during the latter half of the decade The Electric Company might not have been on your itinerary for classroom viewing.  The sketch comedy show meant for kids began with its iconic ‘Hey, you guys!’ opening line. 

     Airing from 1971-1977 it helped establish people like Morgan Freeman, Rita Moreno, Irene Cara, and Bill Cosby.  The show helped kids with spelling and grammar in addition to educational yet humorous sketches.  Created by Samuel Gibbon Jr. The Electric Company won an Emmy and a Grammy during its 780 episode tenure.  Though crossovers from some of the Muppets from Sesame Street helped, the show was ultimately canceled despite being very popular.  It was a staple during my first few years of school but was ultimately replaced by two other more contemporary shows.
     Focusing more toward the scientific realm came 3-2-1 Contact in 1980.  Despite it also being created by Samuel Gibbon Jr. it initially was a flop.  The first season showcased college students discussing science in a place called ‘the workshop.’  It would be shelved for nearly three years before coming back in 1983 retooled with several different child hosts.  This was another show that immediately caught the eye of kids with its catchy intro.  

     It kept our attention with scientific content mostly created by Dr. Edward G. Atkins along with memorable sketches like the Bloodhound Gang who solved mysteries using their knowledge of science.  Airing until 1988 over the span of 225 episodes 3-2-1 Contact was usually the show of choice by my teachers, except for possibly one exception.
     When it comes to 1980’s educational television few things come to mind before Reading Rainbow.  It had perhaps the catchiest theme song with the unique Buchla synthesizer playing over lyrics sung initially by Tina Fabrique.  ‘Take a look, it’s in a book.’ 

     Created by and starring LeVar Burton, who was only twenty-six when the show debuted in 1983, this series encouraged children to read.  Every episode would feature recommendations of books to read, though Burton would always say we didn’t have to take his word for it.  There would be celebrity readers as well during the show’s 155 episodes which ran from 1983-2006.  All in all Reading Rainbow would be the third longest running children’s series behind only Mr. Rogers Neighborhood and Sesame Street.  It would claim twenty-six Emmys including eleven for Outstanding Children’s Series before it was said and done.
      Few things made school more fun than getting to watch television as part of your learning.  These three shows were a huge part of 1980’s educational television, but I am sure there are more.  What was your favorite early educational television show?  Was it on this list? Stay tuned for more sweet 1980’s memories!

No comments: