I was pretty bummed to learn that the current adminstration’s budget completely eliminates funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the publicly funded radio and television company that includes NPR and PBS. To say I support PBS is probably an understatement. As I began to think of the programming I’ve watched over the years, I realized what a big PBS fan I really am.
There are the obvious impacts like Sesame Street and Mister Rogers Neighborhood. Like most kids my age, I enjoyed watching the live action scenes on Sesame Street, which I always assumed were New York before I’d had a chance to visit there. I couldn’t verbalize it then, but I appreciated the diverse cast of Maria, and Luis, and Gordon, and Bob. And how sometimes they’d get a little flabbergasted with Jim Henson’s precocious Muppets like Grover, Oscar, Ernie, Bert, Prarie Dawn, and Elmo (after my time of course). I loved the Tweedlebugs and the Teeny Little Super Guy segments. I liked when they’d have guest stars like Smokey Robinson singing with the letter U or James Taylor singing Jelly Man. I liked “One of These Things is Not Like the Others” and the cool counting animations where a psychadelic pinball machine would tell you the number of the day. I loved the segment where they showed you how a crayon was made. And of course, Follow That Bird. As for Mister Rogers, I liked the Land of Make Believe best. The weird looking puppets like King Friday and Lady Elaine and Daniel Tiger. I wanted to visit the castle and the treehouse and ride the trolley. At that age, it was possible.
But there are deeper cuts and ones less remembered. Like Lambchop’s Play Along, Captain Kangaroo and Zoobilee Zoo. And educational shows like Where In the World is Carmen Sandiego? that taught about culture and geography. Square One and 3-2-1 Contact that made math and science interesting. I wanted to be a Mathnet detective like Agent Kate Monday and her partner George, even if just for a few minutes in the afternoon. The mystery solving itch continued in middle school with Ghostwriter which was geared more toward literacy. And I’d be remiss if I did not mention the heavy hitter, Reading Rainbow. I always imagined that I could be one of those kids that recommended a book to other kids and then said, “But don’t take my word for it.” Pretty sure I can sing the theme song to most of these shows. And that cool message at the beginning and end of each show…Sesame Street is brought to you by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the support of XYZ Local Dentist, and viewers like you.
There was (and is) lots of children’s programming that I didn’t watch, but I know my siblings did. Even Barney, my known enemy. Teletubbies and Caillou are pretty horrible, but someone has to like them. Much of PBS Kids’ programming can now be found on the Sprout channel. Cyan digs the Wild Kratts. And Sesame shows new on HBO. But that’s the thing about the Public Broadcasting Service. It was free to kids who didn’t have cable or satellite channels. 2,4,5,7,13. The main channels in my hometown. That KNME 5 was legit.
My PBS fandom is not limited to children’s shows. PBS introduced us to master craftspeople like Julia Childs and Bob Villa; mesmerizing artists like Mark Kistler with his Imagination Station and Bob Ross with his happy little trees. Amazing dispalys of the natural world on Nova and National Geographic. Hidden gems on the Antiques Roadshow. Excellent acouostic sets on Austin City Limits and other music specials. Bill Moyers’ specials. Unsensational news. And those glorious BBC imports like Masterpiece Theater, which brought over my beloved, Downton Abbey. And Vicious.
A few years after I graduated from college, I had the opportunity to volunteer at KNME during a local pledge drive. I sat in a room behind the on camera talent and took phone donations from viewers like you. We were showing an Elvis Special, which I believe you would get for a certain dollar amount donation. Most of the people who called were elderly and I think that has to with the wisdom they had in realizing what a gem public television is. I always wished I’d been a better supporter of PBS and I suppose at least for the time being, I still can be.
I wouldn’t even mind paying for the programming you can find on PBS, but that’s not the point. Here we have this rich culutral treasure that in the grand scheme of budgets is quite small, but is at risk. You know, like the National Endowments for the Arts and Humanities. In my opinion, our priorities are backward. I don’t listen to NPR as much, but like PBS, I love it’s lack of sensationalism. My hope is that we can #keepChannel5alive