When I was a kid, there was a certain understanding about school. If you walked into a classroom and one of the roll-around TV’s was sitting in the front, you were in for an awesome day. I think most people my age look back fondly and remember those “movie days” with a nostalgic warmth. Those were the days when instead of looking at books or trying not to fall asleep while being lectured by a teacher, you actively engaged in something a little more awesome. Some of those shows that we used to watch, Read all About It, Bill Nye, various Nova specials, were the days when we learned something in a way that simply reading from a book does not give you. It was visual, it was audible, it was television.
It wasn’t just elementary school, either. I remember watching Bill Nye the Science Guy talking about everything thermodynamics to subatomic mass all the way into my senior year of high school, and I can honestly tell you that he is still teaching awesome things! I’m a bit of a giant nerd, so maybe Bill Nye sticks out more in my mind than other shows from PBS, but I can tell you without exaggeration that as good as the school’s I attended were, as smart and informative as my parents are, as desperate to gain information from books (and from around age 12 on the internet), I learned so many things from shows I saw on free public broadcasting that I would never have learned anywhere else.
It stars at a young age, with Big Bird and Cookie Monster, and probably even more importantly a certain singing disco pinball machine that I’m pretty sure taught me how to count to twelve before I even realized what numbers were. I can still sing that song by the way.
♪ ONE TWO THREE FOUR FIVE… SIX SEVEN EIGHT NIIIINE TEN ELEVEN TWEEEEEE-EEE-EEEEELVE! ♪
I learned all kinds of things from the Muppets of Sesame Street. I learned letters and numbers. I learned that a gay couple can adopt a rubber ducky and be just fine with that. I learned that even if you’re a dick, you shouldn’t take the people that are nice to you for granted. I learned that it doesn’t matter if your yellow with orange stripes or orange with yellow stripes, all worms are equal in the eyes of the Grouch. I learned that Pigs in Space is still awesome.
I learned a lot.
Then I grew up a little bit, and I found a whole new increasing world of things to learn.
I learned that George Carlin is actually only about 6 inches tall, and that the insides of the jukebox has a band that plays whatever you want for quarters.
I learned that Carmen Sandiego is out there somewhere and that young Sleuths can only capture her with the help of an a cappella singing group. Of course, a working knowledge of geography and history usually helps, too.
I learned that a Jack Russell Terrier has dreams of understanding some of the world’s most complex literary works, and I don’t believe I’m exaggerating when I say that the points that dog makes about books are identical to the points that college English professors will make about the same works.
I learned that I don’t have to take LeVar Burton’s word for it, but that you should, because that man has amazing tastes in books.
|SIDE NOTE: When I was 5-8 I wanted nothing more than to be one of the kids on Reading Rainbow, and I prided myself on my knowledge that the Reading Rainbow guy could also fix a Starship. When I got a bit older, I desperately longed to go on Carmen Sandiego and get one of those awesome Jackets. Neither of those dreams ever came to pass, but one time, LeVar Burton replied to me on twitter, and that totally makes up for it.|
As I got older, I started watching less and less PBS. As far as I am concerned the missing demographic for PBS is people from about age 15 to 30. There isn’t really any shows specifically targetting that demographic, and I’m not sure if they would ever be successful there. Now that I’m getting a bit older and more mature, though, I’m starting to realize there was more to Public Broadcasting than just the educational shows of my youth. Some of the things that define me come from shows that were on PBS. My first introduction to Doctor Who, as a very young person was watching old episodes on PBS, for example.
I can distinctly remember covetously watching repeated viewings of The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, Prince Caspian, and the Voyage of the Dawntreader on a worn out VHS tape that had pirated them from PBS before I was old enough to remember the original broadcasts. These were old school British Chronicles, by the way, with people wearing animal costumes. I saw these movies before I read the books, so it never even occurred to me that the animals were actual animals. Other than Aslan of course. You had to use a real lion. People can believe a man in a beaver suit is a beaver, but no one is going to believe a lion suit is a real lion.
I was quite shocked when the newer movies came out as a result.
Then of course, there was theater.
I have been a theater kid since my freshman year of high school and despite my lack of connections to the media world in any way, I am one of those snobs that considers theater to be immensely superior to cinema.
Yes, I am sitting here telling you how much better watching a play on television is than watching a movie. No, I don’t find that ironic.
In fact, my first experience with a lot of plays that would eventually become movies happened as a result of Public Television.
I remember watching Sweeney Todd in Concert on KCPT starring George Hearn, Patti LuBorne, and Neil Patrick Harris when I was about 16 and falling in love with the play. I still think that had I not seen this one, truly spectacular performance, which apparently few people did, I would have been able to enjoy Jonny Depp’s poor portrayal much better. If you have not seen this performance, you should get your hands on it. You will toss Helena Bohnam Carter out on her ass after seeing Patti LuBorne.
I swear, when I tell people that, they just assume that I’m some sort of Tim Burton hating douche, but really, truly, the best performance of this musical I have ever seen comes from PBS.
Also, it had NPH, so you really should just accept it as perfect.
Of course, PBS also has stuff for serious adults, news programs, foreign news programs, that guy that drones on endlessly about how important PBS is…. RIVER DANCE!
I’m not even mentioning awesome old people shows like America’s Test Kitchen, which is the best cooking show/infomercial ever created!
There are times when I think to myself, ‘PBS is basically everything good on cable rolled into one station without anything crappy.’
I personally even love telethons because they always play PBS’s best shows back to back and you get to see cookie monster and NPH hanging out, and if you have 50 bucks you can get a TOTE BAG!
This is why everyone needs PBS. You should be watching PBS right now.
Why are you reading this blog. I’m just making you dumb. Go watch some public broadcasting.
Heck, if you don’t have a TV because you’re a furry man-child that lives in a closet, you can watch some of their best shows online.
BIG BIRD IS WAITING!