Look Back at The Weird, Wild & Puppet-Filled World Of Children’s TV

Kids have fallen in love with some of TV’s most wonderfully bizarre programming. Here we look at a few retro series that kids loved despite — and perhaps, because of — their weirdness.

Many people find clowns freaky, but I have a lifetime love of Bozo the Clown. While Bozo had regional TV shows in several U.S. cities, Bozo was a major part of Chicago television. It was in 1984, while attending a taping of The Bozo Show, that I decided that I wanted to have a career in television. Six-year-old me was awestruck by the studio lights, the wonderful stardust exuded by everything showbiz-related and the frenetic energy of the female floor director who had the power to tell Bozo what to do! She was my #SHEro before hashtags were even a thing, and I was hooked.

Apparently, affinity for unusual children’s television ran rampant in Chicago, as the Windy City was also the home for Gigglesnort Hotel, which aired from 1975-78. The show starred Bill Jackson as the desk clerk of an old hotel whose staff and guests were a bizarre assortment of puppets from an earlier Chicago-based kids program, The B.J. and Dirty Dragon Show. The highlight of both series was when Jackson would magically transform the appearance of the clay statue Blob with a few pinches and pokes, and a few simple accessories.

Big-name stars got their start

The Electric Company was PBS’ 1970s effort to bridge the literacy gap between suburban and urban kids through animation, grammar, phonics and fun. The ensemble cast included Rita Moreno as Carmela, Jim Boyd, Mel Brooks and Morgan Freeman — whose character, Easy Reader, transfixed my older sister while teaching her to read “top to bottom, left to right.” The show rebooted in 2009 with a similar, literacy-based mission, and while it wasn’t as bizarrely hip as the original, it still made kids want to call, “Heyyy, you guuuuys!”

THE ELECTRIC COMPANY, from left: child, Judy Graubart, Morgan Freeman, Hattie Winston, Rita Moreno, Bill Cosby, 1971-77. ©CTW/Courtesy Everett Collection

Everett Collection

John Burstein’s fictional character Slim Goodbody was originally created to help teach New York schoolchildren about health. Burstein donned a specially made unitard decorated with biologically accurate muscles, bones, tissues and organs to teach bite-sized lessons about the wonders of the human body. After years of appearances on morning news and Captain Kangaroo, Mr. Goodbody received his own PBS series, The Inside Story With Slim Goodbody. Today, Burstein still tours the country and makes appearances as “the Superhero of Health” it was also rumored he will be coming out with an animated series to bring health education to today’s youth.

Creepy Christian children shows

Among Christian TV-watchers, JOT and Davey and Goliath were two of nonsecular TV’s most unusual creations. The animated adventures of JOT the Dot taught simple, Southern Baptist morality lessons, while the creepy Claymation duo of Davey and Goliath presented life lessons, courtesy of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. Both biblical series had the power to amaze with both prophetic messages and religiously bad animation.

The cheery pipe organ and simple stop-motion animation of BBC’s The Magic Roundabout, adapted from the French series Le Manège Enchanté, looks better suited for a department store’s holiday window display, but Eric Thompson’s sublime voice as the series’ narrator helped the show achieve status as a cult classic in the U.K.

Catchy tunes that hooked us in

Sid & Marty Krofft had many wild and weird children’s shows throughout the 1970s but the one that sticks out the most is Land of The Lost, not only for the strange world full of dinosaurs and Sleestaks but that ultra-catchy tune at the beginning.

Finally, the theme song of the 1980s TV hit The Great Space Coaster still gets toes tapping, although the show is many shades of confusing: What in the heck is Baxter? Why does the space coaster defy every law of physics known to man? Where can we get Huggles? So. Many. Questions.

What was your favorite odd kids show growing up? Let us know in the comments!



Kid Stuff
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Kid Stuff

June 2018

Unleash your inner child by reliving your favorite kids TV shows, cartoons, toys and more!

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