The Top 25 influential children’s shows that aired on American Public TV

One thing that American public TV likes to point out and justify their existence is that they present quality education program for children and even pre-teens (before Tweens was the popular term) as well. Regardless where you stand on American Public TV and how it should be funded, one thing can’t be disputed. Many of shows that have aired over the years did have an impact on American Culture. Here is a countdown of the top 25 shows that were the biggest influences on children, that were popular with the kids (and certain parents and teachers) and remembered well.

25: Assignment: The World (1959-2013): Long before the controversial “Channel One News” closed circuit in school program signed on, this long running15 minute weekly news program (from PBS station WXXI in Rochester, New York) was a staple in American classrooms that ran for 54 years starting in the fall of 1959 and ending in the spring of 2013. The best-known anchor for this long running newsprogram was GinnieBacheler who anchored ATW for 20+ years and during its primetime in the 1970’s and 80’s. ATW would feature the top stories of the week and the producers would present a few pop quizzes on those stories (multiple guess questions as well) just to make sure if the students were actually watching the program. The show also presented “Clues In The News” in which students were given a word or a short statement, scrambled word or even a location clue (giving the latitude and longitude of a location in the world). The show gives the kids one week to chew on these clues before reveling the answers on next week’s newscast. CITN is done in two separate segments. The First presents the solutions during the middle of the show and the other presents the new close which was done near the end of the show put before the final pop quiz of the program. Another popular segment is when Bacheler (or another anchor) reported on a controversial issue of the moment (not necessarily scandalous) and asked students to write in to ATW with their thoughts via the snail mail and later email…this would lead in to their mailbag segment in which they read a few letters on the program from both sides of an issue they discussed two weeks ago. Rising costs, cutbacks, and other media outlets (including Channel One) would end ATW’s mission in 2013. Still the show was popular thanks to teachers who got their students hooked on this program.

24: Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood (2012-Present): We shall focus on Fred Rogers and his show that inspired this one a little bit later. In the meantime, it’s important to have this one on the list because it was inspired by the legacy of Fred Rodgers. One of the people that Mr. Rogers inspired was Angela Santomero who was approached by The Fred Rogers Company (founded by Mr. Rogers as Family Communications Inc.) to come up with a program inspired by Fred’s legacy in children’s TV. Santomero who co-created Blue Clues for Nickelodeon’s Nick Jr. block and “Super Why” for PBS Kids took Fred’s puppet creations and their place of residence (The Neighborhood of Make Believe) and put all of that in a computer animated environment. The original characters now have children of their own or more children (in the case of King Friday XIII and Queen Sara Saturday) and those children become the focus of the show…especially the title character who is the son of the original Daniel Striped Tiger who is more of an outgoing tiger these days than the shy one back in the day. In fact, all the adults have mellowed. For instance,Lady Elaine Fairchilde is not as mischievous as she was before. In fact she settled down (i.e. married) and her daughter Miss Elaina just loves to do things backwards. Even King Friday is not the sudo tyrannical (for lack of a better term but still well intended) King of the Neighbor as he was before. That did kind of rub off on his youngest son Prince Wednesday who was created for this series and Prince Tuesday is now his older big brother and in his teens. But overall Daniel in spite of being a kid plays thesurrogate Fred Rodgers while respecting the authority of his parents and other adults and enjoys playing with his friends. No complaints of any revision here. After all it was Mr. Rogers himself that encouraged the viewers including Santomero to make up stories about his make believe neighborhood. It’s just Santomero got to do an official one…with the blessing of The Fred Rogers Company. Today’s kids are enjoying this vision of the legacy of Mr. Rogers. Some of you may chew me out for putting Daniel Tiger near the bottom but keep this in mind. “Sometimes it’s good to go slow.” One of the many musical motifs used in the series. Daniel will be in a higher ranking in the future soon enough.

23. Inside/Out (1972-1973): This in-school program presented anthology dramatizations that taught students cultural and social issues. Most of the30 episodes in the series (running time 15 minutes) that were produced were written about basic dilemmas that children faced regarding the social and culture norms. Other stories used fantasy elements and others were written like a documentary and/or single narration. Most of the stories ended in unresolved cliffhangers in which the children would have to think critically about the stories they just watched. One episode even dealt with a death in the family and how one of key public TV stations WGBH in Boston was afraid to air that respected episode. The show was received with critical acclaim and would become a staple of the In-School service programing lineup and reran consistently until at least the late 1980’s. It has been reported that this show ran on a handful of PBS stations outside of the In-School broadcast time allowing parents to watch this series with their children showing two episodes in order to fill the half hour of time. The series was produced by National Instructional Television (NIT) which soon became the Agency for Instructional Television (later changed to Technology) and Inside/Out would serve as a blueprint for future AIT shows. The anthology setup was used in related shows to Inside/Out (“Self Incorporated” “On The Level” and the 1996 sequel “Looking From The Inside/Out”) as well as other school subjects like math (“It Figures” and “Math Words”), economics (“Trade Offs” and its direct sequel “Give & Take” both of which used the same infinity double twisting arrows logo). But all those shows have to look to the innovator of dramatized education TV…that being Inside/Out. It was so popular that Bantam Books published a paperback featuring a handful of stories from the TV series.

22. “Cover To Cover with John Robbins”and other shows with the same format and host (1960’s-1990’s): Elementary educator and illustrator turned to TV in the 1960’s when he was hired at public TV station WETA in our nation’s capital. His job was to develop shows for elementary school aged children. His best-known shows were those that showcased the best in children’s literature for in-school service programing targeting older elementary school children. The premise is simple. Robbins would present one or two books per show (each show running 15 minutes in length). A piece of the story is read to the students accompanied by illustrations dawn by Robbins himself (usually done in real time) and by other illustrators that were preproduced before. The story would end on a cliffhanger and Robbins would encourage the kids to read the books themselves to find out how they were resolved and how the storyline was moved forward. The first series shows began in the 1960’s, with the first show produced in color by 1973. Because of the nature of in-school service programing Robbins also used different titles to update the shows while keeping the same format. Various titles include; “The Book Bird,” “Storybound,” and “Readit.” The ‘Cover to Cover’moniker would be used in the last series of programs that Robbins produced and hosted (“Books from Cover to Cover,”“More Books from Cover to Cover,” and “Read on: Cover to Cover”). Robbins did not limit himself to just creating and hosting in-school shows showcasing children’s literature. He created and or hosted “Across Cultures,” “Portraits: The Americans” (narrating the history of historical American figures), and even doing a program for high school students called “The Short Story.” However, his legacy is his “Children’s Lit” shows and many of those books have stood the test of time. Among those books that Robbins featured include “Little House In The Big Woods”(the first of the “Little House On The Prairie” trilogy), “A Wrinkle In Time,”(a motion picture adaption with a release in 2018 is in the works) “Bridge to Terabithia,” “A Bear Called Paddington,” and “The Mouse and the Motorcycle” just to name a few. Robbins lived into his 70’s, passing away on December 11, 2016.

21. Clifford the Big Red Dog (2000-2003)/Clifford’s Puppy Days (2003-2006): The book series written by Norman Birdwell was already loved by children long before Scholastic decided to give its flagship icon his own show. There are other shows that do better than Clifford but the very little puppy turned giant red dog does deserve a place here in the list…hands down. We know about Emily Elizabeth and how her love for Clifford made him a giant, accident prone but well-intentioned dog. The TV series creates a community called Birdwell Island (named after Clifford’s creator) and introduces us to several human and dog characters. The humans include Emily’s best friend Charley, the self-absorbed Jetta, Sheriff Lewis, Ms. Diller, and Horace Bleakman (likely modeled after Mr. Wilson from Dennis The Menace). The other dogs are T-Bone (owned by Sheriff Lewis), Cleo (owned by Ms. Diller), and Mac (owned by Jetta). While Clifford is the title character, sometimes the humans do get their own stories as well and the dogs become secondary. Only the dogs can talk to each other in English, but all of them get storylines in which they have to solve everyday problems and how to work together in their community. Clifford The Big Red Dog is best known as the first of John Ritter’s final roles (in the UK version Clifford was voiced by Tom Eastwood). He finished up Clifford before starting to work on his final sitcom “Eight Simple Rules.” In fact, Ritter passed away before the prequel series “Clifford’s Puppy Days” had its premiere. For the prequel series (taking place in the inner city), new characters where also developed including Emily’s pet rabbit Daffodil, twin kittens Flo and Zo and Clifford’s bird friend Norville voiced in the American version by Henry “Fonzie” Winkler and incorporated his famous greaser character into Norville. Clifford here is voiced in the American version by voice actress Lara Jill Miller who was best known on camera as SamKanisky on the 1980’s sitcom “Gimme A Break.” The same educational premise was used in the prequel…about community and learning to work together. The prequel did not have a same popularity as the original series but both serve the same educational purpose and besides who does not like Clifford…Big or Small. Both versions are equal in my book.

20. The Cat In The Hat Knows A Lot About That (2010-Present): As with Clifford, The Cat In The Hat was more of iconic book star long before he was a TV star…he however did star in three TV specials (one based on first iconic book staring The Cat, Dr. Seuss on the Loose, and The Grinch Grinches The Cat In The Hat); was played by Mike Myers in the 2003 movie; and was the lead character in the stage musical “Seussical.” However, a regular animated series featuring The Cat was not realized until 2010. Being on PBS Kids and public TV you knew that it had to have an educational element. So, they made the primary focus of teaching Life Science to its preschool audience. In each episode Nick and Sally (six year friends and neighbors) face a problem of sorts and The Cat drops in. He mentions an acquaintance (someone that is connected to the life sciences) that he knows somewhere in the world that could help the kids. Cat assures that their mothers (sometimes seen on camera…others times not) would not mind going out with the Cat (in this case they are very naïve but no complaints from parents that I have heard of) and everytime they approve of them going out with The Cat In The Hat. The board the Cat’s mode of transportation The”Thinga-ma-jigger” (which can fly, change size, etc. as well as buckle Nick and Sally’s seat belts…very important) and the crew is off once again for a Life Science (for the most part) education adventure. The show is not out of production just yet. PBS Kids has commissioned 20 new episodes to be produced and screened for another three or four years give or take. The education of the Life Sciences coupled with Dr. Seuss’s rhythming patters makes parents want to enjoy these adventures with their kids. Cue the song; “Here we go, go go go, on an adventure!The Thingamajigger is up and away.”

19. Bill Nye The Science Guy (Aired on PBS Kids from 1994-1999; also in Syndication from 1993-1998): OK Bill Nye The Science Guy first aired on Commercial TV, but it was created with PBS Kids in mind and coupled the recently signed “Children’s TV Act” that mandated that every TV station air three hours of educational children’s programing and eventually killing Saturday Morning TV, Bill Nye was a savior to commercial TV…him and Beakman…but Beakman did not air on Public TV.Co-produced by Walt Disney Television and PBS member station KCTS in Seattle, WA; mechanical engineer Bill Nye developed a cultivated a science teaching persona that could hold people’s attention by presenting elements of comedy and fast paced cut always (appearing as a mute demonstration guy on the animated “Back To Future” series helped as well). Bill Nye’s series was pitched as combining Mr. Wizard (Don Herbert) with elements from “Pee-Wee’s Playhouse;” just not as childish. Each episode would have Bill Nye talking about the program’s episode subject along with recurring sketches and celebrity appearances and rounding it all off with a music video parody (although some episodes however did not have this) that is in regard to the topic of the program. Bill Nye is still advancing the cause of Science to this day, but some may question his approach especially his recent Netflix TV program which is not intended for the kiddies.

18. 3-2-1 Contact (1980-1988): This first major children’s show focused on science screened on PBS Kids. Coming off the production of the classic Electric Company series,Samuel Y. Gibbon Jr. was inspired by a long running show on science that was popular in Australia called The Curiosity Show. The show presented a hands-on approach to science and showed experiments and how certain things worked and reminded viewers to get permission first before trying them on their own. PBS however wanted Gibbon to make changes and have younger presenters explain and/or learn about the sciences, and that is what he and the Children’s Television Workshop (now Sesame Workshop) did. The presenters however were made into fictional characters. For the first season, they were college students who hung out at a place called “the worship” discussing science and enjoyingeach other’s company. However, with lack of funding it took nearly two years for a brand-new season of 3-2-1 Contact to be produced and the old cast moved on. The new cast also presented as fictional characters were in high school instead of college…but the premise of hands on science stayed the same. Nearing the end of its run…new cast members came in playing themselves and was closer to The Curiosity Show if anything. As a five day a week program, the producers focused on one scientific discipline. For instance, one week of shows would be focused on the science of Temperature and the week after would be forced on the science of Electricity. To hold the viewers interest, CTW also enlisted Daniel Wilson Productions to produce a dramatized segment that featured three young detectives that would handle cases that were suitable for their age while their boss Mr. Bloodhound handled more “mature” cases. They named themselves after their boss and namesake agency. They were called “The Bloodhound Gang.” Staying consistent with the overall show, the Gang took on cases in which they used their knowledge of science to expose any scams or frauds that the clients’ friends were being taken in by and hoping that the young detectives can crack. One episode even had the gang captured by some bad guys and locked up in a truck. They were able to make a pinhole camera to see where they were being taken and eventually scoring a win for science and the good guys. Sadly, with death of Marcelino Sánchez (who played Ricardo Lopez) in 1986, The Bloodhound Gang ended production before the overall “3-2-1 Contact” series did. 3-2-1 Contact led the charge for science long before Bill Nye or even Theodor Geisel’s Cat In The Hat took over the responsibilities on PBS Kids.

17. Curious George (2006-2015): Another children’s book icon that was eventually turned into a TV series and before that was a major motion picture (released a year earlier) which this series is based on. For the purpose of education, Curious George’s educational disciplines were focused not only on science but mathematics as well. One episode would have George trying to build a home of pigeons while another would have George finding clues to clear the name of cat accused of scratching the boothsof a local restaurant. Regardless it’s a combination of Math and Science…and for our favorite monkey voiced by veteran voice actor Frank Welker we are willing to come along with Curious George and learn how he can figure it out in spite being a monkey. Hey monkeys can do things humans can’t do.

16. Cyberchase (2002-Present): This action-adventure animated series for kids focuses on Mathematics. In this series Motherboard the level headed and protagonist ruler of Cyberspace is threated by The Hacker (voiced by Christopher Lloyd) who has infected her with a long term computer virus. To protect Motherboard and eventually remove the virus, three children from our world (Jackie, Inez, and Matt) are recruited to defend Cyberspace from Hacker’s evil schemes. Also joining them reluctantly at first is Digit (voiced by comedianGilbert Gottfried) who was created by Hacker but betrayed him and siding with Motherboard and eventually the Cybersquad. In the first episode, however Digit was kind of made out to be like Iago (from Disney’s Aladdin film, Direct to Video, and TV series which Gottfried also voiced) but this was quickly dropped and Digit was all in for defending Motherboard. In each adventure, the Cybersquad team must use their mathematics skills in order to defeat Hacker and his plots to thwart his goal ofusherering in his tyrannical rule of Cyberspace. As the series progress they pick up many allies who will fight alongside with them but so far a big climax has yet to been written. The show is still in production and is supposed to have 10 new episodes by the end of 2017. The Cyberchase is still on.

15. Square One Television (1987-1992): Children’s Television Workshop embraced the sketch comedy format once again in the 1980’s but only this time the focus was on math. We shall focus on the more popular 1970’s Electric Company later, but right now let us look back on Square One TV. Some of the most popular recurring sketches on SQTV were Mathman (a parody of Pac-Man), “Backstage with Blackstone” in which Harry Blackstone, Jr does math related magic tricks with members of the cast. With the popularity in music videos they were “Exclusive” songs that pertained to math…mostly performed by the cast but their also songs that featured well known musicians at the time including Bobby McFerrin and The Jets. SQTV also did game show sketches with most of them using real life child contestants challenging their math skills and winning prizes like SQTV jackets and t-shirts. The show would end with a segment of the Dragnet parody called “Mathnet” in which the LA and later the NYPD police department used a duo of mathematicians to fight crime. Square One Televison made math fun just as the Electric Company made reading fun. It just could not make it easier for those who had could not do math in their heads….speaking of games shows….

14. Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?/Where In Time Is Carmen Sandiego (World 1991-1995, Time 1996-1997): I am consolidating both game shows with the same antagonist title character into one ranking. The first and better of the two ran for five seasons and produced 295 shows. It made stars out of the show’s house band Rockapella and the Announcer/Chief of Acme Crimenet Net Lynn Thigpen. In this game show, based on the computer game of the same name the three young contestants were called gumshoes and had to answer clues on geography trivia in order to track down Carmen Sandiego’s henchpersons and get a chance to play the end game for a chance to capture the crimeboss herself and win a trip to anywhere in the lower 48 states which expanded to the North American continent in later seasons. In 1996 the show was revamped to run on World’s sequel, “Where In Time…” Only Thigpen was held over and the contestants were now time pilots inside a time machine called a “Chronoskimmer” which also was the front gameplay set. Because it had a time travel theme the clues were focused on history trivia although it had an element of geography trivia as well. The grand prize to the time pilot who could catch Carman was a new Personal Home Computer. This version of the game show only lasted two years and did not have the magic as “Were In The World…” had. Due to Thigpen’s popularity of her character as Acme Chief, she was also featured in the computer games as well. Sadly, she passed away in 2003 at the age of 54.

13. Barney & Friends (1992-2009): Parents hated him, but PBS and its member stations loved him (or at least loved the fact he brought many preschooled age eyeballs to the fold). This six foot purple dino was the creation of native Texan Sheryl Leach who shopped around for children’s programing that would appeal to her then young son. She assembled a crew and produced a series of direct to video shows called Barney and the Backyard Gang. The first three videos did feature TV and stage actress Sandy Duncan playing the mother of two of the children in the videos. The videos (eight total) drew the attention of Larry Rifkin who was anexecutiveof Connecticut Public Television which owned and operated the PBS stations in that respected state. He rented a video for his daughter and liked the character himself. He soon touched base with Leach and talked about CPTV becoming a co-producer and bring Barney into the PBS Kids fold. Rifkin pitched a new Barney concept to CPTV PresidentJerry Franklinwhose own children got hooked into Barney as well. CPTV with Leach’s approval revamped the Barney concept (while keeping the show’s production in Texas) and “Barney & Friends” was born. The show was a smash hit and riding on the Dinosaur craze of the 1990’s. PBS was hesitant to continue funding the show…but CPTV twisted the arms of PBS member stations to convince PBS otherwise. It worked and Barney was here to stay. It was not all that bad you know. It served as a launching pad for now popstars Demi Lovato and Selena Gomez who worked in the same cast of children from 2002-2004, and before that Dean Wendt took over as the voice of Barney from Bob West and made his Barney voice just a tad bit smarter. Barney is supposed to make a comeback this year and the Million Dollar Question…will it be back on PBS Kids? We shall see.

12. Lamb Chop’s Play Along (1992-1995): Sheri Lewis and her puppet friends returned to TV in the 1990’s for a new PBS Kids series. Sheri and Lamb Chop along with her other puppets (Charlie Horse and Hush Puppy) encouraged children to be active participants in the program. It was like Romper Room except it shot was outdoors (and/or make to look that way) and had more colors and effects. In spite of being outshined by Barney, Sheri Lewis had a great relationship with PBS Kids. Three years after Play Along ended, Sheri and company stared in a follow up series to “…Play Along,” called “The Charlie Horse Music Pizza” in which Sheri and her puppet children run a pizzeria along the beach. Music Pizza also stared Dom DeLuise as the head cook and opera music lover named Cookie. Sadly “Music Pizza” came to a sudden end due to Lewis’s untimely health issues and eventual death in 1999.DeLuise himself passed on 10 years later.

11. Teletubbies (Original series aired on PBS Kids from 1997-2005): Like Barney & Friends this show raised some concerns with parents….and even some Christian Pastors (the late Jerry Falwell Sr. comes to mind). This children’s series for the 2 and under crowd was imported from the United Kingdom. The Teletubbies resembled alien looking babies with monitors implanted on their abdomens and varies antenna shapes on their heads. When the magic wind mill blows very fast it sends a magic signal for one of the Teletubbies to receive and watch. Usually its human children in our world. The Teletubbies world seems to be some kind of parallel world or an isolated mini world in which they live. Their home is called aTubbytronic Superdome (name given in the current incarnation) in which a vac named Noo-Noo keeps things clean and in order. Outside of the dome resides lots of rabbits and birds and a Sun Baby who rising and setting bookends the show. Also guiding the tubbies are voice trumpets that resemble periscopes with little speakers on them. They are the only residents in Teletubby Land that speak and sing in complete sentences. The purpose of the show is to present fun and games in educational way that speaks to the very young while trying to unlock certain aspects of the baby’s new and developing mind. Teletubbies ended its run on PBS Kids in 2005, but was recently revived in late 2015. PBS Kids however was not interested in another Teletubbies series but Nick Jr. in America picked it up for distribution in the States.

10. Reading Rainbow (1983-2006): This show picked up where John Robbins “Cover To Cover” left off, but expanding it just a bit more and not just an show for the classroom. Originally a summer series, this long running PBS show started out with only 15 episodes, but by the end of its run produced a total of 155 episodes. Each show for the most part was done on location and covered a certain theme and/or topic. The opening segment teased this before host (as well as Executive Producer) LaVar Burton in John Robbins fashion introduced the book of the day. Unlike the Robbins shows the book featured was read in its entirety and usually done by a well-known celebrity. Among the celebrities that read a book showcased for Reading Rainbow; James Earl Jones, Lou Rawls, Lorne Greene, Michael Winslow (from the Police Academy movies), Country music singer Roy Clark, TV personality and chef Julia Child, and even Burton himself did a few books. Also of note, before The Magic School Bus and Arthur got regular shows of their own on PBS Kids…one of the books in their respected series was showcased on Reading Rainbow. After the featured book Burton went deeper into the show’s theme of the day talking with the people about their work and contributions. Reading Rainbow took viewers behind the scenes of Star Trek: The Next Generation (which starred LaForge as the blind Chief Engineer of the Enterprise D starship Geordi La Forge) as well as the Library of Congress in Washington DC. The last segment of the show presents three book reviews from three different children. Burton always sets up this segment as if he was going to do the reviews himself only ending with the phrase; “But you don’t have to take my word for it.” While it no longer has ties to PBS Kids, Reading Rainbow has found success in the new media especially with the Reading Rainbow app that can be downloaded via the itunes app store. Talk about “Going Twice As High.” But I would still think that Burton and those still behind Reading Rainbow still want you to “take a look” cause it’s still“in a book.” Umm, did Angela Santomero use that phrase somewhat when she created “Super Why?” Super Why and his Superreader friends use a similar phrase on that respected show.

9. Wild Kratts (2011-Present): This is the third PBS Kids series for the brothers Chris and Martin Kratt. Both of whom have a love of nature and wild animals and advocating for the right of wild animals to live in their respected habitats. The Kratt Brothers first appeared on PBS Kids in 1996, with a Wild Kingdom styled program titled “Kratts Creatures” but with faster pacing for its target audience. Three years later they did a second PBS Kids series called “Zoboomafoo” in which the Kratts meet up with a English speaking lemur who is named after the title of the program. However, the animated scripted program Wild Kratts is the best one to date, allowing Chris and Martin to really be the creatures they encourage their viewers to mimic. In the animated fantasy world, the Kratt brothers have creature power suits (think of the 1980’s toyline and TV seriesCenturions) that are able to give the brothers the power to mimic creatures of the wild and truly use their abilities not just for fun and learning, but also to use as push back from the show’s recurring villains (Robotics tech wiz Zach Varmitech, fashionistaDonita Donata with her servant Dabio, and Gaston Gourmand who the likes of Gordon Ramsey might want to avoid). This PBS Kids series inspired a live road tour and shows no signs of stopping just yet. PBS Kids iscommitted to 20 new episodes of Wild Kratts with the series entering its fifth series/season of episodes.

8. Between The Lions (2000-2010): I always considered “Between The Lions” as the Electric Company of the new millennium….more so than the brief rival that respected series than ran from 2009-2011. It also combined the Muppet styled puppetry that Sesame Street was known for. In fact, one of the co-creators of “Between The Lions” is Christopher Cerf who wrote song styled parodies and re-lyric many hit songs for Sesame Street as well as performingas Muppet singer Chrissy…and then some. Like the original Electric Company both shows taught reading and used sketch comedy to hold the interest of viewers. Both used word visuals with Lions being able to use better computer imagery tech than the Scanimate which was cutting edge for TEC’s time. Both had their recurring sketches but Lions had to the rely on them more…which is not necessary a bad thing. Some of the best-known sketches were The Vowelles in which they only sang Vowel sounds. Cliff Hanger who’s an outdoorsman and is always hanging onto a branch on a cliff…but as one episode pointed out he would not do so much if he ever gotten off, and Gawin’s Word which combined the attitude of Wayne’s World with medieval knights as they jousted to make words, andFred Newman himself sounding out words. How did they come up with the title “Between The Lions.” Well other than having a lion family as lead characters who also run a public library in the show, along with the “Read Between The Lines” pun; many classic library buildings have two lions separated by the main entrance. So, in order to enter the library, you must go “between the lions.” Well many kids and their parents were willing to go Between These Lions for reading educational fun. “Between The Lions” builds on the legacy of the original TEC and while it’s no longer on the air, it nearly ten year run put this public TV kids show among the cream of the crop.

7. Thomas & Friends (1989-1995 as part of the series “Shining Time Station” 1996 as part of “Mr. Conductor’s Thomas Tales” and 2004-Present as a standalone show): Wilbert Vere Awdry aka Reverend W. Awdry (and was ordained in the Anglican Church in the UK) wrote his first book in what would become “The Railway Series” in 1945. The stories were based on real life events and the UK railroad system but still made the trains self-aware and have a machine consciousness(not the Terminator Skynet kind thank you). These trains also reside on the fictional island of Sodor which was part of the UK in Railway universe but somewhat isolated from the mainland of the UK. His son Christopher took over the book series in 1983. One year later the books were adapted to TV using 00 gauge Hornby Dublo models and driven on authentic sets in the style of the original illustrations but rather than use the book title…the TV series was named after the book series breakout character Thomas The Tank Engine. In the UK many of the classic children’s shows they produced only ran for 4 to 5 min an episode not taking up the whole half hour and their production styles were different from Americanchildrens shows. However, some UK children’s shows were given a chance to be screened on America TV via a more popular show. Captain Kangaroo, Romper Room, Pinwheel and Calliope came to mind. But by 1989 those programed have either ended or were in decline so Thomas & Friends needed its own vehicle show. Britt Allcroft who developed Thomas & Friends for UK’s ITV along with RickSiggelkow created their own vehicle show for Thomas and company. Enter “Shining Time Station” a live action sitcom styled program for children about the day to day life of a train station. It also allowed musician and songwriter Joe Raposo to compose the quiet and calm theme song before his untimely passing. Ringo Starr famous for being the drummer in The Beatles and was the original narrator of Thomas & Friends was casted as Mr. Conductor. He is a tiny man with fairy like abilities and lived in Shining Time’s signal house inside the station’s mural and would appear out of nowhere and would tell at least two different tales of Thomas The Tank Engine per episode. After the show’s first season and its only Christmas special Starr left the show and American comedian George Carlin took over the role of Mr. Conductor and narrated the Thomas & Friends story on the show. Shining Time ended its regular run in in 1993 but return for four specials that aired through 1995. In 1996 Mr. Conductor return for a series that downplayed the train station but still told at least five Thomas & Friends stories for a run of six full episodes. After which it seemed that Thomas was would fade away from the Americans but thanks to “Thomas & The Magic Railroad” in spite of being a creative and economic flop kept Thomas The Tank Engine operating on the American railroad sort of speak. In 2004 PBS Kids brought back Thomas & Friends as a stand-alone show finally and it’s been on ever since. In 2009 Thomas and company were brought into the world of CGI animation and added a voice cast, bringing the long running series on par with other animated shows. It looks like Thomas & Friends have a bright future both in America and the UK. The show’s journey in America and PBS’s long term commitment to Thomas The Tank Engine deserves to have this show in the top ten.

6. The Magic School Bus (1994-1997): This series marked a turning point regarding full length animated series airing on PBS Kids. While shows like Sesame Street and Electric Company may have used animation in certain segments, this was the first full length animated cartoon series that aired on PBS Kids. Due the success of “The Magic School Bus,” PBS Kids would continue to order more shows like this (including Scholastic’s own Clifford The Big Red Dog) as they have proven to be more cost effective but yet maintain certain educational standards that PBS Kids requires. This series was based on the namesake book series by Joanna Cole and Bruce Degen for Scholastic Corporation in which a teacher named Ms. Frizzle takes her students on field trips via her “magic school bus” to impossible locations but teaching them scientific facts along the way. Former Scholastic executive Craig Walker wanted to adapt the book series into an animated TV program. Deborah Forte who was president of Scholastic’s entertainment division agreed and felt that it could present science in fun but dramatized and comedic way. Comedian and actress Lilly Tomlin signed on to play the voice of Miss Frizzle and gave the character the enthusiasm and excitement that was this eccentric teacher. As her own motto would say; “Take Chances, Make Mistakes and Get Messy.” Both the book series and the animated series also pointed out what was fantasy and what was Science Fact. The books presented disclaimers at the very end of the book. At the end of an episode ofthe animation series a “viewer” called in to the show and usually the producer (voiced by Cosby Show’s Malcolm-Jamal Warner) would discuss to the caller what was Science Fact and what was fantasy in the episode. Since PBS Kids did not air commercials the viewer call in segment was a way to use the extra time. Many other animated kids shows would produce other capsule segments to fill time…mostly a live action segment of some kind. You can thank Miss Frizzle and her students for setting this standard for public TV kids shows. Also keep your eye out for a new CGI animated Magic School Bus series coming soon to Netflix.

5. Arthur (1996-Present): This series based on the book series of the same name by Marc Brown has become technically the second longest running series on PBS Kids. Some would argue that Mr. Rogers Neighborhood is the second longest if you count its pre-PBS years. Its reported to be second longest running animated series behind The Simpsons and the overall longest running animated series for children. Most of the characters in this series are really humans (that might have not what Brown convinced it as but as Arthur evolved it’s safe to assume that) …they just happen to have animal heads…when it comes down to it with some notable exceptions of the surreal; Arthur is just a down to earth kitchen sink childrens cartoon show. Arthur for the most part deals with community and has taken on life issues such as asthma, dyslexia, cancer, diabetes, and Asperger syndrome. Many celebrities also made guest appearances on Arthur. Some played a different character, others played themselves but in the spirit of the show they were all given an animal head. Celebrities that played themselves on the show include Figure Skater Michelle Kwan (a bear), musicians Taj Mahal (a rabbit) and Art Garfunkel (a moose), Car Talk’s Tom and Ray Magliozzi (both monkeys) and appearing as aAardvark just like Arthur and his family Fred Rogers, and allowing Arthur his family and friends to see and gain a new understanding of who Mr. Rogers really is. Due to its longevity Arthur truly deserves to make it in the top five. The series just completed a 20th season of only seven episodes but their no signs right now that the show is coming to an end.

4. Zoom (Both 1970’s and 2000’s) (1970’s series 1972-1978, 2000’s series 1999-2005): Had it not been for the Millennium revival version of this series, Zoom would have ranked lower, but because of that recent series coupled with the shows interaction with the viewers, this is a key PBS Kids show of importance. The show for the most part was unscripted but not quite a “reality show” as that is the popular term in this day and age. WGBH in Boston made sure that the children on ZOOM did not use this show to further a career in media and make themselves superstars. The children had to sign contacts that prohibited them from making any television appearances or doing commercials for at least three years. That proved to serve them well as many of the Zoom cast in both versions moved into other careers when they became adults. Overall Zoom encouraged its viewers to be engaging in which they see on the show and not just be passive. The show relied on the viewer mail (and in the new series it included E-Mail) for the show’s material. While the new Zoom did well at first, its ratings were in decline and WGBH ended the series for a second time, and one of the Zoomers became a season long contestant on the game show “Fetch With Ruff Ruffman” (which replaced the second Zoom) apparently to serve out the contract. Still Zoom was cutting edge for its day and was given a new lease on life as we moved into the 21st Century.

3. The Electric Company (1970’s) (1971-1977): With the success of Sesame Street, the Children’s Television Workshop decided to create a series for those who have outgrown that respected show. Actor, writer and comedian Paul Dooley came up with great ideal. Do a sketch comedy series somewhat fashioned after “Laugh In” (which was still in production at the time) and Dooley conceived and created The Electric Company. The original company consistedof Morgan Freeman, Rita Moreno, Bill Cosby (long before his scandals), Judy Graubart, Lee Chamberlin and Skip Hinnant all of whom were all able to do stage, repertory, and improvisational work with Cosby and Moreno well-seasoned in their respective skill sets. Most of sketches done by the TEC players would for the most part flash a word at the top of screen for the viewers to read and reinforce that word throughout the sketch. While Joe Raposo did music for the show and most of its arrangements, some of the biggest songs written for TEC were written by Tom Lehrer. He may be famous for his sadistic “Poisoning Pigeons In The Park,” but he did contribute songs that were great in his musical style but yet educational and even have become part of even Leher’s own repertoire for himself including; “N Apostrophe T,” “S-N (Snore, Sniff, and Sneeze),”and the Leher’s cream of the crop for TEC; being “L-Y” and “Silent E.” The later of two were bonus tracks on Leher’s second live album and most of the TEC songs appeared in Leher’s box set “The Remains of Tom Leher.” TEC also incorporated a youth cast as well. They were called The Short Circus (pun on Short circuit). While they may play roles in the sketches, they were first and foremost a musical ensemble group that reinforced reading comprehension. Three of the Short Circus members (all them were girls) truly shined before, during, and after their time on TEC. One was Irene Cara who was in the Short Circus for only the first season, but would move on to adult hood scoring a few pop hits most notably the theme from the movie “Fame,” and “Flashdance (Oh What A Feeling).” The second member was Denise Nickerson who recently played the role of Violet Beauregarde in the now classic movie musical from 1971 “Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory” as well as a appearance on the cult daytime drama “Dark Shadows.” The best-known member of the Short Circus however was June Angela who was 12 years old when TEC started and was around 17 years of age when the series ended. Angela aka Julie was the only consistent member of TEC’s Short Circus during its six year run. The adult cast had their chances too. Bill Cosby left after the first season to work on Filmation’s “Fat Albert” and Jim Boyd who did voice overs in the first season stepped in front of the camera. Around this time Luis Ávalos also joined the cast. A year later Lee Chamberlin left the cast and was replaced by Hattie Winston. In 1974 there was one more addition but his role was just to wear a Spider-Man suit and keep quiet…that would-beDanny Seagren who was a puppeteer on Sesame Street and professional dancer. These days Morgan Freeman might have regretted staying on TEC for too long, but we the viewers are grateful that he did. We loved him as Easy Reader, DJ Mel Mounds andVincent the Vegetable Vampire. Although The Electric Company ended in 1977, CTW planned out its end in advance. The fifth and sixth seasons ran as a 30 minute shows instead of a full hour as it did in the first four seasons and built the shows as a yearlong curriculum for schools. When the show ended the reruns of the final two seasons were expected to run for at least four years. However, the repeats lasted until the fall of 1985 when the original TEC finally disappeared from PBS stations. The longevity even if it’s just repeats marks the importance of this classic PBS Kids series. Not even the attempted revival with neighborhood kids playing superheroes and supervillains could come close.

2. Sesame Street (1969-Present, PBS First Run 1969-2016, PBS Second Run 2016-Present): There is a reason why Sesame Street is in the runner-up spot which will be made eventually clear. We know about the fictional street in New York City, and we know about Big Bird, Oscar The Grouch, Elmo, Cookie Monster, and its most recent addition Abby Cadabby. Let us not forget the humans as well over the years including Bob, Gordon & Susan Robinson and their nephew Chris, Alan, Luis& Maria Rodriguez, and last but not least the gruff but kind-heartedMr. Harold Hooperwho’s character was the namesake of Sesame Street’s corner store. When Will Lee passed away so did Mr. Hooper and the producers and crew became truly honest with their viewers on Thanksgiving Day 1983 letting them know that Mr. Hooper is gone and spite of his passing he will be remembered. Lee was a seasoned actor and his skill set was key the long-term success of Sesame Street as much of classic cast members learned much from him…even Bob McGrath who played Bob and was known for being a professional singer rather than an actor. Sesame Street’s claim to fan as well all know is teaching preschoolers letters, numbers, and words before they reach kindergarten. Along the way it teaches about community, some science and encouraging critical thinking. Sesame Street has proven to be a survivor along with Arthur in the current children’s TV landscape and has overtaken Romper Room as the long running children’s TV series of all time. But it still faces its challenges. More recently Sesame Worship cut a deal with Premium Cable channel HBO to produce new episodes and with a budget that PBS could no longer afford. However, PBS Kids remains committed to the show as it will air them in second run a few months later all free of charge. The HBO deal by the way is not the reason its ranked at number two so bear with me. Sesame Street has changed over the years from the broad appeal of Jim Henson’s brand of humor on the show to the connection Elmo has with its audience, but Sesame Street is still going strong…it’s not our show anymore…but we still can enjoy the nostalgia of what it once then and what it is now.

1. Mister Rogers Neighborhood (1968-2001): Before every other show on this list (the only exceptions being “Assignment: The World” and “Cover To Cover With John Robbins”) you had Mr. Rogers. Because of this Fred Rogers long running low key program for pre-schools takes the top spot. Believe it or not, Fred Rogers was not found of television himself and turned up his nose when his family bought one for their household. Rather than mope about his situation he decided to make lemons into lemonade, he would try to work his way up into the TV business in hopes of getting a platform “to nurture those who would watch and listen.”In 1951 he was hired at NBC in New York City. First as a Page and then worked on NBC’s music programs including Your Hit Parade, The Kate Smith Hour, and The Voice of Firestone. He worked as a floor manager for The Gabby Hayes Show which was a western show aimed at children. Rogers however felt that commercial advertising& merchandising and its reliance on it in the major broadcasting world was undermining its ability to educate or enrich young audiences. So, with in that in mind Mr. Rogers returned to his home town of Pittsburgh, PA and found work at a TV station that shared his vision. That being then recent startup station WQED, which signed on in 1954 as a Non-Commercial education TV station. He co-presented a show with Josie Carey called “The Children’s Corner.” It was around this time he went Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and eventually got ordained in one of the major Presbyterian dominations with a charge to continue his work in children’s TV. He soon moved to Canada in which he appeared on camera for the first time and created the Neighborhood of Make Believe (with the help of set designers at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) for his puppet characters he created on Children’s Corner. He went back to Pittsburgh and WQED 1966 to begin to work on his brand new show that incorporated the NoMB and its resident puppets into daily television visits with Mr. Rogers once he bought the rights to his own creations from the CBC. Finally in 1968, Mr. Rogers Neighborhood went on nationally and his daily TV visit caught on with preschoolers. Fred would enter a TV house singing the theme song while he gets out of his dress coat and shoes and puts on a Cardigan sweater (with a zipper) and comfortable sneakers. Rogers would discuss many subjects that effect pre-schoolers…even real world conflicts and divorce were discussed and the use his NoMB to present a storyline related to the subject of the week helped enhance the subject matter. Mr. Rogers also took his TV neighbors to the set of The Incredible Hulk in 1979 and interviewed its main actors Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno when that respected show was in production. Many years later in 1996 Rogers also interviewed the members of the percussion ensemble Stomp. Overall Mr. Rogers Neighborhood is truly timeless even if certain details that it featured are no more. The Mr. Rogers you saw on TV was the same Fred Rogers you would meet in the world. He knew how to handle his emotions. My hypothesis I have on this is that his puppets represented certain aspects of hispersonality. King Friday XIII respected the parent tough love side, Daniel Striped Tiger is the emotional one, X The Owl represents intellect, Henrietta Pussycat has issue with vanity but still a doll, and Lady Elaine Fairchilde is the mischief one. It seemed that if these puppets represented Fred’s real emotions he knew how to handle them well. The show did kind of had a series finale but only the discerning viewer could see (and even hear) the clues that it was…most notably Mr. Rogers telling the audience he loved being their TV neighbor…something he never said throughout the run…hint of sadness there? Although Angela Santomero downplays many of the characters flaws in her Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood series she knows where they came from and she knows who the innovator is. This is why Fred Rogers and his TV neighborhood take the number one spot in the top 25 influential Public TV Children’s shows.

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