History of Children’s Television

Welcome to THIS IS AMERICA in VOA Special English. I'm Faith Lapidus. And I'm Steve Ember. Today we bring you a history of children's television in the United States.

Television became popular after World War Two in the nineteen-forties. Successful radio programs became early television shows. "Howdy Doody" was one of the first shows for children. The television show began on N.B.C., the National Broadcasting Company, in nineteen-forty-seven. Soon, it expanded to five days a week.

Howdy Doody looked like an average American boy. Only he was made of wood and controlled with strings from above. He had red hair, although he appeared in black-and-white, like everything else in early television. And he had a permanent smile.

An actor named Bob Smith, known as Buffalo Bob Smith, started the show each time with the same words.

In the early days, local television stations all over the country produced programs for children. Local actors, artists and musicians performed live. Often they played movies or animated cartoons like “Bugs Bunny” or “Popeye the Sailor.”

But Popeye the Sailor and Bugs Bunny were movie stars, really. In time, cartoons made especially for television replaced them.

Hanna-Barbera Studios created cartoons like “Huckleberry Hound" and "Yogi Bear."

Shows like "Yogi Bear" were syndicated. That means local stations paid for the rights to broadcast the program in different cities.

Tim Hollis is an expert on the history of children’s television. He says that by the nineteen sixties, many shows were franchised. A local station would pay to use the idea for a show, but then produce it with local actors.

Two popular franchised shows during the nineteen-sixties were “Romper Room” and “Bozo the Clown.” Tim Hollis estimates that at one time, the United States had more than two-hundred local Bozo the Clowns.

Television presented a new way for businesses to market to children through advertising. However, in the nineteen-sixties, many parents grew concerned. They thought their children were seeing too many commercials for products.

As a result, the Federal Communications Commission limited the amount of commercial time in children’s programs. The government also barred local children's actors from reading commercials. This was meant as another way to reduce the influence on children. But these actions also reduced the amount of money that stations earned.

By the early nineteen-seventies, most local television stations stopped producing their own shows for children. Many replaced them with syndicated programs like “I Love Lucy” and “Gilligan’s Island.”

In addition to syndicated programs, local stations used national network shows to fill their broadcast day.

C.B.S., the Columbia Broadcasting System, launched a children's show in nineteen-fifty-five. Each day, the star wore a red coat with pockets on the sides. The pockets were big -- big enough maybe even for a mother kangaroo to carry her baby. So an actor named Bob Keeshan became known as Captain Kangaroo.

C.B.S. aired "Captain Kangaroo" for twenty-nine years. In nineteen-eighty-four, the show moved to public television. There, it appeared for six more years.

Another popular children’s show on the public broadcasting system is “Sesame Street.” This show began in nineteen-sixty-nine. Today, different versions of "Sesame Street" can been seen in more than one-hundred-twenty countries.

Public television also brought young children an educational show called “Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood.”

It always started the same way. "Mr. Rogers" -- Fred Rogers in real life -- walked through the front door into his television house, put on a sweater and changed his shoes.

Fred Rogers began the show in nineteen-sixty-eight. "Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood" aired for more than thirty years.

Today, the shows on educational television for young children include imports like "Teletubbies" from Britain. In general, though, the programs on American television aimed at children are mainly for entertainment.

Cable television became popular in the United States in the nineteen-eighties. There are children’s programs twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.

One of the most popular cartoons on cable is about a square yellow sea sponge. He lives deep in the Pacific Ocean, in a city called Bikini Bottom. His name is SpongeBob SquarePants.

A former marine-biology teacher named Steven Hillenburg created "SpongeBob SquarePants" in nineteen-ninety-six. The show began on the Nickelodeon cable channel three years later.

Children consider SpongeBob an honest person -- I mean, creature -- who always sees the brighter, happier side of life. The show is also aimed at adults, a lot of whom do find it funny.

These days, there are hundreds of channels of broadcast, cable and satellite television to choose from. Plus there are countless videos and video games. Children can see all sorts of things, and their parents do not always supervise.

The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry says children in the United States watch TV an average of three to four hours a day. The American Academy of Pediatrics says children under the age of two should not watch any television at all. And it says older children should watch no more than one to two hours a day.

Many scientists believe that too much television can cause attention problems for children later in life. Studies have also linked a lot of television with children becoming too fat and too aggressive.

There are also concerns about the limited number of female heroes on television for girls to identify with. And critics say children's television is too often simply a method to sell things to young consumers.

Product marketing tied to shows is a major business. SpongeBob SquarePants, for example, appears not just on television. He is also on clothes, bedding, books, school supplies and toys.

Experts urge parents to watch shows with their children and discuss them. Some of what they see might make them wish for the days of that puppet with a big smile on his face.

Our program was written by Jill Moss and produced by Caty Weaver. I’m Faith Lapidus.

And I’m Steve Ember. Join us again next week for another report about life in the United States on the VOA Special English program, THIS IS AMERICA.