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Kid's Shows


From the earliest days of television, studios and networks have realized the importance of programming for children.  With more free time for watching television, especially during the day and early evening hours when parents are otherwise engaged, children make up the largest audience.

Early television programs that were aimed at the younger viewer focused on action-adventure themes, and comedy, since the studios recognized that these were the most popular with kids who went to the movies.

While many of the programs broadcast in the early days were evening shows, by the mid-1950’s the networks had come to realize that there was a great opportunity for further programming, and that was Saturday morning.

One of the earliest children’s’ television programs was “The Magic Clown ”, aired in 15-minute episodes from 1949 to 1959.  The Magic Clown (Josh Norris / Zovella / Richard DuBois / Doug Anderson) amuses the children in the audience by performing magic and card tricks, and with stories.  He is joined in most episodes by ‘Laffy’, a hand puppet, who helps The Magic Clown perform his magic tricks.

Capturing kid’s attention with their interest in adventure, “Rocky Jones, Space Ranger” was a two season space adventure serial that was broadcast in 39 half-hour episodes in 1954.  Aboard their spaceship ‘The Orbit Jet’, Rocky Jones (Richard Crane) and his crew are sent to visit far-off planets by the ‘United Worlds’ federation to combat evil-doers.  Vena Ray (Sally Mansfield) is the navigator of the Orbit Jet, Winky (Scotty Beckett, an Our Gang Comedy kid) and Biffen Cardoza (James Lydon) are the co-pilots, and Bobby (Robert Lyden) was their young associate.  Also along for the adventure was Professor Newton (Maurice Cass), the man who has all the answers to scientific questions.  Cleolanthe (Patsy Parsons), ruler of the planet Ophiuchius, and Pinto Vortando (Ted Hecht) were two of the villains they clashed with.

Broadcast in 1953 for one season of 18 half-hour episodes, “Terry and the Pirates” was a television series that was produced after the radio program of the same name ended.  Both were based on a popular comic strip that began in 1934.  In the television series, Colonel Terry Lee (John Baer) of the USAAF travels to the Orient and becomes a pilot for Air Cathay airline which is owned by Chopstick Joe (Jack Reitzen).  His co-pilot is Hotshot Charlie (William Tracy), and his girlfriend is Burma (Sandra Spence).  Flying to different locations, hauling cargo and passengers, they often encounter the evil Dragon Lady, Lai Choi San (Gloria Saunders), like when she tries to hijack their cargo.  And because Chopstick Joe is not always honest, they also are involved when some of his schemes go wrong, putting Terry and his friends in danger.

“Smilin’ Ed McConnell and his Gang” was a popular radio and television series in the early 1950’s, and when Mr. McConnell died suddenly in 1954, the show was continued for the next season, but re-titled “Andy's Gang”.  The program aired from 1955 to 1960 as a half-hour Saturday morning program aimed at children.  The host of the show, Andy Devine, is shown relaxing in an easy chair at the beginning of each episode, and he greets the audience with a cheerful, “Hiya Kids!”.  Andy read stories to the children in the audience from a huge storybook perched on his lap, and the stories are accompanied by film clips.  Each episode also contains an installment from the serial “Gunga, the East India Boy” (Nino Marcel), and his adventures in India.  Also on the program were appearances by Midnight the Cat and Squeaky the Mouse.  Perhaps the best-remembered character on the show though is Froggy the Gremlin.  Froggy appears in a puff of smoke, banters with Andy or guests on the show and plays practical jokes, then magically disappears.

At the beginning of each episode, Buffalo Bob would say, “Say Kids, what time is it?” and all over America children sitting in front of the television would yell enthusiastically, “It’s Howdy Doody time!”  “The Howdy Doody Show”, which ran for thirteen years from 1947 to 1960, with a total of 2,343 episodes, was one of the most popular ever children’s’ programs.  With its interesting combination of circus and western theme, the show is hosted by Buffalo Bob (Bob Smith), who interacts with the children in the audience, known as the ‘Peanut Gallery’, from a fictional place called ‘Doodyville’.  The star of the show of course is Howdy Doody, a red-haired boy marionette with 48 freckles on his face (one for each state in the United States, at that time).  Each episode features a short film, songs, and drop-in visits by the residents of Doodyville.  Some of the residents are other marionettes, such as Heidi Doody (Howdy’s sister), the mayor of Doodyville, Phineas T. Bluster, and the very strange Flub-a-Dub.  Besides the marionettes there are also other human characters, including Clarabell the Clown (first played by Bob Keeshan, later famous as Captain Kangaroo ), and Princess Summerfall Winterspring (Judy Tyler).

Check out some of the early kids’ shows on Matinee Classics, and see what kept thousands and thousands of children glued to the television on Saturday mornings.

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