Saturday, March 19, 2011


Long before PBS or it's precursor, NET, ever flickered on a 21 inch, Black & White Motorola console TV in the family room, commercial television networks and local stations took their obligation to inform and enlighten their youngest and most impressionable viewers quite seriously.

Even if the smartest programming with which they educated the tots in front of the tube was somewhat whimsical.

That's not to say that all tv aimed at toddlers offered classroom instruction by way of a cathode ray tube.

Broadcasters always benefitted from showing pre-pubescent , escapist fare that included everything from crude cartoons to slapstick THREE STOOGES shorts to re-tread cowboy serials.

Each of those offerings brought with it a sponsor, determined to connect with vid-kids, even if it meant spending extravagantly on content and commercials.When it came to advertising revenue, children's television was grown-up business.

But, in the 1950's, as television was in it's adolescence, and long before the deregulation of media ownership in the 1980's and 1990's, the Federal Communications Commission required that television and radio stations regularly provide content aimed at enriching the lives of young viewers.

The admonition to carry this programming was stringently enforced, locally and nationally.

Bell Telephone was, in the Eisenhower-era, one of the largest media conglomerates on earth. When people spoke of "the phone company" they were referring to American Telephone & Telegraph, the parent company of Bell Telephone. Bell took seriously the need to bring shows of substance to the youngest members of the family.

To meet that goal, in 1957, A.T.&T, and its advertising agency N.W. AYER, commissioned THE BELL LABORATORY SCIENCE SERIES.

Produced by some of the most accomplished filmmakers ever to work in television, including Frank Capra and Walt Disney, each of the seven episodes made between 1957 and 1962 were hosted by a gifted and engaging academic, U.S.C.'s , Dr. Frank Baxter.

He was supported by a cadre of cartoon characters, who were, metaphorically, cut from the same cloth as the legendary MUPPETS: equal parts fun , fantasy and fact.

In a vibrant mix of live action and animation, each show explored single topics in science and humanities.Even, then, it evoked a campy quality.

The programs gave young viewers an insightful, yet entertaining look at the human circulatory system, the secrets of weather, a history of time, a lesson on the origin of language and more. An eighth episode,produced in 1964, starring Walt Disney, explored the world's oceans.

For those of us who saw these films on television and again in classrooms, it was an entertaining way to learn.Viewed today, it offers a crystalline window into the innocence of television's nascent years.

Here from the PANSKEPTIC YOU TUBE site, if the opening segment of 1957's HEMO THE MAGNIFICENT, from THE BELL LABORATORY SCIENCE SERIES, Enjoy!!!!!

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