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5 Strange Facts about Classic Kids' Shows

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I grew up in an era when parents didn't hesitate to use the television set as a babysitter. Back then, TV didn't rot our brains, it simply "kept us out of Mom's hair" for a few hours. How many of these shows kept you company as a child?

1. Sesame Street: The Surprising Rocker Behind the Numbers

Sesame Street was sort of the MTV of children's programming when it premiered in 1969. There were a few adult "regulars" in the neighborhood, but the true stars were the Muppets "“ Ernie, Bert, Big Bird, Oscar, et al "“ and the various animated shorts and comedy skits. I already knew my alphabet and numbers, so I was a bit older than the target demographic of Sesame Street, but I still watched it regularly because the A.D.D.-soothing, rapid-fire graphics were mesmerizing. Plus, the songs were catchy. One of my favorite recurring bits was the "Jazzy Spies," which featured a frenetic musical background while a singer repeatedly intoned the particular numeral being highlighted. The vocalist was none other than Grace Slick (of Jefferson Airplane/Starship), whose then-husband, Jerry Slick, actually produced those segments.

2. Zoom!: The show Michael Jackson was weaned on

If you break into song after hearing the Boston ZIP code 02134, you're obviously a fan of Zoom! The show ran on PBS from 1972 to 1978 and was hosted by a cast of "regular kids" that changed every season. The Zoom-ers also encouraged viewer mail with suggestions for plays, games and experiments for them to attempt on the air. (And you thought Mythbusters was original"¦) The cast members introduced themselves at the beginning of the show by first name only, accompanied by a brief video clip that "described" them. (Anyone remember Bernadette and her "arm thing"?) Leon Mobley's intro showcased his ability to play the drums, and years later, his skills were in high demand as a session drummer on various recordings. In the early 1980s, he was recording with musician Ben Harper in Los Angeles when he received word that an artist recording in the adjacent studio would be thrilled if he could meet "Leon from Zoom." That artist was none other than Michael Jackson.

3. How Spiderman got Caught in The Electric Company's web

Picture 23.png The Electric Company made its debut in 1971, intended for an audience an age group above Sesame Street. The program focused on phonics and grammar, and the cast included a "Who's Who" of future award-winning entertainers: Bill Cosby (who eventually used his tenure on the show as research for his doctoral thesis), Morgan Freeman, Irene Cara, Gene Wilder, and Rita Moreno (who bellowed "Hey, you guys!" at the beginning of each episode). Another recurring character on the show was Spider-Man, who was featured in a continuing series of skits called "Spidey Super Stories." Marvel Comics allowed the Children's Television Workshop to use their popular copyrighted hero free of charge. While the gesture seems altruistic, keep in mind that Marvel reserved the right to use The Electric Company logo and storylines in special editions of their Spiderman comics, a co-branding partnership that translated into huge comic book sales.

4. The Friendly Giant and the song that warms Canadian hearts

Millions of Canadian kids, as well as youngsters who grew up in border towns, remember looking up "“ waaaaay up "“ to watch The Friendly Giant. The story-telling tall guy was played by Wisconsin native Bob Homme, who was so low-key that he made Mr. Rogers look like a caffeine addict. "Friendly" always opened and closed his show by arranging the furniture in front of his fireplace to allow viewers to settle in "“ a rocking chair for those who liked to rock, and a large armchair for two to curl up in. The show's theme song, "Early One Morning," was voted the second-most recognized TV theme song in Canada, after "Hockey Night in Canada."

5. Romper Room: The Golden Arches of Children's Programming

Picture 13.png Let's face it"¦with a name like Kara, you knew the odds were pretty slim that Miss Sally would ever see you through her "magic mirror." But I still watched Romper Room daily, just in case. Romper Room was sort of the McDonald's of children's shows; Bert and Nancy Claster came up with the original concept of the show, in which a teacher read stories and directed games for a group of preschoolers. The first Romper Room aired locally in Baltimore, but the program became so popular that the Clasters sold "franchises" to various local TV markets across the country. By paying a fee and sending a host/teacher go through a training course, a TV station in any city could broadcast its own Romper Room and give it a local "feel."

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The Sweet Surprise Reunion Mr. Rogers Never Saw Coming
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Family Communications Inc./Getty Images

For more than 30 years, legendary children’s show host Fred Rogers used his PBS series Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood to educate his young viewers on concepts like empathy, sharing, and grief. As a result, he won just about every television award he was eligible for, some of them many times over.

Rogers was gracious in accepting each, but according to those who were close to the host, one honor in particular stood out. It was March 11, 1999, and Rogers was being inducted into the Television Academy Hall of Fame, an offshoot of the Emmy Awards. Just before being called to the stage, out came a surprise.

The man responsible for the elation on Rogers’s face was Jeff Erlanger, a 29-year-old from Madison, Wisconsin who became a quadriplegic at a young age after undergoing spinal surgery to remove a tumor. Rogers was surprised because Erlanger had appeared on his show nearly 20 years prior in 1980 to help kids understand how people with physical challenges adapt to life’s challenges. Here's his first encounter with the host:

Reunited on stage after two decades, Erlanger referred to the song, “It’s You I Like,” which the two sang during their initial meeting. “On behalf of millions of children and grown-ups,” Erlanger said, “it’s you I like.” The audience, including a visibly moved Candice Bergen, rose to their feet to give both men a standing ovation.

Following Erlanger’s death in 2007, Hedda Sharapan, an employee with Rogers’s production company, called their poignant scene “authentic” and “unscripted,” and that Rogers often pointed to it as his favorite moment from the series.

Near the end of the original segment in 1980, as Erlanger drives his wheelchair off-camera, Rogers waves goodbye and offers a departing message: “I hope you’ll come back to visit again.”

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20 Things You Might Not Have Known About Firefly
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© 2002 Twentieth Century Fox

As any diehard fan will be quick to tell you, Firefly's run was far, far too short. Despite its truncated run, the show still offers a wealth of fun facts and hidden Easter eggs. On the 15th anniversary of the series' premiere, we're looking back at the sci-fi series that kickstarted a Browncoat revolution.

1. A CIVIL WAR NOVEL INSPIRED THE FIREFLY UNIVERSE.

The Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Killer Angels from author Michael Shaara was Joss Whedon’s inspiration for creating Firefly. It follows Union and Confederate soldiers during four days at the Battle of Gettysburg during the American Civil War. Whedon modeled the series and world on the Reconstruction Era, but set in the future.

2. ORIGINALLY, THE SERENITY CREW INCLUDED JUST FIVE MEMBERS.

When Whedon first developed Firefly, he wanted Serenity to only have five crew members. However, throughout development and casting, Whedon increased the cast from five to nine.

3. REBECCA GAYHEART WAS ORIGINALLY CAST TO PLAY INARA.

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Before Morena Baccarin was cast as Inara Serra, Rebecca Gayheart landed the role—but she was fired after one day of shooting because she lacked chemistry with the rest of the cast. Baccarin was cast two days later and started shooting that day.

4. NEIL PATRICK HARRIS WAS ALMOST DR. SIMON TAM.

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Before it went to Sean Maher, Neil Patrick Harris auditioned for the role of Dr. Simon Tam.

5. JOSS WHEDON WROTE THE THEME SONG.

Whedon wrote the lyrics and music for Firefly’s opening theme song, “The Ballad of Serenity.”

6. STAR WARS SPACECRAFT APPEAR IN FIREFLY.

Star Wars was a big influence on Whedon. Captain Malcolm Reynolds somewhat resembles Han Solo, while Whedon used the Millennium Falcon as inspiration to create Serenity. In fact, you can spot a few spacecraft from George Lucas's magnum opus on the show.

When Inara’s shuttle docks with Serenity in the pilot episode, an Imperial Shuttle can be found flying in the background. In the episode “Shindig,” you can see a Starlight Intruder as the crew lands on the planet Persephone.

7. HAN SOLO FROZEN IN CARBONITE POPS UP THROUGHOUT FIREFLY.

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Nathan Fillion is a big Han Solo fan, so the Firefly prop department made a 12-inch replica of Han Solo encased in Carbonite for the Canadian-born actor. You can see the prop in the background in a number of scenes.

8. ALIEN'S WEYLAND-YUTANI CORPORATION MADE AN APPEARANCE.

In Firefly’s pilot episode, the opening scene features the legendary Battle of Serenity Valley between the Browncoats and The Union of Allied Planets. Captain Malcolm Reynolds takes control of a cannon with a Weyland-Yutani logo inside of its display. Weyland-Yutani is the large conglomerate corporation in the Alien film franchise. (Whedon wrote Alien: Resurrection in 1997.)

9. ZAC EFRON'S ACTING DEBUT WAS ON FIREFLY.

A 13-year-old Zac Efron made his acting debut in the episode “Safe” in 2002. He played Young Simon in a flashback.

10. CAPTAIN MALCOLM REYNOLDS'S HORSE IS A WESTERN TROPE.

At its core, Firefly is a sci-fi western—and Malcolm Reynolds rides the same horse on every planet (it's named Fred).

11. FOX AIRED FIREFLY'S EPISODES OUT OF ORDER.

Fox didn’t feel Firefly’s two-hour pilot episode was strong enough to air as its first episode. Instead, “The Train Job” was broadcast first because it featured more action and excitement. The network continued to cherry-pick episodes based on broad appeal rather than story consistency, and eventually aired the pilot as the show’s final episode.

12. THE ALLIANCE'S ORIGINS ARE AMERICAN AND CHINESE.

The full name of The Alliance is The Anglo-Sino Alliance. Whedon envisioned The Alliance as a merger of American and Chinese government and corporate superpowers. The Union of Allied Planets’ flag is a blending of the American and Chinese national flags.

13. THE SERENITY LOUNGE SERVED AS AN ACTUAL LOUNGE.

Between set-ups and shots, the cast would hang out in the lounge on the Serenity set rather than trailers or green rooms.

14. INARA SERRA'S NAME IS MESOPOTAMIAN.

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Inara Serra is named after the Mesopotamian Hittite goddess, the protector of all wild animals.

15. THE CHARACTERS SWORE (JUST NOT IN ENGLISH).

The Firefly universe is a mixture of American and Chinese culture, which made it easy for writers to get around censors by having characters swear in Chinese.

16. THE UNIFORMS ARE RECYCLED FROM STARSHIP TROOPERS.

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The uniforms for Alliance officers and soldiers were the costumes from the 1997 science fiction film Starship Troopers. The same costumes were repurposed again for the Starship Troopers sequel.

17. "SUMMER!" MEANS SOMEONE MESSED UP.

Every time a cast member flubbed one of his or her lines, they would yell Summer Glau’s name. This was a running gag among the cast after Glau forgot her lines in the episode “Objects In Space.”

18. THE SERENITY SPACESHIP WAS BUILT TO SCALE.

The interior of Serenity was built entirely to scale; rooms and sections were completely contiguous. The ship’s interior was split into two stages, one for the upper deck and one for the lower. Whedon showed off the Firefly set in one long take to open the Serenity movie.

19. "THE MESSAGE" SHOULD HAVE BEEN THE SHOW'S FAREWELL.

Although “The Message” was the twelfth episode, it was the last episode filmed during Firefly’s short run. Composer Greg Edmonson wrote a piece of music for a funeral scene in the episode, which served as a final farewell to the show. Sadly, it was one of three episodes (the other two were “Trash” and “Heart of Gold”) that didn’t air during Firefly’s original broadcast run on Fox.

20. FIREFLY AND SERENITY WERE SENT TO THE INTERNATIONAL SPACE STATION.

American Astronaut Steven Ray Swanson is a big fan of Firefly, so when he was sent to the International Space Station for his first mission (STS-117) in 2007, he brought DVD copies of Firefly and its feature film Serenity aboard with him. The DVDs are now a permanent part of the space station’s library.

This post originally appeared in 2014.

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