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5 Strange Facts about Classic Kids' Shows

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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10 Filling Facts About A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving
Warner Home Video
Warner Home Video

Though it may not be as widely known as It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown or A Charlie Brown Christmas, A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving has been a beloved holiday tradition for many families for more than 40 years now. Even if you've seen it 100 times, there’s still probably a lot you don’t know about this Turkey Day special.

1. IT’S THE FIRST PEANUTS SPECIAL TO FEATURE AN ADULT VOICE.

We all know the trombone “wah wah wah” sound that Charlie Brown’s teacher makes when speaking in a Peanuts special. But A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving, which was released in 1973, made history as the first Peanuts special to feature a real, live, human adult voice. But it’s not a speaking voice—it’s heard in the song “Little Birdie.”

2. IT WASN’T JUST ANY ADULT WHO LENT HIS VOICE TO THE SPECIAL.

Being the first adult to lend his or her voice to a Peanuts special was kind of a big deal, so it makes sense that the honor wasn’t bestowed on just any old singer or voice actor. The song was performed by composer Vince Guardaldi, whose memorable compositions have become synonymous with Charlie Brown and the rest of the gang.

“Guaraldi was one of the main reasons our shows got off to such a great start,” Lee Mendelson, the Emmy-winning producer who worked on many of the Peanuts specials—including A Charlie Brown Thanksgivingwrote for The Huffington Post in 2013. “His ‘Linus and Lucy,’ introduced in A Charlie Brown Christmas, set the bar for the first 16 shows for which he created all the music. For our Thanksgiving show, he told me he wanted to sing a new song he had written for Woodstock. I agreed with much trepidation as I had never heard him sing a note. His singing of ‘Little Birdie’ became a hit."

3. DESPITE THE VOICE, THERE ARE NO ADULTS FEATURED IN THE SPECIAL.

While Peanuts specials are largely populated by children, there’s usually at least an adult or two seen or heard somewhere. That’s not the case with A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving. “Charlie Brown Thanksgiving may be the only Thanksgiving special (live or animated) that does not include adults,” Mendelson wrote for HuffPo. “Our first 25 specials honored the convention of the comic strip where no adults ever appeared. (Ironically, our Mayflower special does include adults for the first time.)”

4. LUCY IS MOSTLY M.I.A., TOO.

Though early on in the special, viewers get that staple scene of Lucy pulling a football away from Charlie Brown at the last minute, that’s all we see of Chuck’s nemesis in A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving. (Lucy's brother, Linus, however, is still a main character.)

5. CHARLIE BROWN AND LUCY STILL KEEP IN TOUCH.

Though they only had a single scene together, Todd Barbee, who voiced Charlie Brown, told Noblemania that he and Robin Kohn, who voiced Lucy in the Thanksgiving special, still keep in touch. “We actually went to high school together,” Barbee said. “We still live in Marin County, are Facebook friends, and occasionally see each other.”

6. CHARLIE BROWN HAD SOME TROUBLE WITH HIS SIGNATURE “AAARRRGG.”

One unique aspect of the Peanuts specials is that the bulk of the characters are voiced by real kids. In the case of A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving, 10-year-old newcomer Todd Barbee was tasked with giving a voice to Charlie Brown—and it wasn’t always easy.

“One time they wanted me to voice that ‘AAAAAAARRRRRGGGGG’ when Charlie Brown goes to kick the football and Lucy yanks it away,” Barbee recalled to Noblemania in 2014. “Try as I might, I just couldn’t generate [it as] long [as] they were looking for … so after something like 25 takes, we moved on. I was sweating the whole time. I think they eventually got an adult or a kid with an older voice to do that one take."

7. LINUS STILL GETS AN ENTHUSIASTIC RESPONSE.

While Barbee got a crash course in the downside of celebrity at a very early age—“seeing my name printed in TV Guide made everyone around me go bananas … everybody … just thought I was some big movie star or something,” he told Noblemania—Stephen Shea, who voiced Linus, still gets a pretty big reaction.

"I don't walk around saying 'I'm the voice of Linus,'" Shea told the Los Angeles Times in 2013. "But when people find out one way or another, they scream 'I love Linus. That is my favorite character!'"

8. THANKS TO LINUS, THE THANKSGIVING SPECIAL GOT A SPINOFF.

As is often the case in a Peanuts special, Linus gets to play the role of philosopher in A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving and remind his friends (and the viewers) about the history and true meaning of whatever holiday they’re celebrating. His speech about the Pilgrims’ first Thanksgiving eventually led to This is America, Charlie Brown: The Mayflower Voyagers, a kind of spinoff adapted from that Thanksgiving Day prayer, which sees the Peanuts gang becoming a part of history.

9. LEE MENDELSON HAD AN ISSUE WITH BIRD CANNIBALISM.

In writing for HuffPo for A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving’s 40th anniversary, Mendelson admitted that one particular scene in the special led to “a rare, minor dispute during the creation of the show. Mr. Schulz insisted that Woodstock join Snoopy in carving and eating a turkey. For some reason I was bothered that Woodstock would eat a turkey. I voiced my concern, which was immediately overruled.”

10. MENDELSON EVENTUALLY GOT HIS WAY ... THOUGH NOT FOR LONG.

Though Mendelson lost his original argument against seeing Woodstock eating another bird, he was eventually able to right that wrong. “Years later, when CBS cut the show from its original 25 minutes to 22 minutes, I sneakily edited out the scene of Woodstock eating,” he wrote. “But when we moved to ABC in 2001, the network (happily) elected to restore all the holiday shows to the original 25 minutes, so I finally have given up.”

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The Mystery Science Theater 3000 Turkey Day Marathon Is Back
Shout! Factory
Shout! Factory

For many fans, Mystery Science Theater 3000 is as beloved a Thanksgiving tradition as mashed potatoes and gravy (except funnier). It seems appropriate, given that the show celebrates the turkeys of the movie world. And that it made its debut on Thanksgiving Day in 1988 (on KTMA, a local station in Minneapolis). In 1991, to celebrate its third anniversary, Comedy Central hosted a Thanksgiving Day marathon of the series—and in the more than 25 years since, that tradition has continued.

Beginning at 12 p.m. ET on Thursday, Shout! Factory will host yet another Mystery Science Theater 3000 Turkey Day marathon, hosted by series creator Joel Hodgson and stars Jonah Ray and Felicia Day. Taking place online at ShoutFactoryTV.com, or via the Shout! Factory TV app on Apple TV, Roku, Amazon Fire and select smart TVs, the trio will share six classic MST3K episodes that have never been screened as part of a Shout! Factory Turkey Day Marathon. Here’s hoping your favorite episode makes it (cough, Hobgoblins, cough.)

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