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Posts Tagged ‘Sesame Street’

Targeting tots in the 50s

My son likes Elmo. I like Ernie better. He doesn’t care much for Barney, but I know other toddlers who love the purple dinosaur.

Now, I didn’t grow up watching the Sesame Street Muppets. Or Miss Piggy and Kermit. In fact, I don’t remember watching much TV at all during my early school years. Of the time when I was a toddler or a pre-schooler, I have no recollections of any media time at all. And this was the 1980s. In fact, I hadn’t really heard of the Muppets until my own son got his first own Elmo as a gift. And then I discovered the wonderful world of Sesame Street, mostly of the 1970s during its early years. I watched videos such as the classic “We all sing with the same voice“, “I don’t want to live on the moon“, and “What’s the name of that song?” and learned them ‘by heart’.

Street Gang: The Complete History of Sesame Street starts with a history of programming for pre-schoolers in the United States. One such show that aired in the 1950s and the 1960s was the Ding Dong School. This 30 minute show was, I gather, anchored single handedly by Dr. Francis Horwich. This show pioneered the ‘conversational style’ so popular in children’s (and other) programs today and Dr. Horwich would ‘talk’ to the children on her show,even pausing in between her questions, as if they were talking back to her, such as in this 1953 episode:

Good Morning. What day is it?

(pause)

You’re right. Friday. What’re you going to do?

(pause)

Are you? Good!

(pause)

Tomorrow too?

Oh. I hope it’s a nice day and you can play outdoors..

I found an entire episode, complete with bubble making, story reading, and napkin folding.

This show was also genius for other reasons: it literally served as a vehicle for advertisements of products that appealed to children. There was no subtle product placement. Instead, there was Ms. Horwich, right in the middle of the show, blowing the bubbles and fishing out a packet of Wheaties (or Kix or whatever), and urging boys and girls:

“…when your mother goes to the store, you help her find the brand new Wheaties box. And when it’s breakfast time, or lunch time, or supper time, what’re you going to do? You’re going to fill a cereal bowl with Wheaties. Say it. Wheaties! Breakfast of Champions!”

I can practically hear all those kids, who adored Dr. Horwich, begging their mothers to ‘please, mommy, can you please get me some Wheaties’. Those were some powerful endorsements, and very clever.

Fun as the Ding Dong School must have been, I am happy I don’t see Elmo, or Rosita, or Ernie, or any of those furry colorful monsters, half of whose names I do not know, exhort prechoolers to ask their moms for some strawberry flavored sugar crystals.

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