As a child of the 80’s, I watched WAY TOO MANY TV SHOWS as a kid, but I have some fond memories of some kid-related shows that helped this only-child pass the time and see a broader world that I would soon come to understand very intimately. Here’s my Top Ten List of my most favorite kid-oriented shows in the 80’s (age 8 – 17).
10. KIDS Incorporated
Back in the 80’s, every Saturday morning I would be up at 6am in the morning to begin my day watching Romper Room, Captain Kangaroo, then the latest sing and dance-along episode of KIDS Incorporated – K!! I!! D!! S!! My mom would still be sound asleep upstairs and most times the sun hadn’t even risen yet. I loved this show so much, which is weird since I truly detest shows like this now, especially properties like Glee and Smash. This show would tackle different themes and warnings for kids and then they’d spontaneously break out into a song and dance number. Some notable cast members that went onto more stardom or notoriety were Fergie (Ms. Lady Humps), Jennifer (Her Body Is A Wonderland, per John Mayer) Love-Hewitt and Mario (A.C. Slater and mega-host personality) Lopes. This was the show right before all the Saturday Morning Cartoons (RIP) started and I finished my morning off with Kung Fu Theater and all of the Run Run Shaw movies.
9. Mr. Wizard’s World
Don Herbert (R.I.P. 2007) truly was a wizard to me. He made simple boring stuff seem exciting and fantastical. I watched every one of his episodes and they thoroughly magnified my knowledge and love of science. Even today, when I talk to my daughters about how things work or why things react in certain ways, I teach then in many of the similar ways that I was taught by him. When my wife looks at me with those you really have too many useless facts in your head eyes, or my daughters eyes get wide with excitement as I show them what happens when baking soda, red dye and vinegar are mixed together, I give a spiritual nod to Mr. Wizard. Bill Nye is a nice guy, but he doesn’t hold a candlestick to the late great Don Herbert.
Before it was called Nickelodeon, it was called Pinwheel and this show was the reason why that network existed at all. It was the birth of what is now modern kids programming. Each episode lasted for 2 or 3 hours a day and when it ended, I felt my day was so much the better. There were numerous shorts, characters and specials that talked about a wide range of kid-related topics and moral values. It was the show that taught me about humility and kindness and showcased Bill Cosby’s “Picture Pages” segment (God, I always wanted one of those pens he used). This was such a seminal show in the late 70’s until 1990. I loved this show and really wish my kids had a show like this to watch in this new millennium of what I consider loosely to be children’s programming.
7. Fraggle Rock
I don’t think there’s one child of the 80’s that I personally know that doesn’t know and love Fraggle Rock. Even when I entered college HBO started airing old episodes, I had to watch them. Again, a fun show where character would break out into song as you explored the land of the Fraggles, the world and character around them and their ant-like builders, the Doozers. As the Fraggles played, the Doozers worked. It was a symbiotic relationship that was rife with hijinks and comedy. This series is one that to this day I think truly represents the childhood of the 80’s. Self-indulgence, brash, care-free and full of wonder. One of Jim Henson’s (R.I.P.) greatest shows on TV, probably only seconded by The Muppets.
6. 3-2-1 Contact
3-2-1 Contact was one of those shows on PBS that spoke to a slightly older, pre-teen me in the 80’s. Marc, Lisa and Trini were college students that talked about science and science-related topics in their basement headquarters, The Workshop. It was the first show to explain to me WHY spiders couldn’t grow to be a hundred feet tall and devour my neighborhood. While the series went through several iterations over the years, with several cast member changes, the main theme of the show remained intact. I enjoyed watching the series and found it to be yet another series that solidified my love of science and the wonders of the unknown.
5. Double Dare
Before shows like Ninja Warrior and Wipeout became popular, Double Dare was the obstacle course/trivia show that every kid wanted to be on. The host, Marc Summers, asked kid contestants (the red or blue team) questions and the losing team would have to do the physical challenge. The physical challenge was laden with sloppy traps, gooey obstacles and slippery trials. It was an awesome series that also established Nickelodeon as colossal force in kids programming that spawned spin-offs, Super Sloppy Double Dare, Double Dare 2000, Family Double Dare and Super Special Double Dare.
4. You Can’t Do That On Television
You Can’t Do That On Television was a pre-teen sketch comedy series that followed a similar theme of many popular sketch comedies of its day like The Carroll Burnett Show and Hee-Haw. In many ways, it was the modern-day version of Rowan & Martin’s Laugh In. Its signature shtick was to dump a bucket of green slime on the head of an unsuspecting person that said, “I don’t know.” This was a running gag that persisted in one form or fashion for years and years, even on awards shows long after the series ended. I’m almost positive that the reason why In Living Color was as big as it was was because of a series like this that kids like me found so profound and up-to-date.
3. Degrassi Junior High
Degrassi Junior High was the second (the first being, The Kids of Degrassi Street) of the Canadian Degrassi TV franchise that set a much more “realistic” and down-to-Earth tone in kid’s programming. This kid’s soap opera dealt with many of the tougher issues kids of the 80’s were facing in the growing crack epidemic years and when the classical ideas of social norms were being challenged and tested. Before Aubrey (aka the rapper Drake) was even a factor in this franchise, it followed the lives of some pre-teens/teens as they navigated the issues of drug use, teen pregnancy, homosexuality, racism, divorce and other major socio-political and economic issues. What I admired about this series is that while it was still the puritanical 80’s under the looming Reagan administration, it tried to buck the system by telling a generation that it’s okay to be different and life isn’t as fair as you would like it to be, but you can still be beautifully individual. I followed the series through the Degrassi High series before it just fell off my radar, but – it was sobering show that I believed helped many kids, hiding in silence, get through some hard times.
2. ABC Afterschool Specials
After the bell rang and school let out, I would run home as fast as I could to see the latest ABC Afterschool Special. It was an event in many kids lives – like gathering around for the latest Sugar Ray Leonard fight. It was an anthology series that usually aired during the weekdays ever couple of months and portrayed topics around specific social issues like racism, abuse, drugs, drinking and other specific issues that were considered relatively taboo and close to home. I remember one episode called Just A Regular Kid: An AIDS Story, that took on the subject during a time when the idea of having AIDS was considered a death sentence and when the prejudice and fear of the disease was at its height. I have to say that after I watched this story, I was changed and looked at people with AIDs in a different light. It scared me enough to be careful, but also made me realize that people with afflictions weren’t to be ostracized, but loved and cared for like anyone else. This was a hallmark series that ran for 25 years and I wish would begin production again, because so many kids of this generation need a series like this right now in the post 9-11/post-recession era.
1. Saved By The Bell
There is no series that I cherish more than Saved By The Bell. Now, it wasn’t the series itself that hooked me, it was one person that caught my fancy and I couldn’t get enough of her – Lark Voorhies aka Lisa Turtle. From the moment I saw her long, crimped out, black hair (with some type of bow or ribbon tied into it) – I was in love. Over time, I came to love the rest of the characters and the show itself. It was funny, campy, Zack always broke the 4th wall and I felt like Screech (who turned into a jerk in real life) – pining away for his one true love that he could never have – Lisa. Another reason I loved the show was because when they were in high school, so was I. When they were in College – so was I. So I had a parallel track with this show that couldn’t be duplicated. I skipped The New Class series, but there will never be another moment in my life with a TV series where on one fall night, I turned the knob to Channel 4 (that’s right – no remote) and saw a vision that made me spontaneously combust with pubescent fervor – the night I was introduced to Lisa Turtle. That was a night I will never forget, and it was good for me.
I hope you enjoyed my list and please feel free to tell what shows you just couldn’t get enough of – regardless of the decade.
Peace and hair grease.