Thinkabout (1979)

The Agency for Instructional Technology may sound like some actually-nefarious organization in the Fallout universe, but here in the real world they had a big role in creating and distributing educational programs and other tools to broadcast outlets and schools in the US and Canada. The ’70s saw a nation still rich with optimism about the television’s role in educational development, and it’s clear in the amount of educational programming that rolled out across the decade and into the ’80s. There are the big PBS names, of course, but for every “Sesame Street” there are five to ten “Thinkabout”s that ended up being smaller blips on the radar.

Cited in the title sequence as “a cooperative project for acquiring skills essential to learning,” Thinkabout was a series of sixty 10-to-15 minute episodes, mostly standalone, aimed at teaching a variety of skills from language arts to math to critical thinking.

There were no main characters to the series, each episode featured kids unique to that episode in either scripted or unscripted form. And these kids are so, so 1979-1980.

Some episodes had a narrative arc, like the bizarre episode “Why Bother” in which the main character Kelly meets a dream George Washington Carver who encourages her to seek out more sources for her research even though she thinks she’s got her bases covered. There’s also a subplot about the librarian dating Clark Kent.

Other episodes are a little more straightforward. “Plan a City of the Future” features real kids spitballing about future technologies. I know I bring it up a lot, but the enthusiasm here for the promise of technology’s ability to solve our problems combined with the unspoken assumption that those solutions were just around the corner is a remarkable feature of kids TV from the ’70s. It’s a constant presence in educational shows from this era, and it’s a really important and powerful idea.

Thinkabout ran for 60 episodes, finding its way into PBS schedules and classrooms well into the ’80s. My local PBS station in Florida didn’t carry Thinkabout, but when we vacationed in Georgia in the summers I’d see episodes run as fillers on GPTV between the bigger shows. It’s a special series with a special mission, and it has the best intro of any PBS show. The images, animation, and “Boards of Canada”-esque synth is the perfect expression of this optimism for the future.

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A Young Bug – The Write Channel (1978)

Mississippi was pretty late to the public television party,  taking until 1970 to actually establish its own station. Even then it wasn’t the best look for the state, as their refusal to air Sesame Street due to its racially integrated cast drew national criticism, but they eventually figured it out and actually ended up developing some really progressive educational programming of their own. I’ve talked about Tomes & Talismans here before, the sci-fi show about libraries, and we may take a deeper dive into that show again sometime soon, but today we’ll look at a younger, cuter show about writing and sentence structure called The Write Channel.

Shot in Jackson, Mississippi but set in Egg City, Calistonia, The Write Channel featured a young stop-motion reporter named R.B. Bugg who has a lot to learn about writing.  The first segment of the show typically features R.B. Bugg and his boss, Red Green (not THAT Red Green) working through some aspect of writing together for the mid-day news report.

Look at the layout on this news card!

The second segment involves R.B. working by himself on his assignment for the Evening News, taking the lessons learned earlier to heart.

The third segment, called “The Club”, involves the viewer.  R.B. gives writing prompts for kids to write stories against and send them in to join the club. Not to be featured on the show or anything, just…to have?

The world got 15 episodes of The Write Channel. A cute idea, a fun execution, and they definitely don’t make them like this any more.  Here’s an episode.

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Five Things – 11.7.16 – Pappy Drew It

Beyond Westworld (1980)

What if the catastrophic events of Westworld (1973) and its sequel Futureworld (1976) were not the result of one company’s hubris, mismanagement, or ill intention but rather the beginnings of the schemes of one man with a larger plan in mind? That’s the premise behind Beyond Westworld, the short-lived 1980 television series based on the hugely successful film. And, I guess, also based on the hugely unsuccessful sequel.

Beyond Westworld Ad

Beyond Westworld follows John Moore, the head of Delos security, as he thwarts rogue ex-Delos scientist Simon Quaid’s attempts to unleash his special brand of psychotic robots upon the world.  He’s assigned a beautiful partner – of course – named Pamela Williams, and together they work to keep safe a world on the brink of an android holocaust.

quaid

Its a pretty great premise, right? Unfortunately, it comes out pretty flat. Only five episodes were produced, two of which weren’t even aired before cancellation. The plot lines are pretty mundane, especially given the license the show had to literally do anything they wanted in a world filled with murderous androids who could look like just anybody on the street.

foam-robot

Still, the premise and the tie-in to Westworld warrant a look at the series. The look of the show, of the sets and costumes, is fantastic – it was even nominated for an Emmy in Art Direction – but, like the Logan’s Run series, fails to deliver on a fantastic what-if.  For whatever reason it’s difficult to find episodes online; perhaps the powers that be envision a world in which there is only one Westworld television series in existence, and if that is the case I’m glad that the one we have is the one we have.  Here’s some of the promo material for the 1980 series, though – there’s definitely some charm here.

 

 

Pappyland

In the “this show could never exist in this form today” department, here’s Pappyland.

pappyland

Pappyland is what you’d get if an inferior version of Pee-Wee’s Playhouse married an inferior version of The Secret City and had a child.  The show, which premiered in 1993 on New York Public Television Station WCNY-TV, focuses on Pappy Drew-It (that’s right) and his magical friends.  They hang out in a magical cabin, draw pictures, and go on bluescreen adventures.

pappyland-gang drawing

None of this is inherently bad – except that it is.  The drawing itself is pretty good and it’s clear that the whole show is a labor of love but everything just kind of comes off as half-baked and thrown together. Which would sort of be fine, but it’s clear that it wasn’t half baked or thrown together! Also, am I the only one creeped out?

pappyland-in-space

Here’s an episode. Feel differently? Do you have fond memories of this show? Let me know!

 

Doctor Dreadful’s Food Lab

The gross-out version of the Easy-Bake Oven.

 

Pumpkin Dream Pie

This 1959 recipe from Jell-O’s got my interest – from a design and a flavor perspective.

Pumpkin Dream Pie

 

Stephane Grapelli – How High The Moon

Because it’s beautiful. Here’s Stephane Grapelli playing “How High The Moon” in 1991.

 

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Five Things – 09.19.16 – We’re Jiggling Too Much

The Bloodhound Gang

The Bloodhound Gang is to the 1980s PBS show 3-2-1 Contact what Mathnet was to Square One. That reads like a standardized test question, but it holds up.

bloodhound-gang

The Bloodhound Gang was the breakout segment of the larger educational program, featuring Vikki, Ricardo (Rembrandt from The Warriors!), and a rotating cast of junior detectives who solved a mystery (roughly) every week.  The mysteries were somewhat age-appropriate, and solving them usually involved some sort of science or math trick.  The bits were short, around 5 minutes, and serialized; mysteries would take a few days to solve.

science

The segment was very popular on 3-2-1 Contact, to the point where there would be an announcement at the beginning if an episode didn’t include a Bloodhound Gang segment. The Bloodhound Gang was cancelled after the unfortunate and untimely death of Ricardo, actor Marcelino Sanchez, in 1986.

The fond memories of the segment/show and its catchy theme song live on, though.  Here’s an episode.

 

DC Super Heroes Super Healthy Cookbook

This bizarre(-o?) (get it?) set of recipes featuring the Justice League and aimed at kids first appeared in a 1981 issue of Woman’s Day, but eventually was published as its own thing.

DC Cookbook Cover

This cookbook pretty much nails everything it tries to do.  The recipes are fun and more or less in-ine with the character they’re associated with. The writing is cute and cheesy and comic-book-y, the illustrations are absolutely fantastic, and the food itself is (relatively) healthy.

mild-mannered-burger

superman-burger

natural-soda-pop

vegetables

ugy-face-sandwiches

It’s out of print so you could maybe find a copy for a whole ton of money, or you could visit this Tumblr set up in tribute to it!

 

Warcraft Adventures: Lord of the Clans

Before World of Warcraft took over the MMORPG world, Blizzard merely had a hit PC game franchise on their hands and apparently a very ’90s mentality of how best to manifest that franchise.  Why did Warcraft need to stay a strategy game? Why not, say, a point-and-click interactive narrative game? If not for thinking like this, World of Warcraft may never have come about; thankfully, though, someone put the kibosh on this adventure game adaptation of the Lord of the Clans novel before it saw the light of retail. That didn’t stop fans from discovering it decades later, though.  This is some Legend of Zelda: Wand of Gamelon level-stuff, right here.

 

Dinosaurs and Other Strange Creatures

The stop-motion in this now-largely-false educational video about dinosaurs is out of this world. Everything else is not.

 

Two Bytes Are Better Than One

This 1977 ad for Texas Instruments 16-bit microprocessor is great. You can’t fool me with those glasses – that guy’s not a nerd!

two-bytes-better

 

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Five Things – 9.12.16 – To Cogitate And To Solve

Mathnet

Mathnet appeared as a serial segment on the public television show Square One in the late 1980s and early 1990s.  For me, it was Square One – everything else about the show was either a prelude to or epilogue from Mathnet.

mathnet

Mathnet parodied the 1950s police procedural show Dragnet.  Kate Monday and George Frankly solved “crimes” (more like mysteries) by using logic and math.  It works better than you’d think.  Segments ran each day in sequential order, with the case usually being solved by the end of the week.  All together the storylines run from 30 to 60 minutes.

friday-and-frankly

Mathnet was a core component of Square One up through its final season in 1992.  It continued in replays through 1994, then showed up on Nickelodeon’s Noggin network after that. I also remember it being shown in the classroom on rainy or otherwise lazy days.  Here’s an episode.

 

The Box (Network)

How do you go up against MTV  in the mid-80s, the undisputed kings? You create a video jukebox, allowing viewers to call in and use special phone numbers and codes to put in your order for current or classic music videos, thus programming the air.

the-box

The Box ,originally the Video Jukebox Network, hung its hat on this idea of empowering the viewer. it even featured videos that couldn’t/wouldn’t be seen on MTV or were banned. Each of the over 100 affiliates had its own playlist, so there was a pretty good chance your order would get played quickly.

eazy-e

MTV eventually bought The Box, and a couple of years after the purchase the network was shut down in 2001 – a pretty good run.  It was never a true competitor to the music video giant, but what a way to swing for the fences technology-wise.  Here’s some of The Box.

 

Canadian Library PSA

A grainy, poor quality, but nonetheless charming animated 1992 PSA for the library.

 

1989 Fraggle Rock VHS Club Commercial

Mail-order book clubs are a pretty poor investment, as are mail-order music clubs, but I think mail-order VHS clubs took the cake as the worst way to spend your money of the 1980s.  Here’s one for Fraggle Rock.

 

The Box (Orbital)

Got 30 minutes? Of course you do.  Here’s Orbital.

 

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