I was fortunate. I grew up in the ‘70s, a time during which television was beginning to discover itself, and children like myself were just beginning to discover it. Part of this discovery, for me, included a string of shows that really challenged young people. Of course, my parents were cool enough to understand that there was some hip stuff going on, and they turned me onto it.
They gave me the freedom, even at 6 and 7 years old, to experiment with their record collection, which included Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, Santana, the Beatles and Sly and the Family Stone. I practically destroyed them all, listening to them incessantly, but what a wonderful experience I had, one that few of my friends could understand. Same went for the tube. Sure, my parents steered me, but their ideas about kid’s television were of the hipper variety, and so I got eyeballs full of very cool, interesting and useful programming.
The music in these programs was invariably hip as well. From Motown to Broadway-style tunes, these three shows were steeped in fantastic songwriting, all geared toward conveying information to kids in an entertaining way.
Here are three essential ‘70s kids shows that can – and should – be viewed on DVD with your children.
The Electric Company
There is no hipper show than The Electric Company. Produced by the Children’s Television Workshop (now called, not-so-ironically the Sesame Workshop), The Electric Company, which ran from 1971-’77, was clever, inventive and very, very cool. Name a cat cooler than Morgan Freeman’s Easy Reader. You can’t. Other stars who brought their talents to the show included Rita Moreno, Bill Cosby and Mel Brooks. Like the best in children’s programming, The Electric Company appealed to adults as well as kids. (Not too many kids are gonna pick up on the name of detective, Fargo North, Decoder.) The show made a comeback in the late ‘90s, with rebroadcasts of classic episodes, and they even rebooted the series in 2009, but the original is where it’s at.
The Best of the Electric Company is available for purchase here.
Produced by WGBH in Boston, Zoom aired from 1972-78. A show written or improvised almost entirely by the kids on the show, from viewer suggestions (yes, they produced segments based on the letters they received from the children that watched the show), Zoom was a young hippie’s dream. The kids performed in jeans and bare feet. They talked about stuff openly, including racism, bullying and their budding interest in each other. There were no adults ANYWHERE. (Well, behind the cameras, maybe.) The kids got crazy, making messes, wrestling and experimenting. And, looking back on the original episodes (the show was revived in 1999 for a short time), those kids looked like they were having a damn good time.
Zoom: Back to the ’70s video is available here.
Free To Be … You and Me
First an album, then a television special, Free To Be … You and Me changed me, even at 5 years old. It was 1972 when the record came out, and I listened the hell out of that thing. Sparked by actress and activist Marlo Thomas as a way to teach youngsters about life in a tumultuous time, the songs and stories included on the record and show talked about gender equality, freedom of the mind and circumnavigating stereotypes. The stars that lined up to participate were numerous, including Mel Brooks, Michael Jackson, Alan Alda, Carol Channing, Rosey Grier and even Dustin Hoffman (who excised segment is included in the extras on the DVD). As a child, I had never been confronted so honestly about the OK-ness of being. Boys can cry and play with dolls and should not be ashamed of it. Girls can be strong and make their own choices and be respected. And your genitalia is all right to talk about.
Free to Be … You and Me is available here.