(CBS Local)– “Sesame Street” and “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” are two indelible shows that played significant roles in molding decades of American children and culture. Author David Kamp dives into just how transformative these shows and other programs like “The Electric Company,” “Free to Be… You and Me” and “Schoolhouse Rock” were in his new book “Sunny Days: The Children’s Television Revolution That Changed America.”
CBS Local’s DJ Sixsmith chatted with Kamp about the book, the birth of “Sesame Street” and why Fred Rogers resonated with millions of Americans.
“It kind of occurred to me that I grew up in a special era,” said Kamp. “These shows were new and I never thought of them this way until I was an adult, but together they weren’t a slate of children’s TV programming, they were a social movement. They were trying to establish a new vision of American childhood. They were enlightened, more care free and fun.”
Kamp can remember the very first episode of “Sesame Street” on November 10, 1969.
“One thing it did that was unique and it wasn’t even a primary objective back then is that it introduced diversity and multiculturalism to American audiences,” said Kamp. “When Sesame Street aired in 1969, it was the Blackest show at the time on television. You have to remember Black people weren’t frequent actors and guest stars on TV. For Sesame Street to have Gordon and Susan on five days a week was a sea change and if you were a Black kid watching at hone, for the first time you could see a version of yourself on the screen. If you’re a white kid watching at home, you were having an introduction to Black culture.”
Before there was “Sesame Street,” there was a TV show being filmed in Pittsburgh with a man named Fred Rogers that would last for decades. “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” was on the air from 1968-2001 and American kids and parents fell in love with Rogers. Kamp says this was a show unlike any other.
“The rigor with which it was prepared. A lot of people think Fred Rogers was this perfectly kind man. He was actually a firecly intelligent man and one thing he took really seriously was children’s psychology, which was in its relative birth in the 1960s. He prepared every episode with that program with Dr. Margaret McFarland, who was a child psychologist. The things on that show were not randomly planned out and were deliberate.”
Kamp’s book is available now wherever books are sold.