Some years ago back when my kids were still kids they asked me about TV shows I watched when I was little. Did they even have TV then? (Yes, my kids are smart alecks.)
So, I told them that in the 1950s the programs were all black and white and the images literally flickered, but just like today they had puppets and cartoons and bad guys being captured by heroes (though most did not have superpowers).
I mentioned a few specific shows that came to mind: the marionette "Howdy Doody," with Buffalo Bob and Clarabelle the clown; "Kukla, Fran and Ollie," Ollie being a dragon hand puppet; "Time for Beany," with Cecil the Seasick Sea Serpent; and "The Rootie Kazootie Club," with Rootie wearing a sideways baseball cap.
They giggled as I described these shows, saying they sounded pretty dumb, until I brought up those bastions of contemporary sophistication, "Barney" and "Teletubbies."
Actually, when they were very young, my kids watched a lot of "Sesame Street," which probably is sophisticated compared to, say, "Winky Dink and You."
But nostalgia is a big draw. Baby boomers have fond memories of what was entertaining when we were tots. And it's only natural to wonder how they hold up.
So if you recognize any of the aforementioned shows or if you remember lisping, dancing Pinky Lee in his plaid hat and suit; talented ventriloquist Paul Winchell, with his dummy Jerry Mahoney; Lassie and Jeff in the pre-Timmy days; Pancho and the Cisco Kid; or Roy Rogers and Dale Evans singing "Happy Trails" after capturing the bad guys with help from Trigger, Buttermilk, Bullet and Nellybelle you might want to check out a new four-disc DVD collection.
"Hiya, Kids!! A '50s Saturday Morning" (Shout, 1947-60, b/w, 12-page booklet, $34.99) features a complete episode of each of these half-hour shows and more 22 in all, some with commercials built into the show.
So how do they hold up? Well, in truth, some of these shows are hopelessly hokey and silly. But others remain surprisingly entertaining. And while some of the source materials are a bit shoddy, many look great. (There are no bonus features.)
Not that any of this matters. "Hiya, Kids!!" isn't designed for 21st century youngsters. It's meant for all those 50- or 60-somethings who were tykes, toddlers or tweens during the 1950s.
The title comes from Andy Devine's weekly introduction to "Andy's Gang" for Buster Brown shoes. And innocence is a pervading theme, conveyed through such shows as "Ding Dong School," "Super Circus," "The Magic Clown" and "Captain Z-RO."
It's also interesting to see how many of these shows foreshadow TV landmarks to come:
• Game-show host Jack Barry interviewed small fry on "Juvenile Jury," well before Art Linkletter perfected "Kids Say the Darndest Things" on his "House Party" program.
• Pinky Lee laid groundwork for both Soupy Sales in the '60s and Pee-wee Herman in the '80s.
• "Kukla, Fran and Ollie," "The Rootie Kazootie Club" and "Time for Beany" paved the way for the Muppets.
• And, of course, the '50s versions of "Lassie," "Annie Oakley," "Flash Gordon" and "Sheena, Queen of the Jungle" would later be remade some several times.