I love Curious George. I really do. I very fondly remember reading the books as a kid and those cartoons that looked like the books come to life back in the 80s.
I even still have an old drawing of George I did when I was seven years old, discovered last year among some items at my parents’ house and now on display in our son’s room.
And while nostalgia made me glad to see George hit the big screen in 2006, I don’t think it really appealed to me the way that the animated series running on PBS currently does. Maybe I just had to be a parent before I could truly appreciate the idea of a man trying to keep his life together while caring for a monkey stand-in for the role of precocious, eager to learn, exuberant toddler.
These days, I feel, George is more engaging and relatable than ever thanks to the hit cartoon series – even more so than the cartoon version of my own youth. The writers, producers, artists, and an amazing voice portrayal by legendary voice-over artist Frank Welker, have designed a George that reflects a preschooler’s behavior, emotion and wonderment, giving the children in the audience a character they can relate to, through whose eyes they similarly see the world.
And for us parents, we can surely relate George’s curiosity, humor, and hijinks, through the lens of the protective, but ever-exhausted Man in the Yellow Hat, played to such likability that I don’t even have words for it, by another voiceover legend, Jeff Bennett.
But George wasn’t always a stand-in for a small child. Early on, and by that I mean, really early on, when he first debuted back in 1941, he was…well, just a cute little monkey with a penchant for getting into trouble.
I didn’t really know this until recently, to be honest, when my son came into possession of a copy of the first Curious George story (aptly just titled Curious George) and wanted to read it before bed.
And it was with that, that we discovered a slightly different type of world for Curious George than we know today. Or, as I like to call it…The Secret Origin of Curious George!!
We first meet George in the jungles of Africa, having fun and swinging from trees.
It’s here that George is spotted for the first time by The Man in the Yellow Hat who decides he’d like to take the little monkey home. They haven’t met yet, but that doesn’t seem to stop the man.
From there, the now kidnapped (monkeynapped, perhaps?) George is brought onboard an ocean liner bound for another country. He’s told by the Man in the Yellow Hat that he’s being brought to…no, not the man’s home..but a zoo. The man then tells George to run along and play until they get there, while the Man smokes his pipe. George, playing on the deck, or perhaps at the thought of being pulled from his home to cross the ocean and end up in a zoo, goes overboard.
Don’t worry, though. It’s not the end of our monkey-pal. George is rescued by a pair of sailors on the ship.
Once in the city, George makes himself at home with the man. Perhaps a little too at home.
We do get what will become a familiar glimpse of George and the Man together at home, but it’s only brief enough for the Man to make a call to the zoo to prepare for George’s arrival moreso than any fatherly bonding. When the Man leaves, George, as would become the modus operandi of the little primate, gets curious and decides he wants to use the phone as well. Only, the number he calls is the fire department, which sends a slew of panicked firefighters over to the man’s home. There’s no fire to be found, only a little monkey, and the firefighters are not happy.
George has survived in the jungle, though, and no jail can hold him. It’s not long before he knocks out a guard and escapes, quickly finding a balloon vendor and taking his entire stash of balloons on a trip high above the city.
Sometime later, George and the balloons begin to descend and come to rest atop a traffic light. Naturally, this causes a bit of a traffic snarl. But among the angry motorists is The Man in the Yellow Hat whose thrilled to find George again.
So this is it, right? This is where they realize how much they need each other to survive in this big ol’ city and begin the path to that father-son relationship that melts my heart?
No. This is where the Man gets him back and promptly puts George into a zoo as he planned from the beginning.
Thankfully, at some point H.A. Rey had the foresight to get George out of that zoo and into domestic living with the Man, and in time we got the father-son type relationship that resonates so well today.
So today it was announced that the Children’s Television Workshop, which of course produces the legendary Sesame Street, has inked a deal with HBO to air the next five years worth of new episodes on the premium television channel.
Those new episodes, will then later be made available for airing on PBS Stations.
And I kind of feel like it’s serving a lot of kids and families the leftover scraps.
The program isn’t leaving PBS, its home for the past 45 years. But it is being cut down from an hour to a half-hour and will be reruns that have been re-edited.
Any new episodes of the show will air on HBO first, finding their way to PBS some nine months later. Will these new episodes be an hour on HBO and cut down to a half-hour on PBS as is being done with reruns? Or will they be a half hour on HBO and then presented as-is on PBS? I haven’t found that to be clear just yet.
However, the move to HBO will allow them to nearly double the number of episodes they produce each year, from 18 to 35.
So more episodes. Something that was getting harder to do financially for PBS. That’s good, right? But the only families and children who will get to watch them are those paying for HBO or HBO’s streaming service. Nine months later they’ll be able to catch them on television on PBS.
I can already see the critics of PBS using this in arguments against public funding, citing what seems to be the big thing lately, privatization, or that trendy new buzzword, ‘public-private partnerships’ in the fight against the use of funding for something they may not be a fan of.
Much of this deal is wrapped up in the concept of streaming, something I tend to, admittedly, forget about. HBO will get the exclusive digital/streaming rights to Sesame Street. Many news articles on this deal cite that two-thirds of children watch Sesame Street via a streaming device.
So, if that is the case, two-thirds of children watch Sesame Street via streaming. And that streaming option is now being removed from Netflix, Amazon, and most importantly, the free PBS Kids app. (Or at least, it’s implied it will disappear from the PBS Kids app. That doesn’t seem to be directly addressed in any article I’ve come across so far. I’ll gladly correct if I find one.)
This is nagging at me because I keep thinking about the purpose of Sesame Street being on public television to begin with – to have its educational lessons via entertainment accessible to all, regardless of the economic status of the household.
If you had a television set, whether it was antenna, premium cable, or just basic cable as we have (the cable company refers to it as ‘lifeline cable’ sometimes. It’s just channels 2-13), you could still learn along with Bert, Ernie, Big Bird and company.
I’ve gone back and forth but keep feeling like overall, there’s a loss here for anyone that’s not HBO or an HBO subscriber.
PBS keeps the reruns and down-the-line gets some new episodes and doesn’t have to pay for it. Great, but if all these articles are true, stating that two-thirds of children get Sesame Street via a streaming service or app, then that’s just been taken away from them if their families don’t subscribe to HBO.
If your childhood home gets saved from being torn down, but you don’t get to live in it anymore because it’s not in your financial reach, who is it a win for?
Today, Mr Fred Rogers would have been 87 years old.
While the gentle “Won’t you be my neighbor?” has, over the years, sometimes turned into a bit of a sarcastic punchline in pop culture, Mr Rogers himself, and the lessons and values that he presented, left a lasting impact on my life, as no doubt it did countless other lives over the course of multiple generations.
I was about 3 or 4 when I first joined ‘the neighborhood.’ My brother was just born/was a baby, and we lived in a two-family apartment building in an area of our city that, while maybe not that great, was home. I still remember running from one of the apartment to the other when Sesame Street would end, grabbing my sweater and sneakers because I knew what was up next.
And as Mr Rogers walked through that door and greeted us viewers, I sat in the living room of our apartment, putting on and zipping up my little sweater along with him, and tossing my sneaker from one hand to the next. I wanted to be just like that guy, I would think.
As I got older and grew out of the daily routine of my Sesame Street/Mr Rogers TV block, the values that came from them remained, even if I didn’t realize it.
No, I would have to wait until I was a great deal older, and much more introspective about myself and my life before I would see that. But now I do. I realize that while I was watching with a childhood curiosity and thirst for entertainment back then, what I was getting was a reinforcement of values and morals that taught all of us what it meant to be a good person.
It was really special. I knew it then, even if I didn’t know why. And while it took a few decades later and becoming a father myself, I know it again.
Thankfully, those lessons are being taught to new generations today through Fred Rogers’ Company in shows like the animated Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood.
So thank you, Fred Rogers, for all you did for me and for so many other kids over the years. For teaching us, not our ABCs or 1, 2, 3s, but how to be kind, why to be kind, and how to help.
It’s no secret that I’m a big fan of Sesame Street, nor a little known fact that I love the BBC/PBS series “Sherlock,” so I definitely was all smiles when PBS put out this image and caption today for us to ‘stay tuned.’
With that said, I will say that I have been pestering Sesame Street via Twitter in the hopes that the popularity of Sherlock on the BBC and PBS will lead to them pulling Sherlock Hemlock out of Muppet retirement.
He was on quite a bit when I was a kid (or at least I remember him quite vividly as a kid, even is his skits weren’t that numerous) but has been phased out over the years in favor of more popular Muppets. It just seems like the time is right.
What do you think? Can we get #Hemlock trending?
No, no, no. I don’t mean that. (Get your mind out of the gutter.) I mean many moons before that, when some of you picked up your first comic book to give it a read. Chances are that if you’re like me, it stuck and you’ve been reading them ever since.
Everyone has a different story to tell of a different tale read.
I remember mine quite well. I was probably around 5 or 6 years old and was out of school, sick. Both my parents working, I spent most of the day under a blanket at my grandmother’s house. I remember it being very gray outside, the blanket of the clouds and lack of lights on in the house making it seem as gloomy inside as it was outside.
The day would have been pretty boring and forgettable if it weren’t for one moment – when my grandmother reached into the closet and pulled out a stack of comic books and plopped them in my lap to read. There was a wide array in that pile that I would eventually make my way through – a Richie Rich whose cover had him riding in a giant roller skate, a The Brave and the Bold featuring The Flash and Batman at the Disco of Death, but it was that one on top of the pile that would open the door for me.
It was a copy of Uncle Scrooge #124 from December 1975. Titled “North of the Yukon,” and was a reprint of a Carl Barks classic long before I would know who Carl Barks was. (For those of you wondering, he was a cartoonist who actually created Uncle Scrooge and you can read more about him here.)
Little did I know it at the time, but the story was the last that Barks would write of Scrooge’s adventures in the Yukon. It involved sled dogs and was inspired by a real life article Barks had read about a dog named Balto, who participated in the 1925 Great Race of Mercy in order to deliver an anti-toxin that could halt an epidemic of diphtheria.
From that one Uncle Scrooge book, I would dive into the vast world of Disney’s Ducks, making my way over the years from Ducks to do-gooders, as Batman tangled with the Joker, Superman’s Lex Luthor went from Mad Scientist to Bald Billionaire, and me loving every minute of it.
It was my gateway drug into a lifelong love for comic books, and before long, I was forcing my family to stop by magazine kiosks in the mall or any bookstore where I caught a glimpse of a spinning comic rack in the window. This was all before I discovered my first comic book store, of course (an entire store devoted to comics?! A story of discovery for another time).
My reading list is pretty small these days when it comes to comics. Maybe it’s the simple joys that made for more discerning tastes as I got older. I expect to have a story that instills me with that same awe and wonder I did I had on that first read so many years ago.
It isn’t often (J. Torres’ The Copybook Tales did it, Darwyn Cooke’s New Frontier did, much of Sholly Fisch’s work on Batman: Brave and the Bold sure did, as is Batman 66′), but every now and then I’ll come across a book in my adulthood that brings about that pure sense of enjoyment I remember feeling as a kid when I sifted through the pages of a fresh new comic off the rack and in my hands. In other words, it makes you feel like a kid again.
On a recent trip to the store, I came across a copy of a Sesame Street comic book by Ape Entertainment and brought it home for my son. It was partly a joke – ‘hey, honey, look, a comic for him!’ – but it turns out that every now and then he’ll pull it off of his bookshelf and flip through the pages, pointing and laughing at his favorite familiar and fuzzy Muppet characters. Sometimes he’ll hand it to me, indicating he wants it read to him, and I’ll break out the Sesame Street voices I can manage (Grover, the Count, Cookie…I can’t get a handle on Elmo…) and we laugh and have a good time.
Maybe the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. I don’t want to force anything on him, and I try to always restrain myself from going too far when presenting him with something because I liked it. But, who knows. Maybe one day he and I will be making a trip to the comic store together and looking through the racks for age-appropriate books he may find fun. Because that’s what comics SHOULD be about – fun.
Decades later, it’s pretty amazing to think that such a big part of one’s life all started with a single sick day on the couch and the richest duck in the world. Sifting through a box in my basement recently, I lit up when I discovered I still have that old book. It’s a little more yellow and a little worse for wear, but it’s still around. It’s probably been more than 25 years since I peered through those pages.
Maybe it’s time to give it another read.
Whether you started age 5, 15, 25, or 45, everybody’s got a first book that started them on their comic path. If you’ve got one, please don’t be afraid to share it with me in the comments. I’d love to hear about it.
Now that fatherhood has me watching more Sesame Street than ever before, I occasionally come across unexpected moments like this.
Fellow “Arrested Development” fans might have been as surprised as I was to see Will Arnett pop up in an episode as Max the Magician, essentially just playing Gob Bluth, complete with a Sesame-type version of Final Countdown for his entrance. 🙂
I admire how the creators are using actors and references that the parents can enjoy and get them as engaged as the kids. It really makes for a wonderful bonding-viewing experience. Not that it’s anything truly new. Even the early episodes of Sesame Street had appearances from celebrities like Bill Cosby, Lena Horne, John Denver and many, many more. And heck, every episode of the Muppet Show had a celebrity host of the time taking part in skits. Still, it’s nice to see the tradition continuing.
If I’m any indication, it’s working, Children’s Television Workshop. Nice job.