Educational television in the 90s

Once upon a time, scientists existed on television to educate kids.

It was a pretty amazing thing. People who were fairly well credentialed taught kids about the amazing, spectacular, and magnet-explaining aspects of the scientific world.

Isn’t it odd that all of these kinds of television shows have all but disappeared from the airwaves? Beakman’s World, Bill Nye the Science Guy, Popular Science for Kids, shows like these are more rare now than likes on this blog…

Ok, I’ve pulled myself together.

That being said, here’s a list of three shows I watched that had a lot of educational merit. It’s a short list, so if there are any you remember be sure to let me know in the comments. There’s also one additional show I put at the bottom, but only because it’s Canadian and awesome.

Beakman’s World

Beakman’s World is such a weird show to watch as an adult. It stars Paul Zaloom as Beakman, an eccentric scientist who owns an awesome lab designed to entertain and educate his captive audience. Like some of the other scientists on 90s television, Zaloom brought enthusiasm to showing kids how the world works!

With his two foils, Lester – a giant lab rat – and Liza – his energetic assistant – Beakman was able to show everything from how the world was constructed using a watermelon and a pingpong ball to an experiment showing how the light spectrum is constructed. It was a great show that worked because there was a balance between the fun and the science.

However, there are a whole host of other shows that brought a lot more complex ideas to kids. On the whole, Beakman’s world was more fun than it was scientific. It was a memorable show that helped taught kids to love science.

Bill Nye the Science Guy

Bill Nye is the science teacher’s lord and savior. Sit the kids down, turn on an episode, and sit back while drinking from your hip flash (I swear one of my teachers in elementary school did this). Nye, as you might know, has exploded on the Internet. Well, not literally, but in the way that he has the reputation that Carl Sagan was have if he was still alive.

What set Nye apart from many of the other hosts on this list was his genuine knowledge of science. University educated in Science with Carl Sagan as one of his professors, Nye found himself with a genuine passion for educating others in the world of science, which began in a non-speaking role in the Back to the Future live action show.

Well, everyone has to start somewhere, but where it landed him is in a television show that is still played in classrooms today.  It gave him an international forum to spread scientific knowledge and I love the show even to this day.

Popular Mechanics for Kids

Holy shit, do you remember that episode with Canadian sprinter Donovan Bailey? In an episode entitled “The Fastest”, Tyler Kyte (one of the show’s hosts) tried to race him in the 100 metre sprint. Did he win? Hell, no. Did I think I could win? Yes. Back in my elementary schooldays, Bailey was my personal hero and the show helped explained how he was so fast.

I can’t seem to find the episode, but trust me for a small child who was interested in being the fastest kid around it was pretty valuable information. Along with having a pretty amazing cast including Elisha Cuthbert and Jay Baruchel, the show also had a number of segments including Charlie’s Experiment that gave kids small science experiments they could do at home.

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Even if educational shows made up the majority of this brand of television there are still others that are great examples of live-action television.

Freaky Stories

Freaky Stories was one of those rare television shows that was able to combine horror with fun in a way that didn’t result in cringe-worthy cheesiness. The show featured a number of animated stories based off of popular folk tales. It also had those guys in the video down there.

Those guys are Larry de Bug and Maurice who formed the Abbot and Costello of this television show. Larry filled the role of knowing all of the stories that scared the living daylights out of kids. You’d think though that their appearance – being slimy bugs – would make kids watching the show feel a little grossed out, but it did the exact opposite.

In the video above it’s mentioned that the AGO, well Steve Schnier – one of the principle puppet makers at the show – was able to break attendance records at the museum. Not an easy feat for two bugs and a lot of slime. The show was basically a Twilight Zone for kids (took that from Schnier’s LinkedIn, but it is true). Larry and Maurice were definitely the best part of the show and their antics made it worth it to sit down at night to watch some Freaky Stories.

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