Title/Author: Sunny Days: The Children’s Television Revolution That Changed America by David Kamp
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
In a nutshell (Publisher):
With a foreward by QuestLove
In 1970, on a soundstage on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, a group of men, women, and Muppets of various ages and colors worked doggedly to finish the first season of a children’s TV program that was not yet assured a second season: Sesame Street. They were conducting an experiment to see if television could be used to better prepare disadvantaged preschoolers for kindergarten. What they didn’t know then was that they were starting a cultural revolution that would affect all American kids. In Sunny Days, bestselling author David Kamp captures the unique political and social moment that gave us not only Sesame Street, but also Fred Rogers’s gentle yet brave Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood; Marlo Thomas’s unabashed gender-politics primer Free to Be…You and Me; Schoolhouse Rock!, an infectious series of educational shorts dreamed up by Madison Avenue admen; and more, including The Electric Company, ZOOM, and Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids. It was a unique time when an uncommon number of media professionals and thought leaders leveraged their influence to help children learn—and, just as notably, a time of unprecedented buy-in from American parents.
Kamp conducted rigorous research and interviewed such Sesame Street figures as Joan Ganz Cooney, Lloyd Morrisett, Sonia Manzano, Emilio Delgado, Loretta Long, Bob McGrath, and Frank Oz, along with Free to Be’s Marlo Thomas and The Electric Company’s Rita Moreno—and in Sunny Days, he explains how these and other like-minded individuals found their way into children’s television not for fame or money, but to make a difference.
Fun, fascinating, and a masterful work of cultural history, Sunny Days captures a wondrous period in the US when a determined few proved that, with persistence and effort, they could change the lives of millions. It’s both a rollicking ride through a turbulent time and a joyful testament to what Americans are capable of at their best.
Publication date: May 12, 2020
My verdict: A delightful, entertaining, eye-opening read on the revolution of children’s TV programs in America in the 60’s and 70’s!
Be ready to be inspired by ‘Sunny Days’!
We went to Sea World because my daughter loves Sesame Street. And I too, fell in love with it through her eyes and enthusiasm. I get even more excited than her whenever the program comes on. So when I came across Big Bird peeking out from the front cover with ‘Sunny Days’ as its title, I couldn’t resist; I had to read it!
I had such a fun time going behind-the-scenes of Sesame Street – learning about how the idea was sparked over dinner by two friends, Joan Cooney and Lloyd Morrisett, and that the name of the show was picked (it was one of the staff writers’ contribution) because there weren’t any other better choices. And Sesame Street definitely set its bars high, an act that would be tough to follow, thanks to great leadership and passionate, talented individuals who were driven by the goal to educate, the underprivileged especially.
I was blown away by how much its leaders fought fearlessly in defending what they believed in. The success of Sesame Street definitely came with its own set of challenges despite its positive ratings and acceptance, but that didn’t stop the creators from continuing to grow and improve the show, and they were always open to feedback from its cast.
And I couldn’t resist going to YouTube to view their very first episode launched in 1969! Wow, Big Bird wasn’t as ‘fluffy’ as she is today, and she was a little ‘greenish’ too! Check it out below!
I didn’t grow up watching American TV shows so I’m definitely new to some other TV shows mentioned such as Zoom, Schoolhouse Rock! (brainchild of 2 admen, just like Dr Seuss!) The Electric Company, New Zoo Revue and The Magic Garden. Of course I went on YouTube to check them out! And I can see why many fell in love with them, especially The Electric Company and Zoom. Love those kids in Zoom! I even checked out the ‘arm thing’ by Bernadette in the book, and I still have yet to get it right! Here, you try 🙂
This is an eye-opening, well-researched book that went behind the scenes of important and influential TV shows which made a difference in the lives of many children – children of different races, gender, ages, class, but of course not without their own challenges like seeking federal funding, finding the right people to work with, audience to please, parents and children, educators and harsh critics. Criticisms such as these shocked and appalled me: Sesame Street was accused of ‘pervasive anti-feminism’; Mr Rogers, seen ‘through an adult lens, a total weirdo’ in his TV program, and was portrayed as a ‘wimp’ in comedian’s send-ups.
TV programs aired during that period also strove to address sensitive issues such as death and loss (Mr Hooper, FDR’s assassination) and fear (going to the hospital), race (controversy when using Roosevelt Franklin, the black muppet on Sesame Street) and even facing those issues themselves:
Mobley, a crew from Zoom, was asked once during a bathroom break, if his sperm was black; and when the creators of Free to Be…You and Me were trying to find a major record label, one music executive said, “What would I want with a record produced by a bunch of dykes?”, Hart recalled.
And a lot of research have gone into making these TV programs, from the use of jingles and music and animation, hiring professionals, to the movement of camera (Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood), and camera lighting on colored people (Sesame Street). It gave me a new perspective on children TV program, and I’m going to be watching them in a whole new different light now. It’s such a shame that Sesame Street have been bought over by HBO and wouldn’t be as accessible as before.
I’d recommend this book to those who love to learn more about children TV programming in the late 60’s and 70’s. Ezra Jack Keats and Mauric Sendak made some cameo appearances too! Overall an eye-opening, informative read – not too heavy that you’d feel overwhelmed with information, and not too light that you’d feel its just fluff.
Thank you Simon & Schuster and Netgalley for a free eARC of this book in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are mine.
Have you read this book? What did you think? If you haven’t, do you intend to? Have you watched any of the TV programs mentioned above? Did you enjoy them?