My TV Childhood: Channel 11
Like almost every American child, my first exposure to TV was via PBS. Locally, our station was channel 11 (WTTW). It was my Window to the World, and to the city of Chicago.
As you’d expect, mornings started with Sesame Street. Maria was always my favorite, and I imagined myself being like her when I grew up. And of course I loved all the Muppets. But for some reason, when I think back on the show, one of the first things that comes to mind was a filmed segment about how crayons are made. I remember loving it and thinking to myself, “This is a cool show.” Thanks to the modern wonder of YouTube, I was able to time-machine myself right back to it:
Then of course there was Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, which, it so happens, also had a segment about how crayons are made. (Apparently, as a child I was endlessly fascinated by the process of crayon production.) I didn’t just love Mr. Rogers, I also loved his house.
The stoplight, the trolley, Picture Picture? I imagined myself living in one like it someday. That is, until I started watching3-2-1 Contactand looked forward to the day I’d reside in some sort of half-house, half-science lab in the middle of a forest, making a living doing important experiments. (We are house hunting, so keep me posted on any hot leads.)
3-2-1 Contact also included The Bloodhound Gang, a show within the show that I never liked quite as much as its theme song, which, listening to it now, is actually not that good.
A much better PBS theme song? The classic opening to Reading Rainbow, but I loved the rest of the show, too. I remember going with my mom to our town’s tiny library each week and picking out a stack of books to read together at night. Archie has quickly gravitated to books–he grabs one as soon as his feet hit the floor in the morning–and I look forward to introducing him to Reading Rainbow (and the library) someday.
When my dad bought us our first computer, a blazin’-fast IBM 386 PC, one of our first games was “Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego?” My brother and I could always tell when we had caught Carmen because the computer would pause and click as it loaded the capture animation (and I use that word loosely). So we both loved the TV version on PBS, another show that benefited from a catchy and clever theme song. Do it, Rockapella!
As I moved into high school, I became a fan of a locally produced WTTW show, Wild Chicago. Hosted (during the time I watched) by Will Clinger, Wild Chicago had a team of correspondents who would profile offbeat or unique places and people in the city. It had a quick pace and smart sense of humor, and didn’t feel like a typical stodgy PBS show.
For a teenager like me out in the suburbs, Wild Chicago was my peek into adult life downtown, and I imagined spending Saturday afternoons and weekend nights in these eclectic neighborhoods, shops and clubs when I was grown up and living in the city. Ultimately, that city turned out to be Atlanta, and I now spend my weekends in my living room blogging about old TV shows, but I still enjoy the nostalgia of living vicariously through Wild Chicago.
Finally, my experience with channel 11 peaked in college when I got an internship at the station, working for Sneak Previews. This was the original home of Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert, before they launched their nationally syndicated show At the Movies. But WTTW continued Sneak Previews, and at the time it was being hosted by Jeffrey Lyons and Michael Medved.
I logged press kit video tapes, ran copies of scripts, and mostly kept my eye out for Will Clinger or anyone else associated with Wild Chicago. But I also felt like I had come full circle, and it was genuinely touching to be working in the home of the shows that introduced me to television. The production facilities were not cutting-edge. The producers made it clear they were not paid exceptionally well. The offices were nondescript and could just as easily have housed an accounting firm. But you could tell everyone there loved their jobs, loved making TV, and loved connecting with the community of Chicago. Many of them are still there, more than 20 years later. And who knows–maybe if Atlanta hadn’t beckoned, I still would be, too.