I think Pee-wee’s Playhouse would be even more wonderful if it didn’t have Pee-wee Herman. The show — which has been out of video circulation for years — has awesome production values; with the possible exception of the Muppets, you can’t find such creativity anywhere on TV. Star Paul Reubens is an absolute genius, but I am personally offended by his spastic approach. A child at home imitating his motions all day could drive parents crazy.
When I made Captain Kangaroo, we would never do segments like the one in which Pee-wee tells viewers to scream at the top of their lungs whenever they hear the day’s secret word. Compared to what’s available for kids, though — programs that send the message that violence is an appropriate solution to a problem — these criticisms pale. Pee-wee is a benign character who treats his friends with respect. That’s one thing parents always told me about my show. They appreciated the nice relationship between Captain Kangaroo and Mr. Green Jeans.
In the ”Luau for Two” episode on Vol. 2, Pee-wee wins a dinner for two and finds it difficult to choose among his friends. When everyone starts being especially nice to him, he realizes these displays of friendship are motivated by their desire to be invited to dinner, and he feels sorry he ever won. The series handles these kinds of situations well, and children will relate to — and learn from — them.
Although Pee-wee’s Playhouse has lessons to teach, I wouldn’t call it an educational show, and that’s okay. There’s nothing wrong with entertaining kids, and it would be a disaster if the new FCC regulations caused stations to become so pedantic that they lost sight of the fun. The best educator is an entertainer, not a scholar. Sometimes conveying knowledge requires a top hat and tap shoes, and sometimes it takes a guy who hops around frantically and doesn’t give kids a chance to take a breath. B+
For almost 40 years, Bob Keeshan starred as Captain Kangaroo on the eponymous Emmy-winning children’s series. He wrote the memoir Good Morning, Captain and will return to TV in a new syndicated children’s program next spring.