Sunny Days: The Children’s Television Revolution That Changed America

S. & S. May 2020. 288p. ISBN 9781501137808. $27.50. TV
By the early 1960s, television had transformed American home life, with most people watching an average of six hours of TV a day—much of it lowbrow entertainment, with a potentially worrisome influence on children. However, some believed television could, in the right hands, educate America’s youth. Kamp (The United States of Arugula) examines the landmark PBS series Sesame Street, which, like Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, benefited from a skilled creative team and a political environment supportive of public broadcasting. Debuting in 1969, Sesame Street focused on reaching inner-city youth, with a set that resembled an urban neighborhood and a diverse cast of people and Muppets. Both a dedicated researcher and a proud member of the Sesame Street generation, Kamp celebrates the show’s breakthroughs while also addressing its varied critical reception; over the years it’s been criticized for being both too progressive and not progressive enough. The author illustrates how this groundbreaking show changed the landscape of children’s television, inspiring the likes of Schoolhouse Rock! and The Electric Company—though, thanks to Reagan-era “reforms,” support for children’s programming has decreased (Sesame Street itself is now an HBO property, with first-run episodes appearing on its streaming service).
VERDICT Researchers and nostalgic Sesame Street fans alike will appreciate this thorough, compelling overview of a pivotal period of TV history. [See Prepub Alert, 11/11/19.]

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