Monday, September 10, 2012

TV: Lamb Chop's Play-Along - a tribute

Exactly twenty years ago, the first episode of "Lamb Chop's Play-Along" aired on PBS:

"Lamb Chop's Play-Along" was a children's television program starring Lewis and three puppets of her own design - Charlie Horse, Hush Puppy, and the titular Lamb Chop. Each episode was filled with magic tricks, songs, comedy skits, puzzles, jokes, riddles, games...the whimsy of childhood delivered in unadulterated form. Unsurprisingly, "Lamb Chop's Play-Along" won Emmy awards for five consecutive years (one for each season of the show), and it immortalized Shari Lewis as a master puppeteer.

I used to watch the show before going to school, as did most of my friends. For me, "Lamb Chop's Play-Along" embodied the '90s. It was a simpler time...before 9/11, before Katy Perry, before we had the weird millenial paradox of kids growing up too fast and also never really growing up at all.

In any era, Shari Lewis was a master at talking to kids instead of talking at them. Check out this simple skit to see what I mean - it's funny, musical, and illustrates good manners without shoving the message down a kid's throat:

I didn't know it at the time, but Shari Lewis had been an entertainer for decades before "Lamb Chop's Play-Along." Her first show aired in the '60s, before cartoons started taking over kids' TV, and the fact that she was able to helm a hit program three decades later is proof that good ideas are timeless. In that respect, "Lamb Chop's Play-Along" was, and is, Shari Lewis's masterpiece, a distillation of everything she ever learned about show-business and children:

Shari Lewis passed away in 1998, shortly after being diagnosed with cancer. Her legacy lives on, not only in flat television video, but in the hearts and minds of children everywhere.


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