What we watch growing up has the power to shape what we think and the way we view different situations. Our favorite childhood shows form a core of what we believe as individuals, so much so that just a glimpse has the power to practically throw us back in time to our youth. Get ready to rediscover some of the series you used to be addicted to way back when!
25. Reading Rainbow
The success of PBS’ Reading Rainbow is indisputable. Spanning a total of 21 seasons, the series became the network’s third longest-running show in history. Its appeal was simple: for half an hour each episode, children across America tuned in to watch a celebrity narrator read them a book.
And to make things more interesting, they were shown an animated depiction of the story on screen. Each of the books involved some sort of adventure and were meant to inspire kids to read. Whereas in one episode a boy was able to fulfill his dreams of becoming a pirate by opening up a book, in another episode a girl was transported to space — all through the act of reading.
The 1999 educational children’s television series Zoboomafoo only aired for two seasons, but it is nonetheless considered by many to be one of the best kids shows. Not only did it earn a Parents’ Choice Award and a Silver Honor Award, but it also won an Emmy for Outstanding Directing in a Children’s Series.
The show followed brothers Chris and Martin Kratt and their friend Zoboomafoo, a Coquerel’s sifaka lemur who was played by the real Madagascar-native lemur, Jovian. Each episode centered around a different theme often featuring live species, whether it was wild animals, baby animals, or pets, and followed the Kratt brothers as they played in a fantasy land called Animal Junction.
23. Pinky and the Brain
The animated 1995 children’s series Pinky and the Brain defined the childhoods of many. For three years, kids watched two lab mice: the laid-back, not-so-bright Pinky with his faux Cockney accent, and his big-headed, sarcastic megalomaniac companion Brain. Their routine mission? Why, attempting to take over the world, of course.
Together, the pair hatched any manner of schemes in the hopes of dominating the planet, ranging from raising sea lion armies to even becoming sumo wrestlers. It was hard not to laugh at the show’s silly humor, though many pop culture references likely flew overhead, unnoticed by its young audience. For example, one entire episode was a parody of how the Beatles disbanded.
The 1964 NBC series Flipper got its start as an extension of the popular film that was released a year before, and became one of the adventure shows most beloved by those growing up in the era of Flower Power. It followed a bottlenose dolphin named — you guessed it — Flipper. This cheerful cetacean was the pet of Coral Key Park and Marine Preserve’s chief warden, Porter Ricks.
A rather capable and intelligent dolphin, Flipper befriends Ricks’ son Bud and spends his days playing and protecting the park. This means preserving its wildlife and helping capture criminals by way of making certain sounds and body movements meant to warn his human friends of impending danger.
21. The Land of the Lost
Adventure television show The Land of the Lost was a staple for ’70s children. The plot followed Rick Marshall and his children Holly and Will, who were on another one of their expeditions when a massive earthquake struck. This caused them to fall down a 1,000-foot waterfall in their miniature raft and enter an alternate universe.
Trapped in a time warp with primate Panuki people, aggressive Sleestak lizards, and dinosaurs, the family tried all they could to survive and get back to their normal world. People have long applauded The Land of the Lost‘s compelling storyline, which was written by a number of award-winning science fiction authors. The series was also adapted into a big-budget film in 2009.
20. Pee-wee’s Playhouse
He’s more than just the star of this zany childhood show, he’s an American icon. Pee-wee Herman graced viewer’s television screens every week on Pee-wee’s Playhouse. He gave everyone a front row seat into his Puppetland world filled with puppet characters, appliances, and furniture that talked, and an endless supply of toys. Who could forget Chairy or Conky the Robot? Or even Jambi, the genie head in a box?
The frenetic actor behind Pee-wee Herman, Paul Reubens, was what made the live-action comedy series move. Pee-wee constantly had to face a specific dilemma that often sent him into an emotional hysteria. At the beginning of each episode, viewers were given a secret word to scream each time they heard a character say it. Who else remembers yelling at their TV along with him?
19. Dennis the Menace
Every Sunday evening from 1959 to 1963, millions of viewers switched on CBS to see just what hijinks the Mitchell family was up to that week. But unbeknownst to many of them, Dennis the Menace was actually based off of a comic strip of the same name.
The fan-favorite American sitcom chronicled the lives of Henry and Alice Mitchell and their son Dennis, who despite being well-intentioned, had a knack for turning good situations into bad ones. Take the relationship with his retired salesman neighbor, George Wilson, for example. Though Dennis just wanted to help everyone, his mischievous ways often led him to trouble with George, who just wanted some peace and quiet.
18. Leave It to Beaver
It’s considered among the instantly-iconic series in the history of television. Leave It to Beaver is one of the most memorable media representations of life for a mid-20th century suburban family, as seen through the lens of the Cleavers: parents, June and Ward and their two boys, Wally and Beaver.
Each episode followed a similar path. Wally or Beaver would get themselves into trouble — by way of skipping school or lying to their parents, for example. Then, June and Ward would sit them down and teach them a lesson. In this respect, the series acted as a great learning tool for children, teaching them that with good behavior comes rewards, whereas with bad behavior comes unfortunate circumstances.
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17. The Brady Bunch
Just thinking about The Brady Bunch is enough to make us feel nostalgic. The series, which ran from 1969 to 1974, followed the lives of a blended family. It quickly became a staple in the homes of children and teens across America, and we’re not surprised why.
The storyline was captivating. A widowed husband with three boys who marries a woman with three daughters, all of whom live under the same roof. It was a recipe for drama. Add to that a live-in housekeeper (and a witty one at that) and a dog, and you’ve got yourself a show filled with awkward living accommodations, some serious sibling rivalries, and an endless amount of lighthearted family conflicts.
One cartoon that arguably created a watershed moment for children’s television shows in the ’90s was Rugrats. The series was adored by kids, becoming a favorite childhood show for younger generations. This comes as no surprise, considering it revolved around the adventures of a group of talking babies: Tommy, Chuckie, and the two twins Phil and Lil.
And let’s not forget about the dog Spike, or Tommy’s nasty cousin Angelica, the oldest of the Rugrats who often tantalized and teased the other babies, leaving child viewers in a dizzy over the suspense. The series did so well that it ran for a total of nine seasons — something pretty unheard of for cartoons. It also introduced two spin-off series, All Grown Up! and Rugrats Pre-School Daze.
15. The Electric Company
PBS series The Electric Company aimed to help children improve their reading and grammar skills by way of using sketch comedy. Its writing was clever and filled with puns, its animations were psychedelic and eye-catching, its cast was exceptionally talented and diverse, and its characters were just flat-out memorable.
The original cast of the series consisted of Morgan Freeman, Bill Cosby, Rita Moreno, Lee Chamberlin, Skip Hinnant, and Judy Graubart. Backed by a Motown groove, they helped bring a number of fun characters to life like Jennifer of the Jungle, Easy Reader, and Paul the Gorilla. And let us not forget all those entertaining Spider Man cameos!
14. The Flintstones
There’s no questioning the impact The Flintstones had on both television and pop culture. Considered one of the greatest animated shows of all time, the six-season series became the most lucrative and longest-running animated cartoon for three decades. It also remains the inspiration behind some of the more frequently-seen Halloween costumes to this day.
Juxtaposing modern day troubles with a Stone Age setting, The Flintstones recounted the lives of the Flintstone family and their neighbors and best friends, the Rubbles. All of these well-groomed and hip cavemen and women found themselves repeatedly running into typical mid-20th century problems. Brontosaurus burger, anyone?
13. Saved By the Bell
Every Saturday morning from 1989 to 1993, kids couldn’t get enough of Saved By the Bell. Obsessing over the characters whose images decorated many a locker, fans tuned in to see Bayside High’s Zack, Slater, Kelly, Lisa, Jessie, and Screech. This bunch of students would go on to become beach club resort employees, rock stars, models, and friendship bracelet business gurus on the hit NBC series.
From watching Zack outsmart Principal Belding or freeze time with his magic “time out” trick, to getting first-row seats for Screech’s Miss Bayside win, viewers were kept thoroughly entertained for four entire seasons. And we have good news! A new sequel series was announced in September 2019 and is currently in the making. Get ready to see more of Mario Lopez and Elizabeth Berkley.
12. Family Matters
Watching nine seasons of Family Matters made it feel like we were practically part of the Winslow family. There was the sometimes impulsive father Carl, the rational and resourceful mother Harriet, their three children Eddie, Laura, and Judy, their nephew Ritche, Carl’s mom Mother Winslow, and of course their nerdy neighbor Steve Urkel.
It’s hard to imagine the series without the strong presence of this last member, though that was almost not the case. Accident-prone, suspenders-rocking teenager Steve was originally cast to appear in only one episode but morphed into the show’s main character after becoming an obvious favorite among viewers. Besides, who didn’t love his cheesy attempts to win over Laura’s affection? Or the time Carl hopelessly tried to teach him how to drive?
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11. Mighty Morphin Power Rangers
A staple in kiddie TV, the Japanese import Mighty Morphin Power Rangers gave us corny monster battles six days a week that we will never forget. The three-season live-action adventure series became its own pop culture phenomenon during the ’90s. Given its loud colors, frantic pace, and attempts at martial arts, it’s easy to see why.
Children adored the fantastical, rather hokey stories surrounding the Power Rangers: a group of teenage fighters who dressed in brightly-colored suits and used Dinozords to fight against monsters. And while these monsters were overtly non-menacing, the cheesiness of their fights against the rubber-suited crew only added to the series’ charm.
10. Boy Meets World
There’s no show quite like Boy Meets World that gives you a front row seat to all the trials and tribulations involved in growing up. With a cast that just about anyone can fall in love with, the series touched on real-life issues surrounding relationships, friendship, bullying, and even life and death.
Boy Meets World was like the Friends of pre-teens and teens in the 1990s. Over seven seasons, viewers watched Cory, his girlfriend Topanga, and their best buds mature into adults. This entertaining depiction of high schoolers interlaced drama and humor with definite realism. ’90s kids couldn’t get enough of the series, and a spinoff, Girl Meets World was later introduced in 2012.
9. Home Improvement
A favorite childhood show of many, or one that you remember your parents watching, this award-winning sitcom became one of the most-watched series in America during the 1990s. Home Improvement, which starred Tim Allen as Tim “The Tool Man” Taylor, was based on the entertainer’s stand-up comedy, first launching his career as an actor.
The series followed Tim’s life as a TV host who, alongside a loving wife and an oddball neighbor, was tasked with raising three mischievous sons. From the very first episode when we saw him try to fix a dishwasher using an air compressor (which obviously lead to an explosion), through to when he tried moving his family’s home to Indiana, Tim certainly knew how to keep any viewer laughing for a half hour straight.
8. Fraggle Rock
With an American, Canadian, and British twist, Fraggle Rock depicted the lives of four anthropomorphic species: the Fraggles, Doozers, Gorgs, and Silly Creatures. The first two lived in caves that made up Fraggle Rock, and the Gorgs lived in the “universe.” The Silly Creatures, aka the humans, lived in “outer space.”
Despite these Muppet-like creatures depending heavily on one another for survival, frequently failed to communicate as a result of their differences in both culture and biology. Through the adventures of the various species that made this series so imaginative, Fraggle Rock entertained children of the ’80s with sing-along songs and knee-slapping humor.
7. The Banana Splits Adventure Hour
If there’s anything that can make any ’60s kid feel transported back, then it is most certainly The Banana Splits Adventure Hour theme song. Sang by the series’ fictional rock band the Banana Splits, the song was so popular that it even made it onto Billboard’s Top 100 list in 1969.
The two-season series followed the adventures of the musical quartet, comprised of Fleegle on guitar and vocals, Bingo on the drums, Drooper on the bass, and Snorky on keyboard. These costumed animals donned red hats, complete with individualized psychedelic accessories. Rumor has it they were meant to represent late ’60s TV rock band The Monkees.
6. Bill Nye the Science Guy
Admit it: your science teacher showed this to you in class. For ’90s kids, childhood show host Bill Nye’s name is synonymous with science. And not just any type of science, but fun science. The charming, yet ever-so-geeky icon made captivating television. He did this by explaining complex scientific principles to children. If that’s not worthy of applause, then we don’t know what is.
In five seasons and 100 episodes, Bill Nye effortlessly reeled in his viewers to teach a number of things, like what to do if trapped in quicksand, how hurricanes are formed, the reason behind volcanic eruption, and where to dig for fossils. He was always dressed in a long lab coat and used an endless amount of humor to make his scientific demonstrations fun.
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Animaniacs was easily one of the goofiest and wittiest kids shows in television history. Three animals — brothers Yakko and Wakko Warner and sister Dot — lived in a water tower on a film studio lot. They routinely broke free and wreaked havoc on everyone they crossed in the outside world.
The series, which originally ran from 1993 to 1998, relied heavily on sarcasm and enlisted sophisticated humor for a cartoon, making it enjoyable for both children and adults alike. From its catchy “It’s Time for Animaniacs” theme song to its endless jokes savaging pop culture, Animaniacs was undoubtedly one of the smartest childhood shows in the game.
4. The Muppet Show
First introduced in 1976, The Muppet Show became the world’s most popular television show by the time it reached its third season in 1978, reeling in 235 million viewers across 106 countries. And that’s because it wasn’t just for kids. Thanks to its satirical Saturday Night Live vibes, the five-season original series also appealed to adults.
Kermit the frog’s short fuse, coupled with the other characters’ highly-individualized mischievous behavior and character quirks (such as Miss Piggy, Scooter, Gonzo, and Fozzie Bear), made for an incredibly entertaining and hilarious show. Add to that a plentiful a varied list of special guests, and you’ve got yourself one of the most brilliant childhood shows from the ’70s.
3. Star Trek
What first started out as a science fiction television series from 1966 to 1969 later ended up having an unprecedented influence on pop culture. The premise behind Star Trek was simple. The Starship Enterprise, with its crew derived of different peoples, embarked on a five-year mission to seek out new civilizations and explore new land in space.
This imaginative view into the future of intergalactic peace and warfare was Martin Luther King Jr.’s favorite show, and is apparently the only one he allowed his children to watch. Star Trek became a hit among viewers all across America, paving the way for generations of films and reboots, along with an enormous array of merchandise.
2. Sesame Street
Considered a timeless children’s television classic, Sesame Street got its start in 1969 and hasn’t stopped. The series uses simple songs, games, and memorable “monsters” like Elmo, Ernie, Big Bird, Bert, and The Cookie Monster to teach valuable lessons. For children growing up in an urban setting, it was the first time they saw their own neighborhood reflected on screen.
An example of the show’s brilliance came following the 1982 passing of the actor who portrayed elderly storekeeper, Mr. Hooper. Producers ultimately decided to air an entire episode about the beloved character’s disappearance, making television history in the process. It is this sensitivity and effort to teach children about subjects that their parents don’t even always know how to address that earns this series half a century of success and impact.
1. Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood
There is a reason Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood can still be seen in re-runs on PBS. Even half a century after it began, it managed to inspire a Tom Hanks-led biopic. The half-hour educational children’s series taught valuable lessons about how to be stand-up citizens in the world. What’s more, it gently addressed heavy subjects and seamlessly taught kids how to process emotions.
Speaking directly to viewers on any number of topics, Rogers’ encouraging talks were supplemented by two other unique segments. Whereas the puppet segment recounted occurrences from the neighborhood of Make-Believe, the second segment saw Rogers interviewing real-life people about their work around the neighborhood. Few figures positively impacted the lives of millions of children as deeply as show lead, Fred Rogers.
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