When my daughter was a pre-schooler, her dad and I were pretty picky about what we allowed her to watch on TV. Especially on Saturday mornings, when kids’ programs were mainly poorly-produced cartoons that didn’t even pretend to be anything other than pitches for the cartoons’ licensed toys. As a creative director at an ad agency and media producer, Julie’s dad had especially high standards for what he called “production value.” In his view, production value included the quality of content. (This also applied to books, so minimally artistic, cheaply produced books … e.g., the Berenstain Bears series, Disney-derived paperbacks… were off limits).
Dad’s intent was straightforward: he wanted our daughter to grow up with an appreciation for quality creative work. He believed in encouraging an expansive imagination, especially during childrens’ early years …. before school teachers introduced and rewarded logical, pragmatic thinking at the expense of fantasy.
On Saturday mornings, Pee Wee’s Playhouse reigned supreme. Great production value! Humor for kids and parents! Creative sets! Real actors, not sketchily drawn cartoons! Skits that played to kids’ still-loosely-defined ideas of “the real world.”
Pee Wee’s Playhouse’s run ended at about the same time Julie lost interest in Saturday morning television. But over the years when we watched it together, I became a crazed fan.
A few days ago, the Pee Wee Herman Show opened on Broadway. I’ve been thinking about buying tickets ever since I first heard about it last spring. Now, I’m wondering whether the TV show will succeed as a live musical. It’s an unabashed trip back in time for hard-core Pee Wee’s fans, but in a very different medium and context.
Pee Wee’s Playhouse was innovative and wacky. Its “production value” stood out in relief from other kids programs in the eighties. The live-on-stage Pee Wee Herman Show may have revived the wackiness, but on Broadway, the production value is nothing new.
I always jump on a reason to go to New York, but this time, I’m not sure it’s worth the trip.