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The Simpsons

Arts Days: December 17, 1989: Springfield Shenanigans
Isn’t it cool that the longest-running American sitcom features an animated mom with a mountain of blue hair? Yes, Marge, Homer, Bart, Lisa, Maggie, and the rest of their gang of neighbors and co-workers in Springfield just happen to be cartoon characters. And they happen to be hilarious, too, as they—helped by the show’s extensive staff of writers—poke fun at American culture and spoof sitcom conventions.

As created by Matt Groening, beer-swilling Homer, sax-playing Lisa and the others muddle through work and school, comment on everything from environmentalism to pop music, and love one another, just like any other normal American family. Blue hair and all.
Cartoons, Comics, & Animation, Comedy, Television, America, Popular Culture, Controversial

NBC

Arts Days: December 30, 1953: Now Brought to You in Living Color
It took decades to hammer out the technology behind transmitting color images to television sets. Among other things, broadcasting companies and the Federal Communications Commission had to agree on a standard way of broadcasting programs. As all that research and legal wrangling was taking place, manufacturers of TV sets were chomping at the bit to bring their products to market quickly.

Admiral had what we call “first mover advantage;” it was the first company to sell color TVs to the general public. Its 15-inch C1617A model cost $1,175, a pretty steep price tag even by today’s standards. Nowadays, of course, 99 percent of American households own a TV, and of those, virtually all are color sets.
Inventions, Television, Popular Culture, America

“The Howdy Doody Show”

Arts Days: December 27, 1947: Say Kids, What Time Is It?
The freckle-faced marionette Howdy Doody was the star puppet in this early children’s TV show, the very first regular network series to be broadcast in color. Set in the imaginary town of Doodyville, the show also featured human characters like Clarabell the Clown, who communicated with beeps of a horn on his belt and did not speak a word until the final episode of the show.

Then there were the characters that started as puppets but were later performed by people, like Princess Summerfall Winterspring, played by Judy Tyler. Buffalo Bob Smith provided the voice for Howdy, and he would also speak directly to the kids in the on-set “peanut gallery,” and he sang the show’s theme song in every episode.
Comedy, Innovators & Pioneers, Television, Puppets, Popular Culture, Young Artists

Walt Disney with Mickey Mouse

Arts Days: December 05, 1905: Magic’s Original Imagineer
The young Walter Disney loved to draw, so it should come as little surprise that animation became his life’s calling. He also studied art and photography, all of which would come into play as he built the movie company that bears his name. Over the course of his career, Disney worked as an animator, director, screenwriter, voice actor, and producer; he also helped design Disneyland and Disney World, perhaps the most famous theme parks in the world.

Yet, could it be a certain Mouse named Mickey with those iconic round black ears that might be his most famous creation of all?  Probably so, but let’s not forget all of his other achievements: introducing a separate cartoon for each animated movement, adding sound to cartoons, producing the first feature-length animated films, creating new recording techniques, and inventing the multi-plane camera.
Inventions, Cartoons, Comics, & Animation, Innovators & Pioneers, Movies & Movie Stars, Television, Popular Culture, America

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

Arts Days: December 06, 1964: Not Your Average Reindeer
The cute star of this TV special was none other than that red-nosed reindeer, who is mocked as a calf for his unusual feature but is ultimately a hero when he bails Santa out of a tight spot on a very important night.

The program was shot using stop-motion, also called stop-action, which is an animation process in which producers make objects—in this case, clay sculptures of reindeer, elves, and other characters—appear to move by adjusting their positions ever so slightly, capturing the configuration on camera, adjusting the models again, filming the new setup, and so on. That’s how the snowman appears to glide across the screen and the reindeer soar through the air. Featuring the voices of folksinger Burl Ives and other recognizable voices, Rudolph is still a hit with kids today each December.
Cartoons, Comics, & Animation, Stunts & Special Effects, Television, Popular Culture

Thriller

Arts Days: December 02, 1982: A Monster Hit
Clocking in at almost 14 minutes, the mini-movie that accompanied Michael Jackson’s hit song “Thriller” was like no music video that had ever come before. Directed by film director John Landis and featuring voiceovers by famed actor Vincent Price, the video starred Michael Jackson as a young man on a date with his sweetie.

A cast of dancing zombies and a teenage werewolf with hideous yellow eyes are just a couple of the surprises filmed by Landis, who co-wrote the video with Michael himself. In December 2009, “Thriller” was selected for the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress, which referred to it as “the most famous music video of all time."
Innovators & Pioneers, Music Legends, Science Fiction & Fantasy, Television, Music, Popular Culture, Rock & Roll

James Dean

Arts Days: December 13, 1950: Rebel Without a Coke
An undiscovered actor named James Dean wound up playing a fun-loving teenager in an early Pepsi commercial. He’s the fellow who whacks the player piano, prompting it to magically play a dance tune. As luck would have it, the handsome Dean caught the eye of folks casting a show called Hill Number One, landing him the part of John the Baptist.

More Hollywood roles followed, then a couple of parts on Broadway. All of these early assignments set the stage for feature roles in East of Eden and Rebel Without a Cause, films with which Dean is most closely identified. Seen in his short life as both a heartthrob and an actor who showed great promise, James Dean also came to embody the restless, but idealistic American teenager.
Movies & Movie Stars, Television, Popular Culture, Young Artists, Jobs in the Arts

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

Arts Days: December 14, 1987: Turtle Mania
They love pizza, live in New York City’s sewers, and fight crime. And, as any Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle fan will tell you, they are named after four key artists from the Italian Renaissance: Donatello, Leonardo, Michelangelo, and Raphael. “TMNT” are animated characters, which were created by comic book artists Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird, and who made their television debut on this day in 1987.

Identifiable by their different colored masks, these courageous do-gooders battle bad guys with their martial arts skills, all under the watchful eye of their adoptive father, Master Splinter. This successful children’s program only fed the Turtles’ cult following as their likenesses appeared on a mind-boggling array of merchandise from sheets and action figurines to lunchboxes and pajamas. The fearsome foursome remain popular today.
Cartoons, Comics, & Animation, Television, Popular Culture

The Nat King Cole Show

Arts Days: November 05, 1956: A First of Its Kind
When this 15-minute program debuted on this day in 1956, Cole became the first African American television show host. As a jazz singer and pianist with a large following of avid fans, Cole was excited to host the program, which featured performances by some of the biggest names in pop music.

Racist attitudes held by some, however, prevented the show from reaching success. You see, advertising agencies were unable to convince enough clients to buy commercial time during the show. When the program was cancelled, a bitterly disappointed Cole remarked that “Madison Avenue is afraid of the dark.”
Innovators & Pioneers, Television, Jazz

Grace Kelly

Arts Days: November 12, 1929: Beauty and Grace
From teenage model to Hollywood actress to the Princess of Monaco, Grace Kelly’s life was the stuff of fairy tales. She acted in TV shows, on stage, and in blockbuster movies, like Rear Window and Dial M for Murder.

Directors like Alfred Hitchcock adored Kelly’s golden hair and flawless features, and often cast her as the beautiful, but unattainable dream girl. But she also exhibited considerable acting talent in films like The Country Girl for which she earned an Academy Award® nomination. When she fell in love with and married Monaco’s Prince Rainier, the world—well, maybe just 30 million people—watched the royal wedding in awe on TV.
Movies & Movie Stars, Popular Culture, America, Television, Europe

The Sesame Street Muppets

Arts Days: November 10, 1969: Street Smarts
Breaking new ground in the realm of children’s television, Sesame Street was one of the first shows to combine entertainment and education for young viewers. With a mix of appealing actors of all ethnicities, plus puppets created by Jim Henson, the show uses songs, dances, skits, animated sequences, and other vehicles to help kids learn about letters and numbers.

Moral messages—the importance of being kind, why it’s always best to tell the truth—are also communicated to audiences by the human and puppet stars of the show. From Big Bird, Elmo, Bert, Ernie, and Oscar the Grouch to Bob, Gordon, Maria, and Mr. Hooper, the cast has taught and continues to teach generations of children “the basics” while strolling down Sesame Street.
Innovators & Pioneers, Television, Education, Puppets, Cartoons, Comics, & Animation, America

Jon Stewart hosting the Daily Show

Arts Days: July 22, 1996: Breaking News
Comedy Central’s The Daily Show unites host Jon Stewart’s sardonic brand of comedy with the topical news of the day. Every night, Stewart and his merry band of “reporters” relate the news, freely mixing in factual information with hilarious asides. All the while, these comedians mock common news conventions, like the suit-clad “talking head” behind a desk.

But wouldn’t you know, the “infotainment” program is viewed by many devoted fans as their main source of actual news. They even rely on The Daily Show for their news more than a newspaper or traditional news show. Yet as the lines blur between comedy and news, Stewart and company say they only want to be funny—not to replace traditional news.
Television, Innovators & Pioneers, Comedy

Bill Cosby

Arts Days: July 12, 1937: Just Be Cos
Most standup comedians wish they could be just like Cos. That’s because Bill Cosby entertains millions of fans with his unique brand of family-style humor.

Cosby’s standup comedy career kicked off in the 1960s, leading him to guest host The Tonight Show and star in his own situation comedies. Cosby made television history when he was cast as the first African American actor in a dramatic lead role.

Later, The Cosby Show proved to be the most successful sitcom ever. It ran for eight years and cemented his image as Cliff Huxtable, a loving husband and father to five charismatic children. According to Coretta Scott King, the show was “the most positive portrayal of black family life… ever broadcast.”

Cosby received a Kennedy Center Honor in 1998 and was named the 2009 recipient of the Mark Twain Prize, an award that recognizes humorists (like Twain) who serve as social commentators and satirists.
Comedy, Television, Movies & Movie Stars

Mister Roger

Arts Days: February 19, 1968: Won’t You Be My Neighbor?
With his gentle demeanor and signature cardigan sweater, Fred Rogers has helped generations of children make better sense of the complicated world around them.

Better known to young fans as Mister Rogers, the host speaks directly to children about everything from coping with divorce to a fear of the dark—topics other children’s shows typically avoid. He also hangs out with various puppet and human friends, like Daniel Striped Tiger and Officer Clemmons. Rogers “travels” back and forth between the real world and the Neighborhood of Make-Believe to help children learn to make that important distinction.

Original episodes stopped airing in the summer of 2001, but you can still spend quality time with Mister Rogers in reruns.
Puppets, Popular Culture, Television, Innovators & Pioneers

Roots

Arts Days: January 23, 1977: Rooted in Front of the TV
Nearly 100 million television viewers tuned in to ABC's Roots, a miniseries based on the autobiographical novel Roots: The Saga of an American Family by Alex Haley.

Roots traces four generations of Haley's African American family, beginning in 1767 with the character Kunta Kinte, who is captured by slave traders in Gambia, Africa, to the author himself in 20th century America.

The show ran for eight consecutive days and became the most watched program in American television history, captivating audiences across all racial, gender, and ethnic lines. This landmark television event has been called "the single most spectacular educational experience in race relations in America."
Innovators & Pioneers, Television, Popular Culture, Africa, Geography, History, Literature

High School Musical

Arts Days: January 20, 2006: Musical Theater’s Comeback
Sad but true, in a movie age of stunning special effects and computer animation, the days of musical theater seemed to take a back seat.

That is until the jump start sparked by Disney's original television film High School Musical, a modern adaptation of William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet that tells the story of Troy and Gabriella–two high school juniors from rival cliques that audition together for the high school musical.

The film premiered on this day in 2006 and since then has become a phenomenal sensation around the world.
Movies & Movie Stars, Musicals, Television, Popular Culture, Young Artists

Elvis Presley

Arts Days: June 05, 1956: A Whole Lotta Shakin’ Going On
Oh boy, did people go nuts when Elvis Presley appeared on this variety show hosted by “Uncle Miltie” (a.k.a. comedian Milton Berle). Performing his hit “Hound Dog,” Presley gyrated his hips, swung his arms, and caused kids in the studio audience to scream with delight. However, many parents and press members were scandalized by Presley’s performance; news reports the next day complained that his moves were “obscene.”

Overnight, the rising star earned the nickname “Elvis the Pelvis.” Other TV hosts capitalized on the brouhaha Presley’s appearance had caused by booking him on their shows. Allen, who promised a “cleaned-up” version of Presley’s act, had him singing “Hound Dog” to an actual dog, which Presley went along with in a good-natured way.
Comedy, Innovators & Pioneers, Music, Music Legends, Popular Culture, Rock & Roll, Television

Mel Blanc

Arts Days: May 30, 1908: Toon Talker
Porky Pig, Bugs Bunny, the Roadrunner, Foghorn Leghorn, the Tasmanian Devil—all famous cartoon characters, right? Well, they have another thing in common. The same fellow, Mel Blanc, supplied their voices in thousands of cartoons from the 1930s through the 1980s.

Working for Warner Brothers and the animation house Hanna-Barbera, Blanc delighted generations of children with his boundless range of cute, silly, or booming voices that gave life to dozens of animated animals and people. He kicked off his career in 1927, working on a radio show called The Hoot Owls. As his career soared, he pushed for recognition of his work in closing credits of the cartoons (voice actors typically were not mentioned). He also practiced techniques for keeping his voice healthy, such as minimizing the amount of work of voices that were hard on his vocal cords.
Cartoons, Comics, & Animation, Movies & Movie Stars, Television

Nickelodeon studios

Arts Days: April 01, 1979: I Want My KidTV!
Originally airing only in Ohio, the first cable TV channel “just for kids” was named after old-fashioned movie theaters that showed short films all day long. “Nick” has become a worldwide phenomenon loved by kids of all ages. Whether it’s their gooey green slime or quirky characters including Sponge Bob Squarepants and Carly, Sam, and Freddie, Nickelodeon and its sister channels entertain its dedicated audience with educational programs, silly cartoons, teen shows, and classic TV series.

The Nickelodeon network brand has grown to include Nick Jr., NickToons, Nick at Night, and Noggin, plus you can enjoy the rides featuring Nick stars at theme parks in Europe, Australia, and here in the U.S. It’s Nick—all kids, all the time.
Television, Popular Culture

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