One Sunday afternoon, when I was a kid, The Learning Channel as was played a marathon of Connections. The whole thing, as I recall. And whatever plans my family had for the day, there they went. We just sat, all of us, watching James Burke talk to us about the weird links between discoveries that eventually lead to things like the Apollo missions. (I was an adult when I discovered he’d covered them for the BBC; to me, he was the Connections guy.) And you know, I could understand that you didn’t get to see it whenever you wanted to in those days, because I am old enough so that we had a lot less accessible media. But why isn’t anyone streaming it now?
Actually, I don’t much worry about streaming Connections, because I own it. But it seems to me that old educational programming is almost impossible to access online unless you resort to low-quality YouTube videos. If what in my head will always be the Children’s Television Workshop put out DVDs of whole seasons of Sesame Street, I am far from the only parent who would buy them, but they never have. Just a few sets here and there, and I think they’re all now out of print. I don’t think The Day the Universe Changed got that at all.
I’ve managed to get some of this to my kids. Zane and I did suffer through extremely low-resolution videos of Square One TV, because he loves math and music and mysteries, and Square One is the way to go for that. But he got frustrated pretty early because of the quality issues with the video and wasn’t as interested as I was. I think he’d watch it if it were properly streaming somewhere, or if I could buy discs and play it that way, but if he’s going to watch YouTube, he’s going to watch stuff without giant blocks of pixels all over this.
I wonder if part of this is the idea that people don’t really enjoy educational programming even if it’s supposedly fun. I haven’t seen The Invention of Lying, but I am given to understand that one of the horrors of a world with no lying is a world with—gasp—documentaries as popular entertainment. Because no one watches those for fun! And how much worse if it’s for kids? Surely all childhood nostalgia is confined to cartoons that are terrible as opposed to Reading Rainbow. (I suspect rights issues are complicated with Reading Rainbow, though I know that my public library, at least, has discs of single episodes.) So why bother releasing it?
I have a long list of shows I’d play for my kids, and watch for myself, if educational programming got better video releases. Streaming, discs, or even clean YouTube videos. But I tried to find The Day the Universe Changed on YouTube recently, and an episode or two is there but mostly there’s very little James Burke accessible. I didn’t even have to grumble about how I already own Connections and why I have to skip past it every time I’m trying to watch something else of his. Because it wasn’t there to be skipped past. I’m grateful that Time Team is on this; where is everyone else?
Help me afford the Carl Sagan Cosmos on DVD; consider supporting my Patreon or Ko-fi! Also, if anyone remembers a PBS show from the mid-’80s or so that was half-hour “news broadcasts” from various eras in history, including the Black Plague, can you let me know what it was called?