Sunday, March 16, 2014

Muppets and More: Childhood and the Stories Grown-Ups Crave

Kermit the Frog is the reason I became a broadcaster. In his tan trench coat, with his microphone in his long, green fingers, Kermit popped up all over Sesame Street, getting to the bottom of stories such as Humpty Dumpty’s demise. And on The Muppet Show, Kermit kept his cast of Muppets from galloping toward chaos as the ultimate stage manager, producer, and director.

As a result, my brother and I made up our own radio broadcasts and styled our own variety shows, recording our work on a General Electric tape recorder that was so old, Ray Dolby’s ideas about noise reduction and chrome alloy cassettes were a distant dream to us.

When I was five, one of my mother’s friends gave me my very own Muppet. I can’t remember his name, but he was purple and he wore a striped sweater and he came in a box. He came with a wardrobe of facial features, too, that stuck to his face with Velcro. I loved his glasses and his squishy orange nose. Soon, he began starring in the variety shows we recorded on those old GE cassettes which, come to think of it, were a lot like the tapes Mr. Rogers later showcased on his show and in the recent PBS video, “Garden of Your Mind.”

With all this, then, is it any wonder that I’m a veteran of broadcast news or that the heroine in my latest novel wears glasses?


In fact, the books, songs, movies, and TV shows that touched us when we were kids continue to shape us as adults, too. They influence what we value in the stories we encounter today. But to paraphrase LeVar Burton of that childhood staple, Reading Rainbow, you don’t have to take my word for it. Chris Carter, creator of the 1990s runaway hit, The X-Files, said he wanted that show to recreate the feelings he had a as a kid in California when he watched Kolchak: The Night Stalker. Kolchak quit investigating the weird and the wonderful in 1975, but during the height of The X-Files’ popularity, a short-lived reincarnation starring Stuart Townsend and Gabrielle Union came to life and you could even catch the original episodes on some cable channels. Sure, those old episodes seem a little campy by today’s standards, but to a child of the ’70s, they were probably as thrilling as The Twilight Zone was in the ’60s or Fringe has been recently.
The bottom line is that Carter carried Kolchak with him into adulthood--and into what it means to have a great story. And I've carried the Muppets, Mr. Rogers, Nancy Drew, and even Remington Steele with me. With that said, I'm excited to see what stories may come from generations moved by Veronica Mars, Firefly, or Pretty Little Liars.

And I'd love to know what favorite childhood books, songs, movies, or TV shows have stayed with you. Which ones taught you what to look for in a story today?


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  2. Love it, Nichole. Enjoyed the YouTube links. The remix of Mister Rogers' Garden of Your Mind was fun.

    I think some of the typical kid classics shaped me ... Scooby Doo, Nancy Drew, Romper Room, Tom & Jerry and the Jetsons. But there were others, too, in my teen years that formed me. Love Boat, Fantasy Island, and Charlie's Angels were big ones. Not to mention the Bionic Man and the Bionic Woman. Oh, and McGyver and Magnum P.I. Sigh. Loved them all. But I think they all inform my stories these days, too. I often create bands of close-knit communities of people who work together to puzzle something out, plus, there's always a healthy dose of fantasy and love involved, as well as hunky heroes and sexy heroines.

    Thanks for the trip down memory lane. It's funny how much we forget of our past that shapes us into the adults, and the writers, we are today. Fun to think about! ;0)

  3. You know, I watched all those shows, and the ones Mac mentioned too - and they all live on in my pop-culture frame of reference. But the show that my brother and I used to "play" was Hogan's Heroes. Humor plus an underground resistance giving the bird to the (literally) worst kinds of systemic, entrenched racial bias on the planet? Huh. I kind of see both the humor and the fight to retain/claim the essential humanity of us all in my work, using werewolves as the stand in for the marginalized. Interesting food for thought!

    I admit we used to play "Donny and Marie" too. *hangs head in chagrin* *then winks* It was a blast.

  4. Candy,

    I'm glad you enjoyed my post!

    I was Scooby devotee, too. No wonder mystery is a major component of my writing as well. Oddly, I always found Fantasy Island unsettling as a kid. Maybe because I always fell asleep before the resolution. But maybe that's also why Paranormal isn't a driver in my work. Hmmm!

    Thanks for chiming in!

  5. Hi Keely,

    Werewolves vs. Hogan's Heroes! I love it when we find new ways to think about classic ideas. Thanks for sharing how you see that show you loved working its way into your writing today!