I’m not a guy who’s big on documentaries.  For an ex-Latch-Key kid who had a tough childhood and a baby sitter who was the television set, real life became something that I wanted to escape from.  And once I did, any real life I saw on display became bland and boring to me.  Oh neat – there’s a cheetah running through the grass as it chases its prey.  *YAWN*  Give that cat a bo and make it a humanoid female and set some mutants against it for battle and you now have my undivided attention, Wild Kingdom.

That’s not to say that I avoid any and all educational programming.  If you can entertain me while you try to fill my noggin with the learnings then you have succeeded in making me a subscriber of your product.  Or you just tricked me.  Either way – well played. 

I guess that’s why I enjoy shows like Mythbusters so much.  Those folks are having fun while at the same time teaching some cool concepts and ideas.  Just watching some of the crazy on display as the two teams tackle each myth that gets sent their way has me so enticed that it isn’t until after the show is over that I realize that I now know some stuff.  Granted, I doubt that I can get ahead in life by knowing the speed of impact required to make a moose explode, but we can’t all be guaranteed a high-quality education.  That’s why vocational schools were invented.

So, considering my stance on documentaries in general, it’s always a special treat when I find a doc or series that I enjoy.  I recently discovered a documentary series on PBS that appeals to me greatly.  And though it does a great job of delivering that whole “edutainment” thing I was just talking about, it’s appeal to me is based on the fact that it caters to that Latch-Key kid who used to spend his afternoons with He-Man and pretended his Star Wars figures were a part of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.

Don’t ask.

Called The Pioneers of Television, this documentary series spends each episode focusing on a different genre of TV viewing from the Golden Age of the tube and explores how the shows during that time paved the way for what we’ve been bombarded with since.  So far the show has only aired for two short seasons, but they’ve already covered pretty much every staple of classic television – from sci-fi to game shows to westerns.

So far, I’ve only managed to catch two episodes of the series – one on the sci-fi genre and one on children’s programming.  Each episode chronicles the history of its subject from inception to the height of its peak, including interviews with the cast and crew of many of the shows a lot of the baby boomers grew up with.  The program manages to balance the info and insight with fun trivia and rare clips that a lot of folks may not have seen before – making this series a fun glimpse into the past for anyone wanting to revisit their nostalgia or learn how their favourite genre got its start.

A perfect mixture of information and fun, I found myself viewing both episodes that I watched through my adult eyes as well as the ones from my childhood.  Granted, I wasn’t even a glimmer in my dad’s eye when these shows first aired, but growing up with them through their subsequent syndication runs combined with the ability for the episodes to channel that TV magic so prevalent during the Golden Age made for quite a pleasant trip down memory lane.

Though this series does a solid job of thoroughly examining where the inspirations behind what we view today come from, this blast-from-the-past series has an unfortunate side-effect.  Despite the glimpse of awe provided in each episode, this series also manages to paint a vivid picture of what the majority of today’s shows are sorely missing – imagination, originality, wonder, and heart. 

I guess that lends a certain kind of irony to it all – the shows that have inspired us have also led us to create contemporary programming that’s less than inspired.