Tennessee Tuxedo and educational TV in the 1960’s

There was once a time, way back in the 1960’s, when kids would get up at the crack of dawn on Saturday mornings, pour themselves an extra-sized bowl of Frosted Flakes or Froot Loops, go in the living room, and plop in front of the television for a good five or six hours.  Parents could sleep late, while the kids were entertained with action and adventure and comedy.

Oh, and maybe a little education as well.

Let me explain.

In 1963, CBS prepared Tennessee Tuxedo and His Tales, a cartoon about a goal-determined penguin (Tennessee Tuxedo, as voiced by Don Adams) and his walrus pal Chumley, as they try to put together get-rich-quick schemes to improve their lives in a local zoo.  Eventually they would escape the zoo to try their luck in the real world, but when they got way over their heads … they turned to a local professor, Phinneas J. Whoopee, the man with all the answers.

And in Whoopee’s office, Tennessee and Chumley would sit and watch as Whoopee – through the use of his three-dimensional blackboard (essentially an iPad that he pulled out of Fibber McGee’s closet), learned about science, history, economics and other wonderful things.  Then they would leave (before Professor Whoopee could give them more education), and then they would bungle whatever scheme they had set up, they would end up back in the zoo, and Tennessee would plot his next adventure.  Lather, rinse, repeat.

But here’s the thing.  Those educational segments were an immediate answer and response to a growing movement in television; the idea that children’s shows should educate, rather than just entertain.  And, surprisingly, the information on Professor Whoopee’s three-dimensional blackboard is actually quite erudite.

For example, here’s an unrestored episode (complete with opening titles) in which Tennessee and Chumley get a crash course in gardening from Mr. Whoopee.

Here’s another one, featuring Mr. Whoopee’s lesson on sculpture, which came after Tennessee and Chumley broke a statue in the zoo and tried to make a new one by themselves.

And if you were ever wondering, “When would I ever see a cartoon that explains Sir Isaac Newton’s Third Law of Motion?” – well, it happened in this Tennessee Tuxedo episode.

And in an episode that pays homage to “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court,” Tennessee Tuxedo learns about making swords and knives from steel.  Including how to make “Canister Damascus” steel.  No word on whether anybody got inspired on Forged in Fire from this episode, but at least Tennessee Tuxedo didn’t burn down half the town to try to make his sword, amirite?

Trust me, this was considered highbrow educational television.  And it was halfway decent, so long as you understood that every plot was essentially a paint-by-number script – Tennessee gets a scheme, he messes it up, he goes to see Mr. Whoopee for the answer, tries again, and bungles it even worse.  Meanwhile, Chumley just follows along with whatever Tennessee suggests, and then after the episode is over, he goes to his second job as a pawn shop broker – oh wait, that’s Chum Lee, not Chumley.  My bad.

Yeah, I just need a little levity for the day.  And I hope you got some levity as well. 😀