Speaking as a kid raised on a lot of PBS and now-extinct cable channels (I miss you, Discovery Kids), some of my favorite programs growing up were things other kids rarely knew about. Essentially, you could call me a TV hipster before the word was even a blip on the radar.
Aside from the occasional Spongebob references someone may make in random conversation and my first “celebrity” crushes being boys on Zoom rather than somebody on Disney Channel, a lack of exposure to well-known shows didn’t deepen my home under a rock too much. A lot of the young people involved in my old shows still pop up in other TV projects, so it sort of becomes like hearing news about a kid you went to high school with but didn’t really know on a personal level – in this case, it’s actors popping up, and you get to feel special that you “knew them when.”
Discovery Kids was a branch of the Discovery Network and, after 2010, morphed into other networks until it finally became a completely different entity in 2014. The programming style could not be more different from the types of shows aired when I was young. I think its typical schedule includes a My Little Pony rerun and random kids’ movies from the ’80s. While we still watched Disney Channel in the mid-2000s, Discovery Kids was still a strong contender for the channel that got the most airtime in our house. The first two shows I’ll talk about aired on Discovery Kids, which I think displays just how diverse its programming used to be.
1) Endurance (2002 – 2008)
This was probably my favorite show throughout grammar school. The episode above is the first episode of Season 2. Essentially a kids’ version of Survivor, Endurance ran for six seasons and filmed in a different remote location for each one. The contestants ranged from 12 to 15 years old and competed in teams of two in mental and physical games for the grand prize of an elaborate trip to an exotic place. If you’re able to track down a fan of this series, they’ll probably credit Seasons 3 (Hawaii) and 5 (High Sierras) as their favorites (in my lovingly biased opinion). My biggest tiff with Endurance? Blowing all of the budget on filming in Fiji for the last season and having fewer teams and lackluster challenges as a result. But, of course, I loved it anyways. Not many people know about this show, so it was the greatest validation ever when I found this podcast that featured one of my favorite contestants from the show.
2) Strange Days at Blake Holsey High (2002 – 2006)
Recognize that tiny, nerdy kid that this clip opens with? Yes, it’s the guy who played the title role in Life with Derek, Michael Seater, but to me, he was always just the nerd Lucas, not the annoying, scheming Derek. This role was before Life with Derek, and, going along with the joke that my first “celebrity” crushes were more likely to be boys on Zoom than the Disney Channel, I’ve always counted Michael Seater as my first celebrity crush based off this role. He plays one of several science nerds who attend a boarding school that’s the site of suspicious activity caused by a wormhole in a classroom. I’ve never liked science, but I think the great appeal of this show was its boarding school setting – what kid can resist a boarding school story?!
3) Faerie Tale Theatre (1982 – 1987)
Okay, so given my age, I probably shouldn’t have known this ’80s series that well, but my siblings and I had sleepovers at our grandparents’ house a lot when growing up, and these days always entailed walking to their local library and picking out movies for the night. At the time, their library had a bunch of Faerie Tale Theatre episodes, and being the oldest kid, I had a lot of say in the final film choice. I suppose that, as a kid, I was able to pick up on a little bit of FTT ‘s weirdness, but it’s only recently when I went back and watched some scenes today that I realized how adult some of these adaptations are. I suppose that may be why a lot of kids got away with watching these – the parents assumed they wouldn’t pick up on some of the innuendo. Today, I’d describe this show as a much darker version of The Princess Bride. Another fun thing about looking back at these now is seeing how many bona fide stars were featured! The Sleeping Beauty adaptation, seen above, stars Christopher Reeve as the prince and Bernadette Peters as Sleeping Beauty / her weird alter ago who definitely didn’t sit right with me as a kid. Other episodes that we watched a lot at sleepovers were “The Dancing Princesses” and “The Little Mermaid” (with Helen Mirren as the Little Mermaid’s rival?!).
What about you? Did you watch any obscure TV shows when you were a kid?