Tales of Lost TV: Your Television Babysitter (1948-1951)

Tales of Lost TV is a monthly column in which I examine a particular TV program or TV series either known or believed to be lost forever. The amount of lost TV is truly staggering–aside from a handful of exceptions everything broadcast prior to 1948 no longer exists. That doesn’t mean it all has to be forgotten.

TV’s First Daytime Schedule

New York City television station WABD introduced the first regular daytime schedule on Monday, November 1st, 1948. Daytime programming started at 7AM ET and continued through 6PM ET. After that, prime time programming began. In all, WABD offered 15-18 hours of programming Monday through Friday.

Although WABD served as the flagship station for the DuMont Television Network, this was a local experiment in daytime TV. It had nothing to do with the larger network.

To fill the daytime hours, WABD introduced a variety of programs on November 1st, 1948. The station offered a little bit of everything: news, religion, exercise, music/variety. And, of course, several TV shows aimed at children, including Your Television Babysitter. Aimed at preschoolers, it ran for several years but totally forgotten today. It is also considered lost. Not a single episode, nor any footage whatsoever, is known to exist.

Some sources suggest Your Television Babysitter originally went by the name DuMont Kindergarten. However, evidence for when–or if–the title of the TV show changed is sketchy at best. It is referred to in TV listings and contemporary reviews as Your Television Baby Sitter, Your TV Babysitter, TV Babysitter, or TV Baby Sitter.

Stories & Drawings–And A Pigeon

Little is known about Your Television Babysitter. When it debuted, it ran from 8:30-9AM ET on weekdays. Pat Meikle served as host, putting her skills as an artist to work entertaining and educating. Along with husband Hal Cooper, Meikle helped develop Your Television Babysitter for WABD. Cooper may have served as sole writer and producer for the series.

Every morning on Your Television Babysitter, Pat Meikle told stories about animals like Wilmer the Pigeon, Tootsie the Turtle, Mike the Milkman’s Horse, and others. She also entertained youngsters with fairy tales, drawings, and lessons.

James L. Caddigan, director of programs for the DuMont Television Network, wrote about WABD’s daytime schedule in the January 1949 issue of Television magazine. He had this to say about Your Television Babysitter (at the time still known as DuMont Kindergarten):

Miss Meikle advises the mothers to leave the youngster “With me” at the TV set, supplied with a pad and pencil, and then feel free for the next 30 minutes to complete her kitchen chores. She explains Wilmer to the youngsters as also of pre-school age who, like them, is just beginning to read and write.

By means of actual cartoon drawings, which she has the kiddies follow with their own pads and pencils, Miss Meikle explains and demonstrates the alphabet by block-lettering. As program time comes to an end, Miss Meikle “calls” to mother in the kitchen, tells her the morning lesson is concluded, and to return to the living room for the youngster. Early reports indicate that “Kindergarten” holds the children as effectively as any of the more elaborate–and more expensive–kid shows currently on the air.

Hal Cooper may have occasionally or regularly appeared on camera alongside his wife.

Rave Reviews

Jack Gould reviewed WABD’s new daytime offerings for The New York Times on November 7th. For the most part, he was less than impressed. He did praise Your Television Babysitter:

To take up first the one bright exception to the foregoing, mark down the name of Miss Pat Meikle. It is her task from 8:30 to 9 each morning, when mothers are presumably occupied with dishes and unmade beds, to divert youngsters of pre-school age. And last week she gave every evidence of doing a capital job in a tricky assignment which too long has been neglected by radio, let alone video.

In keeping youngsters from 2 to school age out of mother’s way, Miss Meikle first tells of the adventures of a pigeon named Wilmer, illustrating her commentary with amusing line drawings as she goes along. Then the central portion of her program is devoted to the telling of a fairy tale–last week she started with the one about the golden ball–and she finishes up with more drawing designed to teach the alphabet painlessly and engagingly.

In short, Miss Meikle is on stage for thirty straight minutes without let-up or recourse to script. Yet her performance has an admirable quality of lucidness, is consistently bright and under the circumstances surprisingly varied. For parents who have searched endlessly for suitable broadcast material for children of pre-Lone Ranger vintage, Miss Meikle is the answer to a thousands prayers.

“Most critical acclaim has been award to Pat Meikle, Television Baby Sitter,” Broadcasting*Telecasting reported on November 15th. “His [sic] half-hour of drawings and stories aimed at the pre-school child made an immediate impression on the radio editors as something fresh in video entertainment.”

Not all reviews were entirely positive. The Billboard, reviewed WABD’s daytime lineup on November 13th, and its take on Your Television Babysitter was mixed:

At 8:30 Miss Meikle, a versatile young lady, comes on as the television baby sitter. She tells stories to the accompaniment of her own charcoal drawings and then sits down to tell a continued fairly [sic] tale. Since the kids to whom she appeals, pre-school age, aren’t too discriminating or hep, there is a good chance Miss Meikle will hold their attention, even tho she is by no means a good artist or an especially good storyteller. She has enthusiasm and a real warmth, however, which should get her over.

Variety reportedly also wrote positively about Pat Meikle.

Local or Network?

I’ve been unable to confirm whether Your Television Babysitter ever aired on the DuMont network. When it debuted, it aired only in New York City on WABD. It may have later been carried by the network. Several sources, including The Forgotten Network: DuMont and the Birth of American Television and Kids’ TV: The First Twenty-Five Years, do consider it a network program but don’t specify when it aired on DuMont as opposed to just WABD.

Based on TV listings for WABD published in The New York Times, from November 1st, 1948 to February 18th, 1949, Your Television Babysitter aired weekdays mornings at 8:30AM ET. It then shifted to 9AM for two weeks (February 21st to March 4th) before moving to 10AM on March 7th, where it remained until May 13th. The series went on hiatus to allow Pat Meikle to prepare for a TV series called The Magic Cottage, aimed at older children.

The Magic Cottage premiered on the DuMont network on July 18th, 1949. Your Television Babysitter returned to WABD on May 2nd, 1950, again airing from 10-10:30AM. It stayed on the air until May 25th, 1951. The Magic Cottage continued airing on the DuMont network until September 12, 1952. WABD revived the series locally in September 1953 and kept it on the air until June 1955. After The Magic Cottage went off the air for good, Pat Meikle briefly hosted Junior Featurama on WABD. The series ran from June to October 1955.

(Hal Cooper went on to become a prolific director and producer of sitcoms like I Dream of Jeannie, That Girl, Mayberry RFD, The Brady Bunch, Maude, Gimme a Break!, and Dear John. He discussed both Your Television Babysitter and The Magic Cottage in his 2003 interview with the Archive of American Television. Cooper died in April 2014 at the age of 91.)

References:

“7-10:30 A.M. Stretch Fair With Low Nut.” The Billboard. 13 Nov. 1948: 19.
Caddigan, James L. “Daytime Programming.” Television. Jan. 1949: 17-18.
“Daytime TV: WABD ‘Enthusiastic’.” Broadcasting*Telecasting. 15 Nov. 1948: 107.
Gould, Jack. “Programs in Review: Radio and Television Cover the Election–DuMont Inaugurates Daytime Video.” New York Times. 7 Nov. 1948: X11.


Does Your Television Babysitter sound interesting? Would you watch an episode or two if any existed? Hit the comments with your thoughts.


2 Comments

  • Karen Martin says:

    For decades I’ve heard derogatory comments about television being called an electronic babysitter, but never imagined there was a show named Television Babysitter.

    If an episode was found I doubt that adults, or even children, would be interested in watching (except as a history / sociology lesson) but it appears to have been a fine show for the time period. I like that children were to have pencil and paper so that they weren’t just watching the flickering screen, but were drawing or writing.

    Poor Dumont had many innovative ideas — it’s a shame the Television Universe was out to do them in.

  • Patrick McNamara says:

    It seems children’s TV shows, at least the older ones, are among the most likely shows to be lost because people don’t think anything of them. It was back when people did them for educational reasons and not commercial ones.

    It’s very much a generational thing as to what shows people remember. It all depends on when you were a kid. The long running shows such as Mr. Rogers and Sesame Street are remembered but the ones that last only a few years get forgotten.

    I do recall watching Jan Rubes on Guess What which aired on TVO. It seemed that daytime TV use to have a lot of kids shows before cartoons came along in the 80s to fill the afternoons.

    As I recall it aired around the same time as Let’s All Sing.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=feclszHb8y8
    That show got a bit annoying because he always seemed to sing the same songs over and over. But I wish I had him for a music teacher.

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