CJAD: On the line right now we have Bob Keeshan. Most people know him best as Captain Kangaroo. Hello Mr. Keeshan, how are you?
KEESHAN: I'm terrific, how are you doing?
CJAD: Fine, it's very, very nice to talk to you. Quite a pleasure.
KEESHAN: Thank you Peter.
CJAD: In addition to being Captain Kangaroo for all those years, you also have some books out there right now.
KEESHAN: Yeah, I believe in bringing families together, parents and children, so I have a series of activity books, the first one came out last fall, called THE FAMILY FUN ACTIVITY BOOK. The next one comes out next month, (August) called THE HOLIDAY FUN ACTIVITY BOOK. They're books designed for parents who are very busy these days, to find activities to do with their young people. So often parents work these days and they're kind of tired and they get home and the temptation is great to say, "I'm tired honey, go watch television." But we know that children don't grow that way. They grow when they have contact with parents. So these are books that are designed to give ideas to parents with things they can do with their young people and if watched Captain Kangaroo when you were younger, you probably recognized a lot of it. The Playtime Shoebox Activities where we made a bathtub toy out of a milk carton, and maybe we talked about jet propulsion using a balloon. All of those activities are in there. And games that Mr. Greenjeans and Mr. Moose and The Captain played are all in there. Many of them are in there. So you'll be familiar with them, but this is put together in an encyclopedic reference way so that it does form a reference work for parents to keep on the shelf and pull it down when they have a few minutes. Five minutes, fifteen minutes, a half hour. Whatever they spend with their child. And it's all age categorized, so you find the right activity for the right age of the child and what you've done is spend some time with the child. But that's what's really important, not what you make or the games you play. What happens when you do that, the child is saying, "hey, this most important person in the world, my parent," and that parent is always the most important person in the world. Something a lot of parents don't realize. They say, "my parent is spending time with me, therefore I must be of value." That helps us to build our self esteem and make us feel good about ourselves and helps us to develop as proper human beings.
CJAD: You mention the fact that it's a book that parents can spend time with their children and you mentioned a lot of things that took place on the show, which you can find in the book. It harks back to a simpler time and I'm wondering in this MTV era we live in, if it is something that will hold a kid's attention just as it did when we were kids?
KEESHAN: Oh it most certainly will, because it's my absolute theory and tested by knowledge of young people that if a parent wants to spend time with a child, they would rather spend their time with a parent then watching television or video game or whatever. It depends upon the relationship between the parent and the child. Because that natural love that a child has for a parent, is the greatest asset that a parent has in raising and nurturing the child. It's a valuable tool unless the parent kills it. If the parent kills it with neglect, if the parent kills it with abuse, yeah, they are going to turn to other activities and they really won't want to spend time with the adult. But if the parent is really aware of their power and the power of the love of the child for them, the child will really want to spend time with them.
CJAD: In putting this together, I'm sure you used personal experience from the years you were on television, but did you also use educators and psychologists and the like to determine what should go into the book and what age group it was for?
KEESHAN: Oh sure. The age specifications are all labelled properly by educators who are aware.....of course, you know, it's a general age category. You can find a six-year-old who might enjoy some of the activities that are labelled seven, eight or nine. You can find some that might enjoy activities that are younger. Because that's the chronological age that we're speaking about and different children develop differently and that's appropriate that they develop differently. The one who knows that best, of course, is the parent, and you know that by spending some time with them. So you'll know that a particular activity, almost instinctively, a parent will know that a particular activity is right for their particular child.
CJAD: Let's talk a little bit about your years in television. You spent a lot of time in television entertaining generations of kids. Did you think when you first started...and I guess a lot of people are aware of the fact that you were the original Clarabell the Clown, correct?
CJAD: Were you aware when you first....did you think when you first started that you would have such longevity with entertaining and educating children all those years on television.
KEESHAN: Well, I think if I had expressed that view, I don't think I talked very much about it, but if I had and I came to that conclusion and I expressed that view, I'd probably be institutionalized at this particular point, because it would not have been a very sane prediction to make. Really, when one is working every day, five and six days a week on a television program and all the elements involved and all the people involved, you really don't start to think about what's happening next month or next year. You simply are paying most of your attention to day, tomorrow and next week and next month.
CJAD: Before we went on the air, when we set up the call, I have to admit to our audience, I gushed a little bit because I grew up watching CAPTAIN KANGAROO. Do you find when you go out in public that you come across 30-year-olds and 40-year-olds and even older who still think of you as The Captain and revert to their childhood when they meet you?
KEESHAN: I don't know if they revert to their childhood, but what they are of course is a great deal more articulate then they were when they were when they were experiencing the program. They are able now to express in retrospect, their views. They recall these experiences. For most they were very happy experiences. Happy days. And for many, I've had the expression that their childhood was not particularly nice. That they were neglected or perhaps even abused or worse and that they're home was not as happy as it should be and that I constituted something of an oasis them. A father-child relationship that they didn't have in real life. It's very poignant when people express themselves that way, but I'm happy that I was able to do some positive work of that sort.
CJAD: When the show first went on the air, it was the early days of television and it was just a matter of putting things on TV to entertain the various age groups that are out there. Nowadays when a television show goes on, there is so much thought process....even more thought process, focus groups, and psychologists are involved. When you first started CAPTAIN KANGAROO, did you just do instinctively what you thought was good for children to watch on TV?
KEESHAN: Well, I think in the very beginning it was very instinctive, and I think that's the key ingredient to any program to any program that is successful, and of course we all need help. I think that people like Mr. Rogers is very instinctive. Bob Homme, THE FRIENDLY GIANT, was very, very instinctive in the programming that he did. MR. DRESSUP was very instinctive in the work that he did. But of course we all do need help and as time went on we did avail ourselves of a lot of child professionals, whether they were educators or psychologists or what. They would give us, in a sense, a seminar on the needs of children. And so over a period of 35 or 40 years those of us working together have actually probably assembled a body of knowledge and learned more about early childhood education then we could ever learn at university level. Any one of us could write a paper tomorrow of course. That's all very important. What is important, of course, is to be able to use it effectively. It's nice to have the knowledge of child needs, but it's also very important that we have the talents to entertain the child as well as educate the child. And not have the child be aware of that line. The difference between the two. They should not be aware that they are being educated or served in some way. They should feel that they are being entertained. We hope that the stuff of entertainment is the stuff that meets the needs of children.
CJAD: I noticed you mentioned a couple of the Canadian television shows that were on for years and years. Are you aware of the Canadian content that was out there entertaining children?
KEESHAN: Oh absolutely. I'm very well aware. I talked to MR. DRESSUP just a few weeks ago, a month or so ago. I know that he's been just a staple for so many years. I've always admired his work. I think you've been very fortunate in having some very talented people supplying good programming for children.
CJAD: For all those people who grew up with your show and don't have the opportunity to see it anymore on television, but may have kids of their own, are your shows available on video?
KEESHAN: Yeah, we have shows that are available on home video. There are about six of them. They're pretty good. But of course we are also talking about doing a new production of CAPTAIN KANGAROO and that looks pretty good at the moment. The need is probably greater then ever and in the United States everybody seems to be talking about values on television for children and showing concern about the exploitation of children that many broadcasters and advertisers are participating in. So, you know, when the President speaks that way, and the Majority Leader of the Senate speaks and half the Congress speaks that way, everybody's got to pay attention. I think we are going to see some positive programming for children as a result of this. I'm a little weary of government standards. I don't think that government has any role to play in telling us what children should see and shouldn't see. That certainly does smack a little bit of infringement on First Amendment rights, but short of that I think we all have to recognize, as Canadians do, as the English do as the French do, as the Japanese do. We all have to recognize that children are a very special audience and there ought to be special standards applied to that audience, whether it be in entertainment or commercials or whatever.
CJAD: How many years was your program on the network on CBS?
KEESHAN: On CBS thirty years and on Public Broadcasting for seven.
CJAD: Was that difficult when CBS finally said, "that's it"?
KEESHAN: Oh no, that had been coming for a very long time. It certainly was not anything sudden. There is this syndrome that networks have that they've got to compete head on with the same kind of programming that the other networks are programming at that particular time at that particular hour. There's no common sense factor to it. It's insane. But, when the Chairman of CBS broadcasting says, "we want to be number one in the morning," I said, "you are number one in the morning. You're serving families and children." And he said, "no, no, I want to compete with THE TODAY SHOW and I want to compete with GOOD MORNING AMERICA, and we're going to do it." You know, that was ten years ago and they're still trying to catch up. And they still have not got the audience size that I had, if that's the game you want to play. But, you know, it's very difficult to talk to show business executives. They're really a breed apart and they don't have the same standards that people, the families who are being served by television or not served by television. Those standards are quite different.
CJAD: When you get a chance to a new show, what venue would that show up on? Would it be on cable or syndicated or what?
KEESHAN: It could be in a number of places, and that's what we're really looking to now. We're looking through some cable services and some satellite services that will supply a lot of money for new programming. New production. But it would be non exclusive and we would be able to go to other on-air services or cable, so we would be able to reach the maximum number of families with the programming.
CJAD: What about the latest innovation in technology. The interactive CD Rom. Is there any chance of seeing the Captain up on your computer screen.
KEESHAN: Oh, I think so. I think that these technologies lend themselves to almost any good entertainment program. Certainly it's just a matter of somebody with the right knowledge bringing the two of us together. There's room for good programming like The Captain anywhere. Motion pictures, on CD's and CD Roms and audio. Anywhere at all.
CJAD: How do you feel about the television that's on for kids nowadays?
KEESHAN: Well, I don't think that in the United States we've done anything that we can be really proud of in the commercial sector, certainly. Our Public Broadcasting System does pretty well with Mr. Rogers and Sesame Street and Barney that purple dinosaur that so many parents seem to be irritated by. But I often remind parents that the program was not made for them, it was made for children and even as a producer I might add more to it and make it a little more complex a program, it still is a benign program with good values. In the commercial sector we have some very, very significant problems. We allow broadcasters and advertisers to exploit children, which is not done really anywhere else in the world. Because most societies believe that children are our most precious asset and represent the future of their nation, so we in our early childhood programs outside of television, for example child care centres and in schools will always say to children as early as two years of age, "when you meet with controversy, use your words. Use your words to solve problems." And then we think nothing as parents to turn them over to the Power Rangers who are the good guys, no question about that, who are saying, "use your fists, use your fists." And use karate and violence to solve problems. And that message is not lost on four-year-olds and six-year-olds and seven-year-olds and I think the cumulative effect of programs like that solving problems with violence, is showing up in our society in disturbing ways.
CJAD: Is the problem in your estimation the fact that there is a show like The Power Rangers on and it becomes successful, or because it becomes successful it's copied. In other words if there was one Power Ranger and there was a Captain Kangaroo and there was a Sesame Street, would that be more broad based?
KEESHAN: Well it might be, but there will always be Power Rangers, because the people who produce Power Rangers are not sitting down initially and saying "how may we nurture children, how may we help children?" They're saying, "how can we make a lot of money?" Whether it's Ninja Turtles or Power Rangers, and they'll be another one right behind it. We're sure of that. We don't have the right attitude toward producing programming for children. And what really is important is the end user if you will, is the parent. The parent who says, "well, I don't care what my kids are watching." Now most parents would deny saying that, but whether they explicitly say, "go watch television and its violence," or they implicitly say "I'm tired, go watch television," and not supervise the program that children watch, the result is the same. It's a medium that seems to have escaped in the United States parental supervision. We would never think of sending our children out in the snow without the proper clothing, and we would never tell them "go play in traffic" and we would never say, "here's your lunch, two candy bars and a bottle of soda pop" because we know as parents that children have to have the proper diet to grow strong bodies. Well children have to have the proper diet to grow strong minds. We think nothing of ignoring television and it is a parental responsibility. The reason The Power Rangers are successful, is because there are millions of parents who are allowing their children to watch, unthinkingly or thinkingly, and therefore it perpetuates itself. So, it's a parental responsibility, no matter what government in the United States or anywhere else does to enforce standards, children are going to be watching inappropriate television. Most children in America, when they are watching inappropriate television are watching adult television. You know, the talk shows. The Oprahs and the Donahues. They're watching grandma working in the strip joints and they're watching cross dressers and all kinds of material that certainly we would think is inappropriate for children to view, but parents don't simply seem to intervene in that program selection process that's critical.
CJAD: For parents who do want to intervene, however, I noticed you did an infomercial recently?
KEESHAN: Yeah, we did an infomercial and the people never really....I think they were under-financed or something of the sort and never really got out on the market, but it was a wonderful device. It's the sort of device that the President of the United States talked about and the Majority Leader in the Senate, Senator Dole spoke about just recently. The so-called V-Chip. It's very similar. It would allow parents to block out certain channels. With the one that is now available that I did the infomercial on, it would allow parents to block the television all together for certain hours. So a parent could say to a child, "now I'm not going to be home until 5:30 or a quarter to six, but I know you'll be home at 3:15 or 3:30 and I don't want you sitting here watching television and eating potato chips and getting as fat as you can and watching programming that's not suitable for you." And the child will say, "I won't Mommy," but the flesh is week and they inevitably do. Well one of these devices would permit the parent to simply block out the television in that period of time, so the child would presumably then do homework or play with other children. So in absentia the parent would represented by this device.
CJAD: Sounds like a great idea.
KEESHAN: Yeah, I think parents who are busy and can't be there all the time, and you know that's a fact of life. A lot of curmudgeons my age say, "well, why doesn't Mommy get back in the kitchen and bake the chocolate chip cookies to meet the yellow school bus?" Well that's not going to happen, because the two paycheck family is very important on the continent these days, and we are going to see working parents of both genders and we've got to accommodate to that and they've got to accommodate to different family styles. But that means that every technical device of this nature that is a tool for parents can be very useful in exercising parental authority.
CJAD: Well I noticed you used the term curmudgeon. That's not one I would use in referring to you. I still think you are an inspiration because you're still busy, you're still active, you're writing books. You're still looking to do more television and I think that's great.
KEESHAN: Well it's the only way to live a life. We have to keep active.
CJAD: The book you have out now is called FAMILY FUN ACTIVITY BOOK. The other ones coming out are HOLIDAY FUN.
KEESHAN: Yes, that will be coming out at the end of August, early September.
CJAD: There is also BOOKS TO GROW BY.
KEESHAN: BOOKS TO GROW BY is a guide for parents to chose books to read to children. All the wonderful books that the Captain read on the program over the years and books that are outlined by values that they are able to teach. If a parent wants to teach discipline or the parent wants to teach another value of some kind, the book will be cross referenced in such a way so that they can make reference to the value list and select books that they want to read to their children. There will be about 200 books in that particular guide to reading to children. I think that parents need that kind of help today because a lot of parents really should be reading to their children a lot more then they are reading, not to get children to read early, because that's counter productive too, but to make books a part of early childhood, so that they develop an attitude toward books that will serve them well when reading readiness arrives in their life.
CJAD: Well Bob Keeshan, thank you for talking with us.
KEESHAN: I appreciate your conversation, thank you so much.
CJAD: And continued success in everything you do.
KEESHAN: Thank you sir.