The 'Art' of Live TV

 Art Linkletter’s death at age 97 is another one of those “take another little piece of my TV heart” moments.

For boomers glued to afternoon TV in the heyday of the real “Speed Racer and “I dream of Jeannie” re-runs, or in Washington, Captains 20 and Tug, Linkletter was one of those avuncular figures who became a member of TV’s extended family.

Maybe that is a sad commentary on the importance of TV in the lives of young people–or at least this formerly young person–but I prefer to look at it differently.

Like Captain Kangaroo and Fran Allison of Kula and Ollie fame, Linkletter was an easygoing and caring adult who just happened to be on the other side of that magic window when kids came home for a Twinkie and some UsTube before going outside  (for younger people, “outside” was a place where there were no iPhones or laptops or portable DVD players)

They all had the gift of talking straight to kids, not down, something even very young children can pick up on quickly. Linkletter wrote the book on it, literally. Along with Alan Funt of Candid Camera, he pioneered reality TV, which has evolved into something unquestionably engaging but a little disturbing. Linkletter was all about the “engaging” part. His genuine affection for kids was matched by an ability to draw laugh-out-loud-for-its-innocence  commentary literally from the mouths of babes, while always making them feel the audience was laughing with them, not at them.

I think Linkletter was all about the kind of innocent fun that TV has lost much of as it has grown (grown up?).  Yes my picture tube is rose-colored. Losing innocence may be a part of growing up, but it is a loss none the less.

It was appropriate that Bill Cosby, another iconically kid-friendly performer, was tapped in the late 1990’s to try to recreate the magic of Linkletter’s “Kids Say the Darndest Things” in an updated version of the segment on Linkletter’s long-running “House Party show “(1952-70).  Cosby’s version did not quite catch on, perhaps because the times they had a’changed, and, perhaps, because it was not as easy as Linkletter always made it look.

“Art Linkletter had an uncanny ability to put viewers and listeners at ease as he provided millions of Americans with light-hearted entertainment on the radio and television,” NAB President and CEO Gordon Smith said Thursday. “He is a true American classic, and his contributions to broadcasting will not soon be forgotten.”

For anyone who does not remember, or wasn’t around to remember, Linkletter’s show, check out this tribute from Cosby on YouTube, and if you don’t laugh a lot and cry a little, don’t tell me about it ’cause I don’t want to know.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.