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Howdy Doody

Author Elaine Needelman
Air Date 12/27/1999

Howdy Doody Transcript

Here’s Elaine Needelman who’s been watching the media for us.

On December 27, 1947, the Howdy Doody Show premiered on NBC. Originally called Puppet Playhouse Presents, Howdy Doody was a show of firsts. It was the first children’s show on NBC, the first network series in color, the first tv show to air over 2000 episodes, and the first program to receive a large viewer response by mail. The Howdy Doody Show song was also the first popular tv theme song. It was the first tv show to use interactive programming–the live audience of children, known as “The Peanut Gallery.” In short, Howdy Doody became a national phenomenon. The show’s success changed forever the way children were entertained, and the Howdy Doody Show show is generally considered to be the most popular children’s show of all time.

The show was set in the town of “Doodyville,” Texas, and hosted by Buffalo Bob Smith, who liked to dress up in Western costumes. His sidekick Howdy Doody was a marionette version of a freckled redhaired boy with a big grin. Other regular characters included Clarabell, a seltzer squirting, horn-honking mute clown, Phineas T. Bluster, the town’s grumpy mayor, Flub-a-Dub, a creature who was made up of the parts of 7 animals, and Captain Windy Scuttlebutt, an old sea captain. Each episode had a story involving the characters of Doodyville, a film short, and a song or two. It was a formula that hundreds of children’s shows would follow.

As you can imagine, Howdy Doody was enormously popular with advertisers. Buffalo Bob would tell kids about the importance of telling the truth, or not eating sweets before meals but he would also happily shill for products of dubious nutritional value. The show was “sold out” to advertisers for its entire 13 year run and marked a major turning point in how advertising could be aimed directly at a child audience.

The Howdy Doody Show was also the epitome of political incorrectness. The very names of the characters were often ethnic or physical slurs. Native Americans were especially singled out with the characters of Princess Summer Fall Winter Spring or the gullible Chief Thunderthud. The Howdy Doody Show was loud, silly entertainment. But this didn’t seem to bother the millions of kids who watched it every day after school, yearning to be in the Peanut Gallery when Buffalo Bob asked that now-famous question:

Brief Sound Clip

Posted in Television