Tales From A Hungry Life

October 19, 2012

Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Big Bird

by Maria Schulz

Have you been following the presidential and vice presidential debates? I felt compelled to watch because I thought I was going to see something interesting. I also thought I was going to hear something new, or become better informed about the issues of our day.

But sometimes, I feel like I’m watching two high schoolers fight about which club is better: the French Club or the A/V Club. In the first debate, I couldn’t really understand any of the numbers they were throwing around, and the moderator reminded me a lot of the bored, burnt out English teachers I encountered in college.

I guess I should have been listening closely to the reports of the possible evaporation of Medicare funds, the state of unemployment, or the fact that I may have to work until I’m about 112 because Social Security might not exist when I’m old enough to collect it. But I was zoning out and not paying attention at all.

That is, until I heard this:

“I would get rid of PBS. I mean, I like Big Bird, but under my administration, he would have to go.”


Favorite tweet of the night: “I worked with Big Bird. I served with Big Bird. You, sir, are no Big Bird.”

Big Bird has to go? Why? We’ve been friends since the Nixon Administration! He’s never raised my taxes, lied in any debates, or made any campaign promises he never meant to keep.

He taught me my ABCs, sang a few million songs with me, and taught me to love my teachers. He never, ever had a cross word for Oscar the Grouch and always remembered Mr. Hooper, even though he passed away.

Big Bird introduced me to Cookie Monster (my hero), Grover a.k.a. “Super Grover,” Snuffleupagus, Elmo and The Count. He was just a regular bird/guy, eternally 6 years old and always ready for a new adventure.

Big Bird and I met when we were both pretty young. I used to look forward to seeing him gathering up friends in the playgrounds and the parks, as he walked through Manhattan and I sang at the top of my lungs:

Sunny days,

Keeping the clouds away.

On my way

To where the air is sweet.

Can you tell me how to get,

How to get to Sesame Street?

I have spent the better part of the last few decades wishing I could get back to Sesame Street, and here’s why.

I can still remember how safe and happy I was when I watched Sesame Street. My mother bought me a cardboard replica of Sesame Street with little plastic characters. I could play for hours with Big Bird while he led my Barbie dolls and Dawn dolls down the secret road to his home.

When we moved to our new house in the 1970s, my Sesame Street play set somehow got lost in the shuffle. Even so, I wasn’t too upset. I still had my Big Bird doll and my Oscar the Grouch doll by my side for years to come.

I got to go back to Sesame Street years later, when my nephews and nieces came along. I am not sure who was more delighted—them or me—as I found Maria, Gordon, their kids, and of course, Big Bird, right where I’d left them.

When my own kids came, I was able to go back to Sesame Street every single day. Those were happy days! We sang songs with bands like REM (the closest I came to seeing them in concert), learned our letters, and laughed like crazy at the music videos and celebrity cameos that happened in the best ‘hood in town.

I must say that it’s been kind of sad (for me) since my kids outgrew Sesame Street. I have missed Big Bird and friends, but somehow felt sure that he would still be there when I wanted to go back to where the air is sweet with my grandchildren.

But now you’re telling me that Big Bird may be out of work? After 43 long years of being every body’s best friend? Are they saying that Big Bird—and PBS—is irrelevant?

I disagree, and it’s not just about Big Bird, Cookie Monster, Grover or even the Count (although I love them all dearly. Who doesn’t?)


PBS introduced me to some of the most hilarious comedies ever. I will never forget watching Monty Python’s Flying Circus and barely being able to get through the opening credits without busting a stitch with laughter. John Cleese, Eric Idle, Graham Chapman, Terry Jones, Michael Palin, and Terry Gilliam were so completely off the wall, and every week we were not disappointed.

Their humor got its own name: Pythonesque

We got so many good gag lines from the show and used them often and without any segue at all. “Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!”, “Dinnesdale!”, “And now for something completely different,” were all phrases that my brothers and I found absolutely hilarious.  I still remember the “It’s” man, the Dead Parrot Sketch, Nudge, Nudge, Say No More, The Spanish Inquisition, and The Ministry of Silly Walks with its “La Marche Futile.” But my favorite sketch of all was this boxing match between John Cleese and a young girl. Who do you think wins?

PBS was teaching me how to laugh and be creative when the networks were playing comedy shows like “Turnabout” (remember that one?) and “Chico and the Man.”

But besides Big Bird and Monty Python, there was always something worth watching. From travel shows on a dime (like Globe Trekker and Europe through the Back Door) to Documentaries (like The Civil War), you could find a show that made you actually think. And what about Masterpiece Theater? Yes, I know I am showing my English major geeky roots here, but there are some great shows on PBS that you won’t find elsewhere.

I was just a kid when “I, Claudius” aired for the first time. It was a dirty, raucous soap opera disguised as ancient Roman History. I loved it! Derek Jacoby was amazing as Claudius, the supposed fool who goes on to rule the world. And a young John Hurt was absolutely fabulous as Caligula.

Derek Jacoby as Claudius

My parents would never let me see the episode where Caligula goes on his crazy orgy/murderous rampage on his pregnant wife/stepsister, but I watched every other single episode. It was like Guiding Light/As the World Turns/The Doctors/& Days of Our Lives rolled up into one and on steroids.

Of course, I’ve also seen every Pride & Prejudice, Sense & Sensibility, Mansfield Park & Emma remake that PBS puts on. Unlike the Hollywood blockbusters, these are all faithful to the book and don’t have the heroine saying things like: “don’t call me Mrs. Darcy when you are angry. Call me ‘Mrs. Darcy’ when you are filled with incandescent joy.” Uggg. Jane Austin would have cried.

But it’s not just the old shows that I would miss if PBS disappeared. What about Downton Abbey?

A little bit of history, a whole lot of soap

Will Lady Mary finally marry Matthew, the heir to her father’s entailed estate? Or will she do something stupid—again—that keeps them apart? Will Shirley MacLaine rock the house as Lady Mary’s maternal grandmother? Will Lord Grantham stray from Lady Grantham with a new house maid? Will the Dowager Countess of Grantham (played by Maggie Smith) continue to get all the best lines?

I’m not sure, but they better NOT get rid of PBS before I find out!

As if those aren’t enough reasons for why PBS should never go away, I would miss their cooking shows. My love for cooking was cultivated by a certain Julia Child, whose simple explanations on how to cook French food made it seem less then impossible. Of course, the fact that she had a funny voice and was easy to imitate also made her a fan favorite in my parents’ house.


Through the years, we watched Julia cook with Jacque Pepin, Graham Kerr (the Galloping Gourmet), and loads of other famous chefs. She may have been closing in on 90, but Julia was still a big draw on PBS, and I enjoyed all of her shows.

Sure, Julia dropped food and sometimes made a mess, but she kept on talking and just fixed the errors as she went along. I learned a lot from her (especially that part about ‘keep talking and move along’ while fixing errors).

Julia had an unabashed love of rich, decadent food and every kind of wine. You had to love the gusto and relish that she displayed whenever she finished cooking, raised her glass to the audience, dug into one of her dishes and said “Bon Appetit.”

PBS aired a documentary about her following her death in 2004, and I loved what she had to say. “People don’t enjoy eating anymore. They’re afraid of their food, and that’s a pity!”

I’m with you there, Julia!


Julia Child photo. Bachrach/Getty Images

Julia Child’s 100th birthday just passed in August, and Good Morning America ran 9 of her most popular recipes. I couldn’t choose which one to link to, so I’m linking to all of them.


Meanwhile, I will continue to enjoy my good friends over at PBS, and hope that this is one more campaign promise that I don’t have to worry about.

So Hungry Lifers…what are your favorite PBS shows? Do you love Big Bird too? What’s your favorite Julia Child recipe? Leave a comment below and let us all know. Thanks!



  1. Maybe another network will pick up Sesame street. They could have Big Bird walk all over
    the country since they could afford more. I would hate to think of what could happen if HBO picked it up. That would be gross.
    You made me laugh out loud when you mentioned Dawn dolls.

    While you were watching interesting stories on PBS, I came home to the Frugal Gourmet. Thank god not literally since he turned out to be a pedophile. I remember my mothers shock when she found this out. “He seemed so nice”. My mother always had 13 or 21 on. Always a cooking show. We also loved the Gallopping Gourmet. My great grandmother loved him. Then we got the Foodnetwork and that was it. It’s different with Sesame Street. I don’t think you have to worry they can’t get rid of them. I want them to go to another network anyway. Our grandchildren shouldn’t have to have their shows interrupted by people asking them to buy a book or a VHS tape and throwing in a reusable shopping bag. That was always so annoying. My mother always did it too. We couldn’t afford to put gas in the car but the thought of no cooking shows, that would be crazy!!

    Comment by Suzanne — October 19, 2012 @ 3:43 pm | Reply

    • Wow, Sesame Street on HBO? It could end up like The Sopranos. Big Bird as the leader of his own mafia family. It could work! By the way, I completely forgot about the Frugal Gourmet. Sorry to hear he ended up like that; you know, he never calls.

      I guess I blocked out all the fund drives. I remember Stiller & Meara doing a bit for Channel 13 and saying “Give money! Whaddya want to be a freeloader all your life?” And I thought, Yes. For once that would be great.

      Thanks for commenting and always reading my blog!

      Comment by talesfromahungrylife — October 19, 2012 @ 4:03 pm | Reply

  2. I never knew Big Bird but he must be a helluva’ guy because it seems the whole world is abashed that anyone would want to cancel him. Heck if anyone suggested cancelling me not only wouldn’t their be a single protest but some might agree with the suggestion. Most of the shows mentioned in this blog certainly would be on my list but I have to admit the music stuff, James Last, Tony Bennett, Boston Pops and the Metropolitan Opera rank highest on my list along with all of the musical memory stuff like the doo wop thinks and Helen O’Connell and all of that stuff. I would suggest that when we as a society stop funding the arts we as a society start to fail. The Arts raise our sensibilities, make us think and generally lead us through beauty or just good ideas to the right conclusions that bring a society to greater heights. Those heights are among other things, feeding the poor, appreciating the spiritual and raising our spirits to the highest level. Unfortunately the very same people who might be in control of our Government who want to de-fund the arts beginning with Public TV have no idea what I am talking about for all they see is the bottom line, greater profits and damn all who get in the way of grinding out the success of business like approach to government. And if in control that is when we will see the demise of America. Hopefully we never reach that state.

    Comment by Bglou — October 19, 2012 @ 4:28 pm | Reply

  3. Love PBS too and even recall taking my son to “Children’s Day at the WTC” to see Sesame friends! You always make me laugh Maria…and I also love the Monty Python troupe!

    Comment by Kathie — October 20, 2012 @ 8:00 am | Reply

  4. You forgot one show that, while I can count on one hand how many I watched it, my Dad loved it and it was usually pretty darn fascinating: Nova. Yeah, PBS needs to stay. Plus, I love my Wallander on Masterpiece Mystery starring Kenneth Branagh. Sigh….

    Comment by turafish — October 20, 2012 @ 6:39 pm | Reply

  5. You are so right about Big Bird – he was the best! In addition to all the great shows you mentioned, my fond PBS memories are linked to Zoom and Electric Company. Remember those? Of course you do! This post, as well as so many others that you’ve written, bring me back to my growing-up years and I love that. Thanks, Maria!

    Comment by Lisa S. — October 20, 2012 @ 11:27 pm | Reply

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