Going back to Square One

The term educational television isn’t exactly one that brings out the best feelings from TV watchers, especially kids. If you tell a kid that they need to watch this show because is it “educational” and they will learn something, many of them will just turn off the TV completely. That isn’t just this generation but has been going on for years and generations. When most kids reach a certain age, they spend 5 days a week and 8 hours a day being “educated” so why would any of them want to spend their free time learning at home. TV wasn’t supposed to be about learning. It was meant to entertain. From the Baby Boomers up to today’s Millenials and beyond, the term “educational television” wasn’t exactly one that brought about a lot of excitement.

But that doesn’t mean there weren’t some that actually hit the mark and not only were incredibly educational but were then, and even now, remembered for being a lot of fun to watch too.

So I present Square One Television. Or as it was better remembered, Square One.

Square One was a television show that was produced between 1987 until 1994 for PBS by The Children’s Television Workshop, the same people behind Sesame Street and other shows. Square One was about math and presented it in a sketch show style with all kinds of things like game shows, comedy sketches, music videos, and even a math-themed police segment to round everything off. It wasn’t so much a morning show that got its yucks from bad jokes and things like that. This is PBS after all. At least for me, most of it’s run the show aired at 5 pm or that time between coming home from school and the McNeil/Lehrer Newshour boring crap for adults.

The target audience was a little older than the Sesame Street audience who was at the adding and subtracting phase. The math concepts explained on the show were such things as prime and square numbers, multiplication and division, and simple geometry. And for a kid in elementary school that was literally next level stuff. And they also made it in an easy to follow and easy to retain formats of the sketch style of the show. You had the video game sketches like Mathman. A Pac-man style sketch explaining simple things that Mathman would eat to win the game (or not).

Mathman Compliation

Various “Mathman” segments from “Square One Television.”

The Dirk Niblick and the Math Brigade segments that were animated simple concepts with animated characters. As an animation fan, this was right up my alley.

Dirk Niblick of the Math Brigade | You Can Fool Most of the People Most of the Time

To start things off on my new channel, here’s the very first episode of Square One TV’s Dirk Niblick of the Math Brigade. In this 1988 episode, while Lieutenant Dirk Niblick of the Math Brigade is having a phone conversation with his mother, an advertising campaign has begun: 30% off sales on $10,000 Nudnik imported cars from Russia.

There were also the game shows.

Square One TV – But Who’s Multiplying Game Show

Larry Cedar hosts this game show segment where two kid contestants compete against each other by using multiplication.

And the music videos

Weird Al – Patterns

Clip from the show Square One. Unfortunetly its not super good quality but its kind of a rare find so I don’t have a better source.

And probably the show’s most well know sketch was Mathnet. A Dragnet parody that had George Frankly and Kate Monday spending a week’s worth of episodes trying to solve a big crime using math. Later, Kate Monday was replaced by Pat Tuesday but the show didn’t change that much.

Still, found it kind of weird when they used one story to explain how tournaments seeding worked, but it was MATH damn it! Also as a wrestling fan, I knew the mention of Abdullah The Butcher was different in THAT setting.

Wrestler Damien Demento in MathNet 1990

Jobber Damien Demento in a childrens show called MathNet from the early 90s. Mathnet is a segment on the children’s television show Square One Television, of which five seasons were produced (1987–92). This parody of Dragnet featured detectives at the Los Angeles Police Department who solved mysteries using their mathematical skills.

And while the Mathnet segments were often repeats ( A LOT! ) you still wanted to see how the story was solved and learn something along with way.

Fibonacci Sequence? School wasn’t teaching you that. Prime Numbers? That’s junior high learning. Roman numerals? Not much past the number 10 (X in case you were wondering). And all the different tricks when you are multiplying with the number 9? Square One taught me that years before the school system was.

Square One: Nine Nine Nine

Video from the old PBS math show, Square One, called “Nine Nine Nine – Crazy Number Nine”

So in the end, educational television, especially the stuff of the 80’s and 90’s wasn’t exactly breaking any new ground and seemed more about fulfilling government requirement at a low budget, but every so often someone got it right and was really connecting with a lot of young minds. Square One was doing just that and it still sticks with me now. So with the show long off the airwaves, I implore the Youtube generation to search it out and have fun!

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