Monday, April 27, 2015

Square One Television

In the mid-1980's there was a perceived crisis in math ability among American schoolchildren. It was believed that new methods could be used to bridge the mathematics gap. Enter PBS and Children's Television Workshop. Using production methods that were familiar to viewers of MTV or Saturday Night Live, they planned an ambitious production that would get children watching because they wanted to watch; not because they were being forced.

Square One was unlike anything else seen on educational television. It featured music videos, funny sketches and top quality production values to get students interested in math. A casual viewer might have suspected that this program was just like any other- entertaining but not educational, but each segment was designed to introduce mathematical concepts in an entertaining way.

In addition to high end production values, the series even enlisted big name talent- like James Earl Jones, who starred as the captain in the show's Mathnet segments.

By all accounts, the show was extremely successful, pleasing PBS and the show's non-profit sponsors. However, the show ran into the same problems that bedeviled CTW's earlier science show 321-Contact. Television productions of this type require a ton of money to keep going. Fees from PBS stations and grants from non-profit foundations were not enough to fully cover the show's costs. CTW is able to make up the difference on Sesame Street through toy and merchandise licensing. Those opportunities didn't exist for Square One, however. CTW was unable to find companies that were willing to license merchandise based on the show and could no longer keep the show afloat. It was prematurely canceled after just a few seasons.