What can you teach someone in 25 years? Blacksmithing? Reading? Painting? An animated aardvark has taught kids across Arkansas (and the rest of the country) for nearly that long, and his retirement is fast approaching.
Doubtless your kids or grandkids know who Arthur is. He's had a show on Arkansas PBS since October 1996, and after season 25 (set to air next year), he's hanging up his famous reading glasses and moving on.
"Arthur" going off the air is significant because it's the longest-running children's animated series in history. Even the most popular cartoons like Pokemon and SpongeBob SquarePants haven't been around that long.
And "Arthur" is a groundbreaking cartoon for more reasons than its longevity.
This show hasn't been afraid to tackle some big issues families face like dyslexia, asthma, autism and cancer. It handles every one of those issues in a respectful way that educates kids about how these factors could impact the lives of friends and families.
And when you take "Arthur" down to its roots, it is a cartoon about friends and families. More than that, it encourages kids to read. It's right there in the name. Arthur's last name is Read, which makes even more sense when you realize the cartoon is based on a book series written and illustrated by Marc Brown.
If you think "Arthur" has been around for a long time, wait until you hear about the book series. Mr. Brown has been making Arthur Adventure books since 1976, 45 titles with the latest one published in 2011. That's a lot of work. Even James Bond only has 40 licensed books.
Like "Sesame Street," "Arthur" has welcomed guest celebrities through its long run, among them Matt Damon, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Mr. Rogers, and Michelle Kwan.
While the debut season included 30 episodes, seasons 4-19 had 10 episodes each. And the last couple years, seasons have had three episodes. The same is true for next year's final season.
One of the great things about "Arthur" through the years is it's aired on PBS, so it's available to more families, including low-income households, by virtue of free over-the-air signals you can watch with an antenna.
That's compared to other popular kids' networks that you need cable to watch, like Nickelodeon, Cartoon Network, and Disney Channel. Arthur was available to teach all kids, regardless of whether their parents could afford a cable subscription. That's important since Arkansas had a child poverty rate of 24 percent in 2016. "Arthur" was available all the same.
We loved watching cartoons like "Tom and Jerry" and "Scooby-Doo" growing up, but neither really taught us anything. For a quarter of a century, Arthur has been teaching kids all sorts of lessons, from the importance of telling the truth to handling bullies to respecting other cultures and so much more. And you didn't have to pay a dime for the aardvark to teach your kids and grandkids. That's remarkable.
That's not to say Arkansas PBS won't be showing other great cartoons. There will still be lots of content on the educational network run out of UCA, but we're going to miss knowing our favorite aardvark with glasses is still chugging along with new episodes.
Let's just hope they keep making "Sesame Street." The world isn't ready to say goodbye to that.