Shari Lewis

A Jewish television puppeteer with a long career.

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Back to American TV

After twenty-seven years’ absence from American television, the Public Broadcasting System approached her about reviving her television show. During those twenty-seven years, Lewis says, the nature of children’s television became commercial and producers focused on age groups for the purpose of marketing products. Lamb Chop’s Play-Along, seen on PBS stations and reproduced in video, grew out of PBS interest and Lewis’s discontent with commercial television.

“The show stresses the joys of diversity,” Lewis said in a New York Times interview, with songs in languages other than English and a trio of on-air children chosen to represent an ethnic mix.

The program involves physical involvement on the part of the children and is aimed at an audience from two to ten years old. Children from the television audience join in the show. Buster the Bus and Lamb Chop’s teddy bear Mr. Bearly debuted during the second PBS season. The shows stress situations that affect children, such as not being invited to a party or feeling lonely. The shows do not preach; they demonstrate.

Lewis’s productions include the video 101 Things for Kids to Do, One Minute Bedtime Stories with brief versions of traditional tales, and Don’t Wake Your Mom, winner of the 1992 Parent’s Prize. Videos from Lamb Chop’s Play-Along television series include Action Stories in which children can participate by filling in missing words or mimicking sounds, Let’s Make Music, teaching children about music and musical instruments, and Jokes, Riddles, Knock-Knocks and Funny Poems.

The video Lamb Chop’s Special Chanukah was released in 1996 and received the Parent’s Choice award of that year.

Among her awards are twelve Emmy Awards, the Dor L’Dor award of the B’nai B’rith (1996), three Houston Film Festival awards, the Peabody Award (1960), the Silver Circle Award of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences (1996), the Film Advisory Board Award of Excellence (1996), two Charleston Film Festival Gold Awards (1995), the Houston World Festival silver and bronze awards (1995), the New York Film and Video Festival Silver Award (1995), the Monte Carlo Prize for the World’s Best Television Variety Show (1963), and the Kennedy Center annual award for excellence (1983).

Shari Lewis died of pneumonia at Cedars-Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles on August 2, 1998.

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Janet Beyer, who worked for twenty years as a journalist and columnist for local papers in Concord, Massachusetts, has contributed entries to American Women Writers and Notable American Women. She was co-author of The Great Depression: A Nation in Distress.