Thursday, November 1, 2012

Classic Comfort TV Moments: "The Littlest Lamb"

 When I coined the expression ‘Comfort TV’ for this blog, and for the book proposal where it was first conceived a few years ago, I had no idea whether it was an original phrase. Now, if you Google search that term you’ll find it has indeed been used by other writers in articles about specific shows, or about eras of television past.

There is even an “official” definition on a website called Word Spy: “Television programs with unsophisticated or homespun themes that comfort or provide solace.” I could quibble with some of that, but it will suffice as a starting point. 

Can any single moment encapsulate all that is meant by Comfort TV? Probably not. Different moments touch us for different reasons. But there are generational touchstones among the late Baby Boomers that more of us have in common than you might think.

From time to time I’ll nominate a personal favorite, starting with one first broadcast in 1963. It’s Ann-Margret’s poignant performance of “The Littlest Lamb,” from an episode of The Flintstones entitled “Ann-Margrock Presents.”

Here are all of the elements that inspire both nostalgic fondness and renewed appreciation for the artistry on display. It is a kind moment, a quiet moment, and a special moment within the confines of a beloved series with cross-generational appeal.

And it is a scene built around music, which has a more potent impact on our memory receptors. How many of us learned our multiplication tables, or the difference between nouns, verbs and adjectives, from Schoolhouse Rock? There was a time when I hadn’t watched The Flintstones in years – so when I caught this episode on Boomerang I couldn’t remember even the basics of the plot. But when the song began, I could still sing along.

What was the plot? The Bedrock Bowl concert hall is about to open, and local talent is invited to be part of a show starring Ann Margrock. Fred and Barney work up an act, and later meet “Annie” when her car breaks down near the Flintstone home.

In the finale, she sings “I Ain’t Gonna Be Your Fool No More” as Fred and Barney realize their houseguest was the famous star they hoped to meet. But it’s “The Littlest Lamb,” performed midway through the episode, that lingers most profoundly and gently in the heart.

The sole purpose of any lullaby is to convey comfort and security. As Pebbles drifts away to its calming melody and Ann-Margret’s soothing voice, the song plays over a simple but affecting dream sequence in the classic Hanna-Barbera style. The animation is evocative of nursery rhymes, and will take many of us back to our earliest television watching memories, whether it’s Sesame Street or Saturday morning cartoons. 

The scene carries a potent combination of reflective sights and sounds, and its impact is evident in the YouTube comments on the song, which has been uploaded multiple times and viewed by hundreds of thousands: “This always brings tears to my eyes”; “I loved this as a child and always felt sorry for the fourth sheep”; “I have to admit…I cried during this song”;  “Sang this to my baby girl”, and one that gives us all pause – “Wow, where has the time gone?”

I was not yet born when “The Littlest Lamb” was first performed. I doubt there have been many years since when it hasn’t appeared on television, given that The Flintstones still airs every day. The song has become one of those shared moments among a generation that grew up with the TV as babysitter, and will endure as something to share with children and grandchildren at bedtime, something to help them conjure happy thoughts to make the darkness a little less scary. That is the essence of Comfort TV.


  1. Another superb post, David. Your blog brings back all the cozy feelings of a bygone (but not byforgotten : ) era in TV history.

  2. Thank you Chris!

    "Byforgotten"? You've been watching Chrissie too long.