October 1992 - 'Storytime,' KCET's First Major Children's Series, Debuts

Mara and Kino from Storytime
'Storytime' characters Kino (left) and Mara (right) read a book in their popular children's series focusing on reading and family literacy. | Photo: Mitzi Trumbo

On October 11, 1992, "Storytime," the popular, star-studded KCET children's series focusing on reading, made its debut.

A gift from the Helen and Peter Bing Foundation helped produce KCET's first major children's program, featuring Kino, a puppet character in the form of an 8 year-old boy (voiced and performed by Mark Ritts) and his human friend Mara (Marabina Jaimes) reading children's books aloud to kids. Utilizing KCET's connections to Hollywood, special guest star friends from the world of television and film, such as Fred Savage, John Ritter, Ellen DeGeneris, John Goodman, Laura Dern, Angela Bassett, Salma Hayek, Ed Asner, Ming-Na Wen, and Jason Alexander, among many others, read aloud to the children too.

The series, which instantly garnered high ratings, wasn't just about celebrities reading books to kids, it was designed to appeal to children and parents alike and encourage them to share the wonders of reading, literature, and storytelling. The show had its own Board of Advisors who reviewed each of the books read on the show, and identified exciting stories with situations and characters that children from preschool to the 2nd grade can relate to and care about. And true to its Southern California origins, the books, children, and celebrities reflected cultural diversity.

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In September 1994, PBS picked up "Storytime" and premiered the show to a nationwide audience, under the name "Kino's Storytime" -- which was the exact same program, save for the show's title. An additional regular cast member, an older human character named Lucy (played by Anne Betancourt), was introduced. The show became the first major PBS children's series to be produced by KCET. It was also a hit in other markets, where it was scheduled in the same programming block with "Sesame Street" and "Barney and Friends."

The show also had an extensive community outreach strategy, which also included live "Storytime" book-reading appearances by Kino, Mara, and Lucy to children and families in libraries, shopping malls, schools, and hospitals across Southern California.

Though not explicitly presented in the show, the series took place in Southern California and depicted several Latino cultural influences and references (while avoiding stereotypes), from Latina cast members Jaimes and Betancourt, to the Latin-influenced theme music, to the Kino character himself - a brown-skinned puppet who began the show with the greeting, "What's the story, amigos?"

Both the local "Storytime" and PBS' "Kino's Storytime" aired until 1997.

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