Seeing Liz's piece on horrifying Canadian PSAs made me think about stuff on TV that freaked me out when I was a kid — not necessarily horror movies or other things that were intended to be scary, but stuff that was so weird or ill-conceived that it ended up being absolutely terrifying. There's a great website called kindertrauma that catalogs items from popular culture that freaked its readers out when they were kids; what's interesting is that at least half of it is stuff from commercials, cartoons, and educational shows that the creators probably didn't think of as particularly frightening when they were making them.
Take this vintage Sesame Street clip from early in the show's run. It starts out pretty normal, with Kermit teaching kids about the letter B. And about halfway through, a monster shows up, and there's some comic tension. Here it's the Beautiful Day Monster, who is not all that cute or lovable, frankly, but in later years it would probably be Grover or Cookie Monster, and then there'd be some sort of clever payoff, though neither of them were established characters at this point. And if you were a kid watching the show in the mid-'70s, when Children's Television Workshop would often show older bits mixed in with newer episodes, you knew the formula pretty well, and expected some sort of clever denouement, even if you didn't know what that was. (Note: I still don't know what denouement means.) But here it just goes into a place of almost Lovecraftian darkness. I'm not even really sure how to interpret the last fifteen seconds. Must've been some bad 'shrooms going around the CTW studio that afternoon.
Sesame Street was still pretty safe, though, especially once you got past the earlier shows with Meth Grover or Feral Cookie. For me, the weirdest and freakiest kids' show on educational TV when I was growing up was The Clyde Frog Show, which was terrifying for a number of reasons: the impressionable, not-very-bright hero often found himself in genuinely life-threatening situations, there was an entire episode devoted to goddamned tornadoes, and all the characters inhabited a black lifeless void. Even as a kid, seeing Clyde and his friends unwittingly embrace tragedy evoked in me a sense of Beckettian despair. Yet I couldn't look away.
What are your formative TV traumas that most adults probably thought of as cute and innocent?