1023: Late-Night PBS

Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
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Late-Night PBS
Then it switched to these old black-and-white tapes of Bob Ross slumped against the wall of an empty room, painting the least happy trees you've ever seen. Either PBS needs to beef up studio security or I need to stop using Ambien to sleep.
Title text: Then it switched to these old black-and-white tapes of Bob Ross slumped against the wall of an empty room, painting the least happy trees you've ever seen. Either PBS needs to beef up studio security or I need to stop using Ambien to sleep.


Ambox notice.png This explanation may be incomplete or incorrect: Clean up title text explanation, remove redundant or unhelpfull information from subsections (especially additional details), check for grammar and spelling
If you can address this issue, please edit the page! Thanks.

This comic is a joke about how some things are not how you remember them due to as a kid, due to complex subtext or naivety, taken to a humorous extreme, with a specific reference to television programs for children.

PBS is a television station known for high brow and educational programming, it is often an outlet for BBC programming in the US. The show "Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego" was a lighthearted educational game show that was canceled in the 90's. In the show players follow geography based clues to find out where a master criminal, Carmen Sandiego, is going, and catch her. After catching or failing to catch Carmen Sandiego the chef would congratulate or encourage you. Rockapella was an a cappella band featured on the show that gave clues, punctuated the show with humor, and closed the show.

Megan recounts the story about her surprise as to the nature of programming on late night PBS to Cuball. She claims to have fallen asleep after watching Downton Abbey and woken up to see that Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego is still making new episodes, but is significantly darker then she remembers it. The host has grown older, he would be 50 when the comic was written, and developed a drinking problem, the locations the child contestants visit are traumatizing, and the children are clearly freaked out. In the end they find Carmen Sandiego hiding behind a Dutch bookcase, an allusion to "The Diary of Anne Frank", thus implying that the kids have been working as investigators trying to find the locations of Jews for the Nazis. The Chief admonishes the children for there actions and Rockapella glares at the children disapprovingly until the children break down into tears.

After completing her story Cuball's remarks that he did not remember the show being that dark, in response to Cuball's statement Megan replies that as kids neither of them could probably understand on the darker subtext of the show. It is true that some programs intended for children often have subtle themes for adults who may be watching the show with their children that the children do not usually remember or pick up on. The joke being that although children viewers may not be able to pick up on everything, there is no way that a child would not notice if a show was as dark as previously described.

Bob Ross had a painting show on PBS and was known to describe components of his painting as "Happy little" objects. Ambien a prescription sleep aid, can cause are vivid dreams and hallucinations. Thus, the joke in the title text is that Randall/Megan isn't sure if this is hallucinating from taking Ambien (thus giving an alternate explanation for the changes to the programming), or if something horrible has happened because PBS's security staff isn't large enough.

Locations visited

Mogadishu is a battle-torn city in Somalia, where there was the aptly named "Battle of Mogadishu" in 1993, which would coincide with the air dates of "Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego" game show.

The Killing Fields are a number of sites in Cambodia where large numbers of people were killed and buried by the Khmer Rouge regime, during its rule of the country from 1975 to 1979, immediately after the end of the Cambodian Civil War (1970-1975).

The reference to "A Bookshelf in a Dutch Apartment" is a reference to Anne Frank, who was a Jewish girl who hid from the Nazis in a Secret Annex hidden behind a bookshelf in an apartment in Amsterdam, Netherlands. She wrote the famous diary, Diary of Anne Frank.

Carmen Sandiego

"Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego" was a computer game series in the mid-80s. Carmen Sandiego was a mysterious character that you tracked around the globe, attempting to find clues to find out where she was headed to next. The point of the series was to learn about geography and the world while having fun. The series moved to a game-show TV series in the early 1990s from 1991 to 1995. The role of The Chief was played by Lynne Thigpen, a role she played in all 3 computer games (Where in the USA, Where in the World, and Where in Time Is Carmen Sandiego) and both TV shows (Where in Time and Where in the World). She was responsible for telling the detectives (sleuths) what had been stolen, which of Carmen's thieves was suspected of stealing it, and some relevant information about their last whereabouts (effectively, telling the sleuths what their mission was). Whenever the detectives would catch a thief (or Carmen), she would appear and congratulate them or console them if Carmen got away.

TV Show

The host of the TV show was Greg Lee. When the show originally aired, Greg was in his late 20s/early 30s. His job was to ask the questions of the contestants and tell them which flags to plant on the map in the final round, as well as engage in silly situations with The Chief and Rockapella to keep the show moving and provide clues.

The show was split into 3 rounds. In the first round, there were 3 sleuths. Each question they got right gave them additional points. The top 2 scoring sleuths moved onto the next round, where they had to play a game (like the game Memory) where they had to find the thief, warrant, and loot in the correct order. Whichever sleuth did so captured the thief, saved the loot, and moved onto the next round, where they had a chance to catch Carmen Sandiego herself. Success was not always guaranteed in this round, as contestants had to plant flags correct on 7 different countries in a continent within a very short time period. If the sleuth was successfully able to do this, they captured Carmen and won the grand prize (a trip to a place of their choosing in the continental US). If not, Carmen would escape and the sleuth would win a lesser prize (like a computer).


Rockapella was the 'A cappella' group (keeping up the tradition of punny names for a cappella groups) which sang the theme song to "Where in The World Is Carmen Sandiego." 'A cappella' is a loan word from Italian meaning "in the manner of the Church" hearkening back to Gregorian chant; in the 19th century the term evolved to mean any vocalization without accompaniment. In the TV version of Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego, Rockapella also acted as a "house band" of sorts, singing songs while the contestants transitioned between events, providing clues, playing pranks on Greg Lee, etc. At the end of each show, Greg Lee and the episode's winning contestant would shout "Do it, Rockapella!" at which point the band would sing the shows theme song.

Additional Details

One continuity issue in this comic is that the places they have to visit in this episode seem to require traveling to different periods in time (1993, 1975-1979, 1940s, respectively). Episodes of Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego usually did not deal with this — this is what the TV show Where in Time Is Carmen Sandiego (the successor to Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego, albeit with a different house band and a different host) did.

PBS stands for Public Broadcasting Service and is an American TV broadcaster that is predominantly supported by the viewers themselves through pledge drives. It often runs (and sometimes co-produces) acclaimed British costume dramas, including the mentioned Downton Abbey.

This comic is not the first time a host of one of the Carmen Sandiego TV shows was mocked and shown as drinking on the job; Robot Chicken showed a similar scenario with the host of Where in Time Is Carmen Sandiego in 2010 (link — the voice of the host in the skit is the voice of the actual host from Where in Time is Carmen Sandiego).

SpongeBob SquarePants and The Fairly OddParents are other examples of shows that have hidden meanings in things for the adults watching the show with their children.

Bob Ross was a famous painter with a painting show on PBS called "The Joy of Painting" that ran for 12 years.

Ambien, also known as Zoldipem, is a prescription medication used for the treatment of insomnia, as well as some brain disorders.


[Megan is rubbing sleep out of her eyes and talking to Cueball.]
Megan: Have you ever watched PBS late at night?
Megan: I fell asleep after Downton and woke up at like 3 AM.
[The upper portion of the panel continues dialogue, while the lower shows a drunk gameshow host and several contestants. The monitor shows a field of crosses, presumably graves.]
Megan: Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego was back on, except the host hadn't aged well and he'd clearly been drinking.
Megan: Every question took them to some horrible place like Mogadishu or the Cambodian killing fields.
[Now it shows a bookshelf revealing a hidden room.]
Megan: The kids were freaked out, but they kept playing. Eventually they were told they'd found Carmen Sandiego hiding behind a bookshelf in a Dutch apartment.
Megan: The Chief appeared and asked "Are you proud of what you've become?"
Megan: Then Rockapella walked out and just glared at the kids until they started crying.
Cueball: I, uh, don't remember the old show being that dark.
Megan: Maybe we were too young to pick up on it.

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I still remember playing the Carmen San Diego educatonal games. Oh, good, good days. Davidy22[talk] 13:17, 18 February 2013 (UTC)

Now I know why my copy was glitchy... Anonymous 17:20, 5 December 2013 (UTC)

The show is Downton Abbey, not Downtown Abbey. I feel like if I actually edit it the strip Randall made about that very annoyance will win. (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

So, it has come to this. (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

I've just gone through the whole explanation, correcting spelling and grammar. As I went I fixed other issues, so it's not JUST spelling and grammar - I've updated links, reworded sections, and revised sentence order. I think we can remove the Incomplete tag now, but in light of the heavy editing and the low activity this explanations receives, I'll leave it a week or so for comments before I do so. Cosmogoblin (talk) 14:36, 9 July 2015 (UTC)

Thanks for cleaning up my mess. 19:36, 12 July 2015 (UTC)

I would like to suggest for someone to edit the explanation for this comic. The killing fields were created in the time period mentioned, however they still exist to this day, so Carmen Sandiego could *easily* have gone there. However, not stepping on a landmine might have proved to be a problem. I am not editing it personally because it's a really big explanation and I'm fairly busy at the moment. Znayx (talk) 19:45, 20 March 2016 (UTC)