As I’ve said previously in myÂ Gullah Gullah IslandÂ review, Nick Jr. was slowly getting recognition as the network for good quality preschool shows. But around the early 90’s, they hadn’t had that big hit yet that made them stand out compared to the programs they were showing on PBS. At the time, PBS was the #1 channel for preschool programs. It was hard staying on top trying to top PBS since they had that reputation of producing and releasing excellent pre-school programs for over 20 years. At the time, Nick Jr. either had okay to mediocre kids’ shows likeÂ Gullah Gullah IslandÂ andÂ Allegra’s WindowÂ orÂ animated preschool shows based on books such asÂ Little Bear, The Busy World of Richard Scarry,Â andÂ Rupert.Â It needed a show that was both educational for kids, but something fresh, new, engaging, and a standout compared to all the other preschool shows that every other network were showing at the time.
It wasn’t going to be easy since I previously mentioned in myÂ Gullah Gullah IslandÂ review that around the early 90’s, the majority of preschool shows were considered too childish, too preachy, and too degrading for children’s minds. But around September 8, 1996, one kids’ show changed not only the reputation of Nick Jr. but what a kids’ show should be in general. That show was no other thanÂ Blue’s Clues.
The show is about a young man named Steve who lives in a small house with his dog Blue and his friends of various amounts of inanimate objects. Whenever Blue wants something, she leaves her paw print on the screen to emphasize that she wants to play a game called “Blue’s Clues”. Steve would then clean the paw print and retrieve his “handy, dandy notebook” from his sidetable named Side Table Drawer. Then he would explain to the viewers on how to play “Blue’s Clue’s” via song.
Simply Blue would leave a paw print on an item indicating that that would be a clue. Then Steve would draw the clue in his notebook. There are three clues and in the end, he sits on his thinking chair and thinks about what Blue wants.
However, during the middle of each episode, Steve and Blue would interact with his friends around the house. They would be needing assistance with something and Steve would be asking the viewers their help to assist his friends. It would be simple tasks that a preschooler can do like finding all the square shape items or the names of the planets or what objects are red or blue. It was both engaging, educational, and fun at the same time. Steve would always thank the viewers for being so smart.
Then afterwards, Steve would get mail from the mailbox simply called Mailbox. It was called Mail Time. But he didn’t simply walk outside and retrieve the mail, no. He would always sing a song about getting the mail before Mailbox would arrive.
After reading the mail, Blue would do a segment called “Blue Skidoo” in which she jumped on a painting, a book, or a frame containing people made of felt. Then Steve would “Blue Skidoo” and find various characters needing help. Steve, Blue, and the viewers would work together to help the characters with their problems.
Around this time, Steve would find the final clue, sit on his thinking chair, and solve what Blue wants.
Then they would do that activity, Steve would thank them, and sing the final song saying goodbye.
The show was created by Traci Paige Johnson, Todd Kessler, and Angela C. Santomero. They had been working onÂ Blue’s CluesÂ since 1994 when they were called to create a new program for kids by Nickelodeon executive Brown Johnson. They were simply called the “green creative team”. Taking inspirations from other kids’ shows likeÂ Sesame Street, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood,Â andÂ Pee-wee’s Playhouse,Â they had decided to create something similar, but at the same time fresh and new. They wanted the educational curriculum fromÂ Sesame Street,Â the pace and short pauses fromÂ Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood,Â and the creative artistry, a loving host who was a childish man, the inanimate objects coming to life, and jumping into a different place similar toÂ Pee-wee’s Playhouse.Â It was not an easy task.
“It was something different, and it was scary to present it to Nickelodeon. But they are big on research and they understood the power of hearing from our audience to create programming strategy. WithÂ Blue’s Clues,Â we make decisions based on the research”, said Santomero in a 1999 interview with Teachers College Columbia University.Â
They wanted to include many formats intoÂ Blue’s CluesÂ that made it stand out compared to the other preschool shows that were airing at the time. The first thing the creators discussed was what were the main educational goals they wanted to flesh out. The main thing they wanted to show kids was to feel empowered and gain a good self-esteem. They wanted children to feel smart and feel accomplished whenever they helped Steve with a problem that he couldn’t solve by himself.Â
“The learning aspect is embedded in what children do,” Santomero explained. “The older character needs their help with a problem.” The problems are relatively easy in the beginning of the show, she explained, with each one becoming a little bit harder. “By the third clue, we are sitting in a big thinking chair and have brought preschoolers through a 30-minute show remembering clues.”
Shows likeÂ Sesame StreetÂ were formatted for kids who had very short attention spans. They would be made in different segments to do their teachings like the number and letter of the day, shapes, colors, emotions, and more. That format was called the magazine format and it was done by almost every single kids’ show. Â ButÂ Blue’s CluesÂ did something completely different by having Steve in a one-way conversation with the viewers and letting them participate in their tasks and games to gain their attentions and feel like they’ve accomplished something. It was called the narrative format and it was never done before in any other kids’ show at that point.
“The choice forÂ Blue’s CluesÂ became to tell one story, beginning to end, camera moving left-to-right like reading a storybook, transitions from scene to scene as obvious as the turning of a page”, replied by Jon Weisman in a 2006 article in Variety Magazine.Â
There was also another format that they wanted to not include that was very prominent inÂ Sesame Street,Â the use of modern pop culture references for the adults. Not only was this confusing for the preschoolers, but it also outdates the show a little bit with people that kids watching it for the first time wouldn’t know who they were and why they were there in the first place.Â Blue’s CluesÂ got rid of that completely, with the exception of a few special episodes like “Blue’s Birthday”. Similar toÂ Pee-wee’s Playhouse, Blue’s CluesÂ did not include these references which would eventually make the show timeless years later compared to older episodes ofÂ Sesame Street.Â
One of the key things that they needed to do perfectly was who was going to be the host ofÂ Blue’s Clues.Â The host needed to be fun, friendly, and engaging to the viewing audience. After over 1,000 auditions and months of research, they had chosen an actor named Steve Burns. However, at first, he didn’t want to do it. He never saw himself as a children’s host. In fact, he was pursuing his career as a serious actor and musician. But when the creators showed a demo of Steve to a bunch of preschoolers, they loved him right away.
“What made Burns a great children’s host was that ‘he didn’t want to be a children’s host … He loved kids, but he didn’t want to make a career out of it”, replied Johnson.Â
“When the show first started no one knew what to expect. I thought the show was brilliant, in a sort of punk rock, kill-your-tv short of way, but I certainly didn’t anticipate a phenomenon. No one did.Â Looking back, it was (is) a fascinating experience. An honor and a privilege”, Burns said in a 2003 interview with hipmama.com.Â
The green striped shirt that Steve wore was inspired by Fruit Stripe gum. The shirt, the beige pants, and his brown shoes were used to simplify his character. Today his clothes are just as iconic as Mr. Rogers’ cardigan sweater, jacket, and sneakers or Pee-wee Herman’s gray glen plaid suit, red bow tie, and white loafers.
When the show debuted, it was an instant hit! It was unlike any other preschool show that was airing at the time. It was engaging, fun, captivating, fresh, and new. Many parents, psychologists, teachers, and professors were amazed by it. Writer David Handelman called it “one of those rare instances when commercial television is both creative and educational without sacrificing entertainment value.”
In three years,Â Blue’s CluesÂ became the most watched preschool show on television, even beatingÂ Sesame Street.Â It had sold over $40 million dollars in VHS/DVD episodes, $1 billion dollars worth of merchandise, 10 millionÂ Blue’s CluesÂ books, and 3 million copies of their musical movieÂ Blue’s Big Musical.Â In 2002,Â Blue’s CluesÂ had received many awards for “excellence in children’s programing, educational software, and licensing” and it was nominated for 9 Emmys.Â Blue’s CluesÂ had put Nick Jr. on the map.
However, as time went on, Steve Burns wanted to pursue in a singing career and no longer wanted to be a children’s host despite his popularity. In 2002, Steve left the show saying that he was going to college and a new character, his little brother Joe (played by Donovan Patton) took over.
He was similar to Steve except that instead of a green striped shirt, he wore square shirts in different colors. He was also more lively and charismatic, but it wasn’t the same. It didn’t feel right for the viewers who grew up with the originalÂ Blue’s Clues.Â The ratings slightly dropped afterwards. Around 2004,Â Blue’s CluesÂ created its first spinoff calledÂ Blue’s Room.Â It was about Blue entering into a book and interacting with new characters never before seen in the show. One thing that made it completely different fromÂ Blue’s CluesÂ was that she can talk. The spinoff only lasted for two seasons ending its run in 2007. While it did garner attention, it wasn’t the gigantic hit thatÂ Blue’s CluesÂ was.
The show lasted for almost 10 years ending its run on August 6, 2006.Â I was 10 years old whenÂ Blue’s CluesÂ aired, so I was too old to see it. But everywhere I turned, it wasÂ Blue’s CluesÂ mania! All the preschoolers through 2nd graders couldn’t get enough of it, but I withheld from watching it since I knew I was going to be teased by the other kids if they knew I was watching it. It wasn’t until many years later in college when I was watching various amounts of kids’ shows for a project I was doing for a teaching course. I had really liked it and seeing it from an adult’s point of view, it was great for kids teaching them many things and making them feel like they were smart.
As for Steve Burns, he has pursued in his music career as an indie singer working with many bands such as They Might Be Giants, The Flaming Lips, Sparklehouse, and Elf Power. James from Manic Expression had reviewed one of his CDs saying that it’s highly recommended to listen and I do too. Check it out sometime.
Also, check out this interview that he did with The Moth in 2010 about fame. It’s very interesting.
Overall, if you have a young child of your own, I would highly recommend checking outÂ Blue’s Clues.Â It’s engaging, fun, captivating, and overall timeless.
That’s all for now. Hope to see you around Old School Lane soon.