The Fate of ‘Barney’ Dominates Discussion at PBS Meeting

By Mark Walsh — August 05, 1992 2 min read

The Public Broadcasting Service will add several new children’s shows to its schedule next fall, including a literacy series for 7- to 10-year-olds from the producers of “Sesame Street’’ and an arts series hosted by the comedy and magic performers Penn and Teller.

But station managers at public television’s annual meeting here in June seemed more interested in PBS’s decision not to renew “Barney & Friends,’' a show for preschool children about a purple dinosaur.

“Barney,’' based on a children’s-video series, is a giant stuffed toy-come-to-life who helps an ethnically mixed group of children learn concepts such as nutrition, friendship, and safety. The half-hour daily show, which premiered in April, proved to be popular among the preschool set and their parents, said several station managers who were upset about the cancellation.

By one ratings measurement, the show tied with the venerable “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood’’ as the second-most-viewed children’s program on PBS, behind “Sesame Street.’'

By the end of the convention, PBS executives said they would re-examine their decision to cancel the show.

Earlier, the executives had said that “Barney & Friends’’ was the loser in a competition for scarce programming dollars between it and two other children’s series--"Lamb Chop’s Play-Along’’ and “Shining Time Station.’'

PBS in early June committed $1.7 million for “Lamb Chop,’' which also premiered this year and features the puppeteer Shari Lewis. “Shining Time Station,’' about a mythical small-town train depot featuring the comedian George Carlin, was awarded $2.2 million.

Mitchell Semel, PBS’s vice president for programming, told station executives that the three shows were funded for the 1991-92 season with the hope that one would emerge as the clear favorite. But all three drew strong ratings.

Connecticut Public Television, which co-produced the “Barney’’ show, sought $2.3 million from PBS, roughly half of the annual production cost.

Larry Rifkin, the executive vice president for programming at C.P.T., said the producers had begun to look for an underwriter to keep the series on the air.

Two New Shows

In addition to “Lamb Chop’’ and “Shining Time Station,’' PBS has earmarked funds for “Sesame Street,’' “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood,’' and “Reading Rainbow.’' “Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?,’' a geography game show that made its debut last fall, received $3.5 million for the next season and has been renewed for 1993.

The network will add two new children’s series this fall:

“Ghostwriter,’' a weekly series from the Children’s Television Workshop that begins on Oct. 4, revolves around a ghost who helps six children solve mysteries by using words and letters.

The show also includes supporting features such as paperback books, mini-magazines, and a teacher’s guide.

“Behind the Scenes,’' a 10-episode series to instill creative-thinking skills that begins on Sept. 8, then moves to Saturdays beginning Sept. 12. The half-hour show features the magicians Penn and Teller leading children through artistic pursuits such as painting, sculpture, music, and dance.

Beginning next winter, PBS will offer its own information show for teenagers, “In the Mix.’' The show will deals with issues such as AIDS and peer pressure.

By the fall of 1996, PBS plans a new half-hour series for school-age children and will explore more programming tailored for teenagers.

A version of this article appeared in the August 05, 1992 edition of Education Week as The Fate of ‘Barney’ Dominates Discussion at PBS Meeting