Nickelodeon is whistling for one of TV’s most famous dogs to come home and win over a new generation of kiddie viewers.
It’s not Rin-Tin-Tin or Lassie, nor it is Brian Griffin or Triumph the Insult Comic Dog. The Viacom-owned kids-media outlet will instead revive Blue, the animated hound who used to leave problem-solving hints for years on “Blue’s Clues,” a seminal series for preschoolers that helped fuel growth at Nickelodeon in a different era. Nickelodeon has ordered 20 new episodes of the series and is likely to air them on its Nick Jr. cable network aimed at preschoolers.
“It’s actually never gone away,” said Cyma Zarghami, president of Viacom’s Nickelodeon Group, in an interview. The series continues to air past episodes in different international markets and via Noggin, a subscription-video service Nickelodeon operates. “The format of the show works pretty well, and I don’t think they are going to mess with it that much.”
Doing so would ruin what is likely a pleasant memory for many. Early viewers of “Blue’s Clues” are in their twenties now and may have kids of their own, said Angela Santomero, an original producer of the series who will return to supervise its latest incarnation. “Blue’s Clues” debuted in 1996, and featured Blue and the show’s host, Steve Burns, taking their viewers on a journey that had them searching for hints and making use of a “Thinking Chair” that would help them learn skills like sorting and patterning and pre-elementary school literacy. The program became such a part of kids’ culture that Burns’ retirement from the program in 2002 – and his replacement by actor Donovan Patton – drew national attention. A spin-off, “Blue’s Room,” centered on the canine character, ran between 2004 and 2007.
Producers are hoping for a similar phenomenon in this go-round. A host has yet to be identified, said Santomero, in an interview, and the choice will hinge on how well that person connects with the show’s young audience. Part of the appeal of the “Blue’s Clues” host in the past has been their ability to talk to viewers at home and get them to continue to pay attention as the program’s narrative unfurls. Many preschooler favorites are presented “magazine-style,” with a collection of short segments, but “Blue’s Clues” stood apart from the pack because it took viewers through a storyline from start to finish.
“We are going to pass the torch,” said Santomero of the search for a new host. “What’s going to be more important than who that person is is that they can really connect to the home viewers.”
Producers will tweak the show very slightly for modern viewers. Blue looks a little different than she did after the first run ended, for example. She will look more three-dimensional and appear “even furrier and more huggable,” said the producer. And the show will have 30 seconds to 60 seconds shorter to accommodate advertising and network promos.. But reworking the premise in radical fashion would not spark the reaction executives want, said Santomero. “There’s an inherent nostalgia from our audience,” she said. “I think they will probably be passionate about protecting it and making sure we do it right.”
This isn’t the first youthful franchise Nickelodeon has revived in recent years. In November, the company retooled the series “Hey Arnold!” with a movie that wrapped up unresolved plot lines from the series, which aired between 1996 and 2004. In 2016, the network revived “Legends of the Hidden Temple,” a mid-nineties game show, with a movie that took them, much like the original program, through a jungle-themed obstacle course.
The reboots tend to serve two functions. Nickelodeon can lure fans of the programming to venues like NickSplat, a nightly programming block of classic kids’ programming that airs on the TeenNick cable network. But it can also lure the children of these fans, who may be inclined to get the next generation hooked on new versions of their old favorites. “Once they are loved that way, they just keep coming up in conversation,” said Zarghami.
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