Celebrating 10 years of ''Blue's Clues'': Dade Hayes chats with the folks behind the children's favorite, then lists his top three episodes

By Dade Hayes
Updated August 03, 2006 at 04:00 AM EDT
Credit: Blue's Clues: Everett Collection
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Celebrating 10 years of ”Blue’s Clues”

Break out your handy-dandy notebooks: Nickelodeon’s Blue’s Clues is marking 10 years on the tube with a prime-time movie, Meet Blue’s Baby Brother, airing Aug. 6 at 8 p.m. EDT. To pay tribute to the show’s decade on the air, we thought we’d propose a a quick game of (what else?) Blue’s Clues to figure out how it has altered not only preschool television but pop culture itself.

And now: the customary three clues. (Thanks, side-table drawer!)

1) The Pause
Inspired in large part by the groundbreaking research of University of Massachusetts psychologist Daniel Anderson, the show creators left numerous gaps to be filled in by audience response. Anderson’s data showed that children actively participate in TV. (It’s not until later, apparently, when the urge to drool on the couch to America’s Got Talent kicks in.) Speaking directly into the camera, Joe (the human host) asks questions of the audience and then stays still, waiting for the answer. Early audiences jumped up and shouted out responses. ”When we saw that, we knew right away that this was going to be a signature,” co-creator Tracy Paige Johnson told ”TV gets a bad rap and it can sometimes be not a good thing. But it can also do a lot of good, and you can learn more from the medium and, when the TV is off, apply that to other areas. It can spark you to look at the world a different way.”

2) The Dog
Brown Johnson, executive creative director of Nickelodeon preschool television, confides that Blue started out as a cat. Even after becoming a dog, she remained a Gromit-like foil who bark-talks but never says full words. The idea, as with The Pause, was to encourage kids to interact verbally with Blue. Parents’ reaction was almost unanimous, Johnson says: ”’Why doesn’t the dog talk?’ That was all we heard at first.” The question has never really gone away. That’s why production of traditional episodes has been halted in favor of Blue’s Room, a puppet-based version in which Blue speaks. Introduced as an ”Elmo’s World”-like segment within Blue’s Clues, it takes center stage after the Aug. 6 disclosure of Blue’s long-lost sibling.

3) The Hosts
Imagine the hubbub in Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood if suddenly, six years into a successful run, Fred Rogers had left the show to pursue a pop music career. That gives you some sense of the crafty management job Nickelodeon pulled off in 2002 when Steven Burns, the Rogers-like solo host since the show’s debut in 1996, departed. When Donovan Patton stepped into his khakis, playing Steve’s brother Joe, who stayed behind when Steve went off to college, the show reached an emotional peak that none of its math or spelling lessons could ever equal. Burns has done just fine for himself, by the way, joining forces with members of the Flaming Lips and releasing a solo disc called Songs for Dustmites.

While you’re in your Thinking Chair, here are three personal favorite episodes, which I’ve enjoyed (many, many times) with my 3-year-old daughter, Margot.

1) ”Blue Takes You to School”
Music, the show’s underappreciated strength, takes a bow when Periwinkle overcomes anxiety on her first day of school. ”It’s time to go outside, and play, play, play!” goes one catchy mini-ditty. ”Circle time / Circle time / We can be anything as long as we’re together” goes another. When you’re not humming along, you’ll be struck by how many life lessons are deftly woven into 24 minutes in Miss Marigold’s class.

2) ”Blue Goes to the Doctor”
Any doubts about the potential of television will be dispelled by this classic. Margot, terrified like many toddlers before trips to the doctor, immediately changed her tune after seeing this. Here’s hoping for ”Blue Snacks on Carrot Sticks.”

3) ”Steve Goes to College”
It may not be the last episode of M*A*S*H, but I got plenty choked up seeing Steve’s final approach to the camera. ”Thanks again for all your help,” he said, just as he always did, only this time it would be a while before we’d see him again.

Feel free to share your favorites!

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