|Format||Children's television series|
|Created by||Traci Paige Johnson
|Starring||Steven Burns (1996–2002)
Donovan Patton (2002–2006)
|Country of origin||United States|
|No. of seasons||11|
|No. of episodes||143 (List of episodes)|
|Running time||30 minutes|
|Original run||September 8, 1996– August 6, 2006|
Blue's Clues is an American children's television show airing on the Nickelodeon family of channels. The show premiered on September 8, 1996 and continues to air today, although production of new episodes ceased by 2006. Versions of the show have been produced in other countries, most notably in the United Kingdom. It was created by a "green team" of producers, Todd Kessler, Angela Santomero, and Traci Paige Johnson, who used concepts learned from child development and early-childhood education research to create a television show that would capture preschool children's attention and help them learn. They used the narrative format in their presentation of material, as opposed to the more traditional magazine format, and structured every episode the same way.
The result, Blue's Clues, has been called "one of the most successful, critically acclaimed, and ground-breaking preschool television series of all time". Author Malcolm Gladwell called the show "perhaps the 'stickiest'—meaning the most irresistible and involving—television show ever". Its innovative use of research, technology, and interactive content has influenced its genre since its debut, including the "gold standard of preschool TV programs" that inspired it, Sesame Street. It became the highest-rated show for preschoolers on commercial television, and received nine Emmy awards. Its efficacy in teaching children using the medium of television has been documented in research studies.
In 1993, Nickelodeon assigned a team of its own producers to create a new television program in the US for young children, using research on early childhood education and the viewing habits of preschoolers. Their goal was to invent a children's television program that would "empower preschoolers to learn through active participation in activities that are grounded in their everyday lives, to redefine the approach to problem-solving for preschoolers in an engaging manner. The producers, Todd Kessler, Angela Santomero and Traci Paige Johnson (whom Brown Johnson, executive creative director at Nickelodeon, called a "green creative team"), were influenced by Sesame Street but wanted to utilize research performed during the 30 years since it debuted. "We wanted to learn from Sesame Street and take it one step further," Angela Santomero said.
Based on research of theorists such as Daniel Anderson of the University of Massachusetts (who served as a consultant for Blue's Clues), the producers set out to develop a show that took advantage of children being intellectually and behaviorally active when watching television. Research since Sesame Street changed how attention span in young children was perceived. Sesame Street was developed with the understanding that children have short attention spans, so the show was designed in a magazine-like format, in which each episode was made up of a variety of segments. Until then, children's educational television programs presented their content in a one-way conversation, but Blue's Clues revolutionized the genre by inviting their viewers' involvement. Its creators believed that if children were more involved in the action of what they were viewing, they would attend to its content longer than previously expected, up to a half hour, and learn more. They also dropped the traditional magazine format for a narrative format. "... The choice for Blue's Clues 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." Every episode of Blue's Clues was structured in this way. Its pace was deliberate and its material was presented clearly. One way this was done was in the use of pauses—"long enough to give the youngest time to think, short enough for the oldest not to get bored."
The production of Blue's Clues was based upon research that showed that television could be a "powerful educational agent" because for most American children, it was an accessible medium and a "powerful cultural artifact". Since television programs tell stories through pictures, the potential for episodic learning was high. Television, using film techniques, was able to present information from multiple perspectives, in a variety of "real world" contexts (i.e., situations within the daily experiences of young children), and that television could be an effective method of scientific education for young children. The creators wanted to provide their viewers with more "authentic learning opportunities" by placing problem-solving tasks in the context of storytelling techniques, by slowly increasing the difficulty of these tasks, and by inviting their direct involvement.
The show's creators encouraged participation with their use of repetition. At first, Nickelodeon aired the same episode daily for five days before showing the next one. In field tests, the attention and comprehension of young viewers increased with each repeated viewing. Repetition was built into the structure of each episode; for example, "in an episode called 'Blue's Predictions,' the show's human host, Joe, says some variation of the word 'predict' around 15 times."
In the summer of 1994, Kessler, Santomero, and Johnson met at the Nickelodeon studios to develop Blue's Clues. At first, the character Blue was a cat and the name of the show was "Blue's Prints." Blue became a dog only because Nickelodeon was already producing a show about a cat. Kessler handled the production aspect of the show, Santomero research, and Johnson the animation and design. The creators understood that the show's look and visual design would be integral to the attachment children would have to the show. Johnson utilized simple cut-out shapes of familiar objects with a wide variety of colors and textures to resemble a storybook. She hired artist Dave Palmer to develop what was at that time a new technology—creating the animation from simple materials like fabric, paper or pipe-cleaners and then scanning them into a computer so that they could be animated without repeatedly re-drawing them like in traditional animation. The result was something that looked different from anything else on television at the time, and they were able to animate their shows in less time compared to traditional methods, eight weeks for two episodes as opposed to sixteen weeks for one.
Another innovative aspect of the production process of Blue's Clues was the producers' use of research. By 2001, the research team consisted of Alice Wilder, Alison Sherman, Karen Leavitt, and Koshi Dhingra; Wilder was head of the show's research department and a member of the team that developed it after the premiere aired. The research team field tested every episode three times before putting it on air, as compared to Sesame Street, which tested a third of its episodes once, after they were completed. In their tests at preschools before the premiere, the show was "immediately successful."
Another key to the success of Blue's Clues was casting. According to Traci Paige Johnson, she was cast as Blue's voice because out of the show's crew, she sounded the most like a dog. Nick Balaban, who, along with Michael Rubin, wrote the music for the show, was cast as the voice of Mr. Salt. (Balabin reported that Mr. Salt was not originally French; he spoke with a Brooklyn accent.)
The most important casting was that of the host, the only human character in the show. After over 100 auditions and months of research, the producers hired actor/performer Steve Burns, who remained on Blue's Clues for seven years and was in over one hundred episodes, until he left to pursue a musical career in 2002. As Johnson said, "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.'" Burns himself stated, tongue-in-cheek, "I knew I wasn't gonna be doing children's television all my life, mostly because I refused to lose my hair on a kid's TV show, and it was happenin'—fast."
Burns' departure caused a resurface of the rumors that had circulated about him since 1998. As Burns said, "The rumor mill surrounding me has always been really strange." These "specious claims" included dying from a heroin overdose, being run over by a car, and being replaced, like Paul McCartney of The Beatles, by a look-alike. Some viewers claimed that "clues" regarding Burns' demise were placed within the show. Burns made an appearance on The Rosie O'Donnell Show to dispute these rumors, and he and co-creator Angela Santomero appeared on Today to help parents assuage the fears of children who might have heard the rumors.
Burns was replaced by Donovan Patton, who was subjected to the same kind of scrutiny to earn the job. "We saw Steve Burns' retirement from the show as a chance to put Blue's Clues on a new course," Johnson said.
The format of each episode of Blue's Clues is the same.
Steve, the host, presents the audience with a puzzle involving Blue, the animated dog ... To help the audience unlock the puzzle, Blue leaves behind a series of clues, which are objects marked with one of her paw prints. In between the discovery of the clues, Steve plays a series of games—mini-puzzles—with the audience that are thematically related to the overall puzzle ... As the show unfolds, Steve and Blue move from one animated set to another, jumping through magical doorways, leading viewers on a journey of discovery, until, at the end of the story, Steve returns to the living room. There, at the climax of the show, he sits down in a comfortable chair to think—a chair known, of course, in the literal world of Blue's Clues, as the Thinking Chair. He puzzles over Blue's three clues and attempts to come up with the answer.
Blue's Clues premiered on September 8, 1996. It was a "smash hit," largely due to the intensive and extensive research its producers employed. Within eighteen months of its premiere, "virtually 100% of preschoolers' parents knew about Blue's Clues", an awareness comparable to "top-tier" shows like the 30-year old Sesame Street. It became the highest-rated show for preschoolers on commercial television; by 2002; 13.7 million viewers tuned in each week. In 2000, the show had generated over $1 billion in licensing products. It has received numerous awards for excellence in children's programming, educational software, and licensing, and has received nine Emmy nominations. More than ten million Blue's Clues books were in print by 2001, and over three million copies of six CD-ROM titles based on the show were sold.
Much of the credit for the success of Blue's Clues can be given to Steve Burns, the show's original host. Burns became "a superstar" among his audience and their parents, but unknown to everyone else, and enjoyed what he called "micro-celebrity, about as small a celebrity as you can be." As the New York Times reported, he "developed an avid following among both preteen girls and mothers. The former send torrents of e-mail; the latter scrutinize the show with an intensity that might make even Elmo, the red Muppet, blush." In 2000, People Magazine included Burns in their annual list of America's most eligible bachelors. Burns was "very involved" with the production of Blue's Clues from the beginning, first becoming a creative consultant and by 2000, a producer.
Blue's Clues allowed other countries outside of the U.K. to produce their own versions of the show. It was a run-away hit in the U.K., and has become part of pop culture in Korea. The "dubbed" American version is shown in over sixty countries. It was also one of the first preschool shows to incorporate American Sign Language into its content. Approximately seven signs were used consistently in each episode.
The show's extensive use of research in its development and production process inspired several research projects that have provided evidence for its efficacy as a learning tool. In 2000, four studies, funded by Nickelodeon and the University of Alabama, researched the impact of Blue's Clues on its young viewers. When repeated viewings of the same episode were tested, children showed increased material comprehension, especially in their use of problem-solving strategies. The show improved children's flexible thinking—solving riddles, creative thinking, and non-verbal and verbal skills. Regular viewers tended to interact with other TV programs more than other children. A two-year longitudinal study of the impact of viewing Blue's Clues was conducted; its result was that viewers of the show were more proficient in flexible thinking than their non-watching peers. There is no evidence that watching Blue's Clues improves children's expressive vocabulary. In one of the few real criticisms of Blue's Clues, researcher Shalom M. Fisch stated that although the show attempted to be "participatory", it could not truly be so (unlike interactive games) because the viewers' responses could not change or influence what was occurring onscreen.