Voice Card  -  Volume 27  -  Larry Card Number 5  -  Sat, Jan 23, 1993 11:52 PM

Kristin's hero at this moment is a 7-foot purple dinosaur named Barney, who is the star of the PBS television show, "Barney and Friends." For those of you who are not aware of the Barney phenomenon, let me bring you up to speed.

"Barney and Friends" is the product of two teachers in Texas. It started as a series of videos in the late 1980s, and due to its popularity was picked up and produced by a PBS station in 1991 and developed into a daily half hour television series. However, only a limited number of shows were produced.

When it came time for PBS to allocate funding for future shows, decision was made to drop Barney. This decision had nothing to due with the popularity of Barney, but was due to (1) the number of existing popular children's shows (Sesame Street, Reading Rainbow, Where in the World is Carmen San Diego, LambChop, etc.) and (2) the number of popular new shows (including one with George Carlin). There just wasn't enough airtime or money for many new children's shows, so Barney was axed by PBS.

Such a hue and cry went up from Barney fans, and some local PBS affiliates, that PBS reconsidered and allocated funding for 20 new Barney episodes, but that's only 4 weeks of a daily show. Pressure is still being exerted on PBS to continue funding. Many PBS stations are holding telethons with the sole purpose of funding Barney. It is very likely that Barney will continue, since it is reported that Barney is outdrawing Sesame Street in the kiddie crowd.

Why is Barney so popular? According to parents, it's because the entire show revolves around a single theme, like family, safety, health, sharing, etc. and isn't a series of vignettes like Sesame Street. According to kids that Diane and I have surveyed, it's because the kids on the show get to do all kinds of things, like travel around the world, drive cars and buses. (Kids can do these things on the show because Barney is very big on imagination - he's always encouraging the kids that imagination is a very good thing to have, and it should be used a lot.)

Diane and I have watched all the Barney shows at least once (we have them all on tape) - and Kristin is constantly asking "Barney on?" She also is close to learning how to operate the TV remote and VCR on her own. Diane and I think that the shows are very well done - we especially like the idea of maintaining a single theme throughout the show and tying all aspects of learning to that theme. Research shows this to be one of the most effective ways to teach.

Back to Barney's popularity. There exists all kinds of Barney paraphenalia. Kristin owns a stuffed Barney and his friend Baby Bop (another dinosaur on the show), a Barney bank, a Barney bag, and various items of Barney clothing. More is sure to come. Appearances by Barney at places like shopping malls regularly attract crowds of over 40,000. Reportedly the toughest ticket to get at last weeks presidential inauguration was Barney's appearance at the Kennedy Center.

It's an amazing phenomenon to watch. Kevin Cowherd, columnist for the Baltimore Sun, while comparing Barney to cult followings, wrote: "All I'm saying is, this attraction between Barney and little kids is as close to a cult-like thing as you're likely to see. I'll tell you this. If Barney ever went on his show and said (in that goofy, hillbilly voice): 'Kids, Barney wants you all to go out to the airport and hassle people for money,' the kids would do it."