I was going to start working on my Halloween articles a couple weeks ago, but then the Steve Burns check-in video happened. Seeing Steve from Blues Clues reminded me of my first job: Babysitting. There were some ’90s Children Shows I actually enjoyed watching with the kids entrusted to my care. Then, there were other shows I was exposed to from other (unexpected) sources.
Here is a list of the Best and Worst ’90s Children Shows:
Barney & Friends (PBS)
This was not one of my favorites, but I just had to get it out of the way because that big purple dinosaur was everywhere in the early 1990’s. Older kids made fun of the way the children on the show behaved, which was that they were a little too well-behaved. No one ever disagreed with Barney or said they were tired and couldn’t keep up. No one ever needed a drink of water, had to go to the bathroom, or wanted to play with their favorite toy.
One of of the young stars of this show was Selena Gomez, who went on to Disney’s Wizards of Waverly Place. Currently, Gomez is more than holding her own alongside comedy legends Steve Martin and Martin Short on Hulu’s Only Murders in the Building.
One of the other things about Barney & Friends was that they seemed to sing the same five songs over and over again. The pre-recorded VHS tapes didn’t help because the kids knew you could rewind the tape and watch the same song over and over again. I still have nightmares where “Hey, Mr. Knickerbocker” or “If All the Raindrops” play on a loop.
Their sign off song didn’t bother me. It had the same feel as songs like the Mickey Mouse Club theme reprise or Mister Rogers’ “It’s Such a Good Feeling”. “I Love You” was only a couple of verses and ended quickly, unlike another song I will mention later.
The Elephant Show: Sharon, Lois & Bram (Nick Jr.)
I really enjoyed this show. I’m not the greatest singer, but little kids never seemed to care about that. With kids, the sillier you are, the more they enjoy it. Most of the songs they sang were the usual children’s sing-a-long fare. They were kind of a gender reverse of Peter, Paul, and Mary as it was two women and a man.
Their signature songs were “One Elephant Went Out to Play” and “Skinnamarink”. The second song, which was their closing theme, was a great song because it came with hand motions to do while singing. When they would sing the “I”, they pointed to one of their eyes. For “Love”, they touched their chest. Finally, for “you”, they pointed to the camera/audience. It’s a perfect song for children. It’s got a silly word in it and it’s affectionate.
Eureeka’s Castle (Nick Jr.)
The first two shows featured people in animal costumes. (Yes, I’m considering dinosaurs animals for the purposes of this article.) Eureeka’s Castle was a puppet show, but the only characters on screen were puppets. There were no live humans, unlike Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood of Make-Believe, Sesame Street, or Pinwheel.
Magellan (the dragon puppet) was somewhat Big Bird-like. Batly was a little bit Count Von Count with aspects of Grover and Bert. He would fly into walls (even though he wore glasses) and had a catchphrase, “I meant to do that.” There was also a really cool trio of sentient carved fish on the side of the castle.
To cap it all off, the show began with a giant (who bore a passing resemblance to the Spirit of Christmas Present in Muppet Christmas Carol) turning a key on the side of the castle, which the giant apparently mistakes for his personal music box.
We had a plastic cup from Pizza Hut with Batly on it. The cup is from Pizza Hut’s partnership with Nickelodeon in the 1990’s.
Lamb Chop’s Play-A-Long (PBS)
I really enjoyed the puppets on this show, especially Lamb Chop. I thought she was really funny. However, this is the show that has the most obnoxious ear worm of all children’s shows. This is the one song on the list that isn’t connected to babysitting.
I found out about “The Song That Never Ends” from one of my high school friends who was a year ahead of me. I think she may have found out about it from kids she babysat, but it was on PBS when we got home from school.
Blue’s Clues (Nick Jr.)
Finally, we get to the inspiration behind this article! I’ve already made this confession a couple times on social media, but I had a big crush on Steve Burns. He just looked like the kind of guys I usually liked. Preppy, clean-cut, friendly, and good with kids.
I also liked that when Steve wrote in his “Handy Dandy Notebook”, he used a writing implement appropriate to his audience: a crayon. I’ve already expressed my annoyance with Picture Pages and the bait-and-switch of “Mortimer Ichabod Marker”.
The Blue in the show’s title was Steve’s dog, a cute animated blue female puppy, but my favorite characters were the seasoning family: Mr. Salt, Mrs. Pepper, and their child, Paprika. Steve’s songs were short, sweet, and to the point, usually related to the task at hand.
About the same time I was getting ready to “retire” from babysitting to go to college and get a minimum-wage retail job, Steve announced that he was leaving Blue’s Clues. Steve was also going to college, but I don’t think he had to work a cash register several days a week when he wasn’t in class. I did get to ring up Fisher Price Blue’s Clues toys when people were buying gifts for toddlers, so that was fun.
Shining Time Station (PBS)
I know this is going to come off as gender stereotyping, but the only times I saw Shining Time Station (and the Thomas The Tank Engine segments it bookended) were when I was babysitting boys. None of the girls I was sitting for were interested in it at all, but the boys could not get enough of it.
The original Mr. Conductor was ex-Beatle Ringo Starr, while his successor was George Carlin, who I already knew as Bill and Ted’s mentor, Rufus. I was also familiar with the edited versions of his stand up routines.
Even though I enjoyed listening to the British accents in the Thomas segments, the trains themselves had changing facial expressions but other than that, it seemed like they were mostly talking heads. It was kind of weird.
Veggie Tales (Direct to Video)
In the first semester of my college Spanish course, my instructor (who had young children at home) played things like Ritchie Valens’ “La Bamba” for us to practice translation. One day, he played a Veggie Tales video featuring “Dance of the Cucumber” and “Song of the Cebú”.
I was just getting out of babysitting when Veggie Tales started to show up. I rang up videos and CD’s at KMart and stocked and straightened the board books at MediaPlay, but I had never actually watched any of them, so it was weird that it showed up in my last required course for my degree. Another thing that was weird was that I needed a foreign language requirement to get a B.A. in English, but it was not a requirement for an education degree.
Bananas in Pyjamas (Syndicated)
In some markets, kids got to see teen soap opera Swans Crossing before school. In ours, we had a surreal Australian show for grade schoolers about twin anthropomorphic bananas wearing matching blue and white striped pajamas. According to the theme song, they chase teddy bears.
For some reason, some of the freshmen in our neighborhood thought it was funny to sing the theme song on our bus. The song makes me hungry and frustrates me. It makes me hungry because the main characters are bananas and it frustrates me because no one has ever been able to provide a satisfactory explanation as to why the bananas chase the teddy bears. I would think the bears would have been chasing the bananas.
Later, when my nieces came along, I saw shows on new channels like Baby First with their Harry the Bunny puppet character and the animated crayons of The Color Crew. Also, PBS and Disney Junior brought new iterations of beloved characters like Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood and Muppet Babies. Nickelodeon has Paw Patrol. We have Paw Patrol waffles in our freezer for the next time they visit.