'Barney' at 10: still a bore, still a big star The jolly dinosaur has survived critics, competitors - even color changes.

November 15, 1998|By Mark McGuire | Mark McGuire,ALBANY TIMES UNION

He's the purple baron of banalities, the dean of duh, the regent of repetition. He bores us to the point of paralysis.

But Barney, it seems, is here to stay.

It has been 10 years since the googly-voiced, overstuffed dinosaur debuted in videos as a new kind of educational programming. Then "Barney and Friends" came to public television six years ago. Almost immediately, the show gained BTC popularity with kids aged 2 to 5 who weren't yet ready for shows like "Sesame Street" or "Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood."

"We knew children liked Barney," said Mary Ann Dudko, director of educational research and development for Lyrick Studios, the company that makes and markets Barney. "We did not know how explosive it would be."

The reason? It's as simple as the show: Barney catered to a market not being addressed.

In years since, other shows have been developed for preschoolers and have eaten into "Barney and Friends" ratings. But "Barney" remains indomitable: It's the top-rated show for children under 6, and critically acclaimed by educators, whatever worn-out parents and disbelieving occasional watchers may think. That's because the bottom line of the half-hour program has been constant: it must not only be informative, but entertaining - at least to young children.

Over the years, though, both the character and the show have evolved (even Barney's "skin" color has changed twice within the purple family). The most noticeable differences today are an expanded costumed cast, more special effects and a heightened concentration on youngsters' changing emotions.

Any lucky adult who has never seen "Barney and Friends" should clear: This show is absolutely mind-numbing for anyone who has graduated from first grade.

But Barney has survived the cycle of introduction, buzz, frenzy, marketing monster, backlash and severe backlash. He has now become an institution. After Barney mania exploded in the early 1990s, the benign dinosaur became a pinata for every comedy writer and exasperated parent in the country.

"The backlash didn't come from children. The backlash came from parents," Dudko says. "Barney does not appeal to adults - very intentionally."

In fact, she adds, "I would be concerned about the [adult] person who said Barney is their favorite show."

Pub Date: 11/15/98

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