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Turns out ‘Blue’s Clues’ creator barking up the right tree

Animated<br />
characters<br />
(from left)<br />
Roar E. Saurus,  Frederica, Polka Dots and Blue appear with Joe (Donovan Patton) in the television show “Blue's Clues.”  The kids program is celebrating 10 years on the air.

(from left)
Roar E. Saurus, Frederica, Polka Dots and Blue appear with Joe (Donovan Patton) in the television show “Blue's Clues.” The kids program is celebrating 10 years on the air.

Seeds for “Blue’s Clues” were planted with the idea to create a game show for preschoolers.

“Nickelodeon management thought I was insane,” remembers Brown Johnson, executive creative director of Nickelodeon Preschool Television. “‘What do you mean, a game show for preschoolers?”‘

After the concept evolved into the story of a curious puppy named Blue, parents questioned the idea as well, especially the pauses that peppered a test screening as Blue’s owner Steve waited for help from viewers.

They didn’t get it. But their kids did.

“The kids were in one room and the parents were in another room watching and the parents all said, ‘Oh my kid will never watch this, it’s so boring, what are those giant empty spots in the show?’ ” Johnson says. “The kids were next door screaming at the television. They were totally excited.”

Since then, millions of kids have learned basic communication, problem solving and interaction skills from Blue, her owners and their friends. To celebrate the show’s 10th anniversary, creators are planning a retrospective and adding to the family, by giving Blue a baby brother who will be introduced in an hourlong special premiering Aug. 6 on Nickelodeon.

“I think our big success is we really did create a relationship with the home viewer. It worked; the kids really believed that we were talking to them,” says Steve Burns, host 1996-2002. “It was the ‘Rocky Horror’ children’s show. Kids would react to the show, and once they became familiar with the show, they came to expect and appreciate moments of the show and they would respond and play along.”

Creators Traci Paige Johnson, Angela C. Santomero and Todd Kessler took Brown Johnson’s game show idea and delivered a program that included activities to fit the broad range of skills possessed by 2- to 5-year-olds and animation with a ‘picture book’ look they would be familiar with from daily life.

“One of our mission statements was to empower kids so we knew we wanted to make them feel important. One reason we went with a male host is it’s something different, that a man needs your help and doesn’t have the answers,” Traci Paige Johnson says. “Steve needs our help, he can’t go on without our help and is always making the preschooler feel involved and needed.”

With the show’s rise came letters from parents thanking Blue for helping their child feel normal in the face of the points and stares they encountered in daily life.

“There’s a story about a little deaf boy seeing Steve do the sign for ‘smart’ and doing it back and being like ‘he’s talking to me,’ ” Johnson says. “There are touching, awful stories about kids being sick, terminally ill and loving Blue and we’ve been able to make a phone call or send something just to make their day. . . . Tragic stuff, but it just makes you so happy to be doing what you’re doing and that you could impact kids so much.”

In 2002, original host Burns left the show and his character passed the job of helping viewers at home find clues to younger brother Joe, played by Donovan Patton.

Another change came in 2004 when Blue began speaking beyond barks in Blue’s Room segments, which employ puppets.

Check local listings for times


What: “Meet Blue’s Baby Brother”

When: Aug. 6 on Nickelodeon


> A behind-the-scenes retrospective, “Behind the Clues: 10 Years with Blue,” first airs Thursday.

> Aug. 1, Nick Jr. premieres two never-broadcast “Blues Clues” episodes, featuring original host Steve.

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