In 1996, one of my all-time favorite kids’ shows debuted. I admit I could only take so much Sesame Street, Caillou made me want to cover my ears with a blanket after 10 minutes, and don’t get me started on Teletubbies; I could not even make it through the theme song. However, one show I never get tired of is Arthur. I may or may not have been known to watch it even when I am the only one home.
Arthur was a 30-minute show, which consisted of two 11-minute stories with a live-action segment in between. The series was based on the books authored by Marc Brown. The series was developed by Kathy Waugh for PBS, and it’s produced by WGBH. Each show began with Arthur talking to the audience about a situation which is then explored in the story. We get to know Arthur, his family, and his friends intimately.
In a Scholastic interview, Brown said the character Arthur was born when his son Tolon asked for a bedtime story about a weird animal. He started going through the alphabet and an aardvark was the first animal that popped into his head. Tolon is now a producer on the show.
The themes are the same ones that kids have to deal with in real life, some big and some small. During the 25 years that it has been on television, the show has covered bed wetting, dyslexia, cancer, autism, sibling rivalry, cheating in school, watching scary movies, divorce, fear of the dark, getting sick, and so many others. In a 2019 episode, Mr. Ratburn, Arthur’s teacher, marries a same-sex partner and Alabama Public Television declined to show the episode.
The series is fun to watch and presents issues kids deal with in a realistic, yet humorous light. Kids and parents can relate to the stories and characters. When Marc Brown described Arthur, he elaborated that “He is an eight-year-old aardvark who is navigating the mud puddles of life. You know, as we all are really. We all have obstacles and it’s how we handle them, and if Arthur can show kids that you can get through problems, solve problems, that’s really a good message for kids, it gives them confidence.” He added, “It’s a good message Arthur has, right, believe in yourself.”
Arthur Read, age 8, lives with his mother Jane, father David, younger sister DW (Doris Winifred), and his baby sister Kate. His Grandma Thora is also around a lot as is his dog Pal. (Except for one episode, DW always wears a pink dress.)
His best friend is Buster. Some of his other friends include Francine, Muffy, Binky Barnes, Prunella, Sue Ellen, and The Brain. Even though the characters are all animals, they live in human homes and live life like most humans do. They live in Elmwood, which is a suburb of Pittsburgh. Brown grew up in Erie, PA and based many of the stories on his grade school life.
I won’t get into the actors who provide voices for the various characters because there were many; some characters had more than five people playing them over the years. One interesting fact about that though is that DW was always voiced by a male.
I am not sure why but the first season of Arthur cost $12 million to create which is astounding to me. I tried to find more details about the reasons behind the big price tag, but I came up empty.
One of the most memorable things about the show is the catchy theme song. Written by Judy Henderson and Jerry de Villiers Jr., “Believe In Yourself” was originally recorded by Ziggy Marley and the Melody Makers for the show.
The show featured a lot of guest stars over the years. Some of the more fun episodes included Fred Rogers as himself visiting Elwood City, Art Garfunkel as a singing moose, Yo-Yo Ma as a music rival, Alex Trebek as Alex Lebek, game show host, Michelle Kwan teaching Francine to skate, Larry King interviewing Arthur, and The Backstreet Boys in concert.
I truly just picked four of my favorite PBS kids’ shows to learn about this month, but it turns out they were all the longest-running shows on the network. Arthur is the longest-running animated series for kids and is second in animation overall to The Simpsons. The show received a Peabody Award and four Emmy Awards for Outstanding Children’s Animated Program.
Last month the last episode of Arthur aired. While I’m sad to see it end, it surely had a great run. My boys read Arthur books and watched the show, my grandkids are reading the books and watching the show, and I’m hoping that my great-grandkids will enjoy the books and reruns of the show.
One of my favorite Arthur books and episodes was aired during Season 1 and is “Arthur’s Chicken Pox.” I think it’s one of my favorites because it is truly an ordinary but delightful look at an everyday event. I remember getting chicken pox at about Arthur’s age.
Thank you Marc Brown for creating such an eclectic group of characters and so many enjoyable stories and moments, and thank you PBS for recognizing what a great series it could be and funding it for two and a half decades.