Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Why Blue's Clues is my Favorite Children's Show

We have been experiencing a resurgence of Blue's Clues here at the Casey Castle, and it's been wonderful!

Blue's Clues is my favorite kid show ever, and I'm here to tell you why. I first saw it when I was pregnant with Ryan (in 2001). I'd been flipping through tv channels and saw Steve and Blue and I paused, thinking I'm probably going to have to get used to watching kid shows at some point, might as well see what this one is all about.

I was impressed with the show at that time. I liked the pacing of it. I thought the animation was interesting. I especially liked how the host (Steve Burns in this case) spoke to the camera and paused for the children to give a response. I liked how he spoke in a direct, friendly manner, that was neither too childish nor too adultish. Steve talked to the children as if they were actual human beings. It was great!

Then I forgot about it until Ryan was about a year and a half old. Somehow we found it again and he developed a serious obsession with it for a little while. So I got to know the show a bit better. I remained impressed with Steve and his manner of speaking and I also got to know his slightly silly side (he's got my kind of sense of humor I think). I liked the second host Joe (played by Donovan Patton) a little less, but he was still pretty good. A bit too cheerful maybe, but he did a generally good job of filling in Steve Burns's big shoes.

Ryan's interest meant we watched a lot of Blue's Clues and I came to appreciate other aspects of the show beyond the excellence of the hosts. Each show typically follows this format (if you also have Blue's Clues kids at your house, you can skip this part because I'm sure you can run through this in your sleep):

  • Something Interesting is happening at Blue and Steve's house.
  • Blue (the dog) has something she wants to do or know about the Something Interesting.
  • Steve wants to know what Blue is wanting to do or know, and Blue suggests playing Blue's Clues.
  • Blue puts a pawprint on three clues and Steve searches for them.
  • When Steve finds a clue, he draws a picture of it in his Handy Dandy Notebook.
  • Mailbox always delivers a letter which includes a video clip of real kids doing something related to the Something Interesting.
  • When all three clues have been found, Steve sits in his Thinking Chair and tries to solve the puzzle.
  • When the puzzle is solved, there's singing and dancing and then they go off and do whatever it was that Blue wanted to do with the Something Interesting.

That's the typical format--sometimes it varies, but only if there is a really good reason that adds to the story. This familiar format of Blue's Clues also represented something of a departure for children's shows, and became the new gold standard in television for kids. Angela Santomero, one of the show's creators, said in a 2010 interview:

The interactive format that we started with Blue's Clues enabled us to create a show that asked young viewers to help solve the problems all the way through each episode, giving them enough time to answer our questions.

This was a change from other television shows for children, such as Sesame Street (which came out the year before I was born--I was in the first generation to experience Sesame Street as a child), which had a quicker pace and shorter, self-contained clips of entertainment (that may not be true these days, but I haven't seen it in years). The creators of Blue's Clues set out to tell a longer, coherent story and they did it in a way that made the kids feel involved with the story.

Which I think goes to show that kids, whom some adults love to deride for their "short attention spans," really will pay attention to things that capture their interest. But I digress. Also, this format was obviously (perhaps notoriously) copied by the other big show at Nick, Jr., Dora the Explorer, but that show (in my own humble) is just awful. No need to shout, people! Again, I digress.

Back to Blue's Clues. It's not only how they tell the story. As an Objectivist parent, there are many other fantastic elements of the show that I adore because they either explicitly or implicitly support many values and virtues that I'm generally in favor of. A few examples:

1. I love how Steve looks for clues and uses his senses to find them. There is an element of fantasy of course (you know, what with the dog that can communicate through sing-song barking) but within the context of the show, Steve uses the evidence of his senses to find the clues. Now that's just good epistemology.

2. Thinking is a value. There's a whole chair for Thinking!

3. And a method, too. The process of thinking is described, so the kids can be a part of it. Steve sits in his chair and talks through the clues: "Well, we have a stamp, an envelope, and a mailbox. What does Blue want to do with her drawing? Well, what if we put a stamp on the envelope and we could put it....where? In the mailbox! Right! What if Blue wants to mail her drawing? Is that what Blue wants to do? I think we figured out Blue's Clues!" So the answer isn't just pulled out of thin air, the kid can see the logical way the clues fit together. (Note: this is not true in the later seasons of the show, where for some ridiculous reason the producers decided to have the clues themselves talk through the thinking part. That makes no sense at all.)

4. The theme song: "Thanks for doing your part, you sure are smart, you know with me and you and my dog Blue, we can do anything that we want to do!" Well that's the ending song, but you see my point. The "you can do anything you want to do" theme is strong. And a good one. Especially when it's combined with Thinking. :)

5. The language they use when any character has a conflict (these are fairly rare though) is very "I-language" and sounds like it came right out of How to Talk So Kids will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk. Truly, I'm not exaggerating.

Other things I like about the show that are more in the optional value/maybe it's just me realm:

  • Fun special guest stars. They don't happen often but when they do, they're usually great.
  • Sign language. Marlee Matlin was a guest star on several episodes (she played the town librarian). After that, Steve (and then Joe) used real ASL signs all over the place.
  • Mentioned before--Steve has a strange sense of humor that emerges a little bit more over his stint as the host.
  • Good songs. I especially like the colors song and the planets song. And the "Don't Give Up" song from Blue's Big Musical Movie.
  • And in what I personally believe to be the finest moment in children's television--perhaps ALL television--the "There It Is" song from Blue's Big Musical Movie. Ray Freaking Charles guest starred as "Treble Clef" and helped Steve compose a song. It is, quite simply, the best exposition of the main components of music theory ever created. I am not exaggerating. The fact that it's done in less than 10 minutes and with RAY FREAKING CHARLES only makes it more awesome.
  • Perhaps most importantly, it scores low on the Parental Annoyance Scale. The background noise that occurs as a result of this show being on does not jar my nerves or send electricity up my spine. It does not make me stabby, and that is a Good Thing. 

Ryan grew out of his Blue's Clues phase, and Morgan enjoyed it but never really got hooked on it in the same way Ryan did. Ryan used to carry around a Handy Dandy Notebook (he pronounced notebook like this: mock-ew-ee-oo-ee-oo-ee-ooooo and I'm not making that up) and look for clues. He had it bad for Blue and Steve and even had a Blue's Clues birthday party when he turned two:

I made two cakes with pawprint clues on them. Also, can you ever believe he was that babyish-looking?

(Yes, Brendan got a Steve shirt for the occasion!)

But somehow or other, Blue faded into the background of our lives. Ryan moved on toward Star Wars and LEGO and Avatar and Home Alone. Morgan became mildly obsessed with The Backyardigans (my second favorite television show for kids, and the possible subject of a future post). We weren't as impressed with some of the changes they made after Joe had been there for a season or two. So we didn't watch it anymore.

Now Sean is the kid walking around the house looking for clues. He is even more obsessed than Ryan ever was, and is certainly more interested in Blue's Clues than he is in Thomas. I suspect his interest in Thomas is more the trains and tracks to play with than the shows anyway.

Sean performs the songs (on key!), and stalks us for clues, and has drawn in every single spiral notebook we have in the house. He shouts at the television when Steve pauses to ask him a question. He pretends he is Blue. It is so much fun and I'd forgotten how much we enjoyed this show in the past. I'm glad we get to experience it one more time.

And possibly we'll be digging up that Steve shirt and pawprint pattern for Sean's next birthday.


Happy Elf Mom said...

Jenn, I so wish the makers of Blue's Clues could read this post. They would know how much the THOUGHT they put into the show is truly appreciated.

And I loved the music lesson with RAY FREAKING CHARLES as well. And those happy little notes. "Pick me! I've been in a lot of songs, Steve!" :)

Benpercent said...

I really liked Blues Clues in my childhood, and I think you've helped me understand why. I really do hope you write on children's shows in the future, for this is one of the posts I enjoyed the most.

Angela said...

I have to tell you I get so excited when the mail comes :) and when people understand our show! It really made my day to find your post and read all the wonderful things you said! As HappyElfMom said, I'm so thankful that you are appreciative of all the thought we put into making Blue's Clues. We love every minute of making the show and carefully wrote and researched all of it to make sure we were giving kids the best. Hopefully you also like my new show, Super Why! on PBS KIDS which is an interactive story adventure where the super heroes have the power to read! I want to change the world one preschool show at a time! :)
Thank you!
Angela C. Santomero
Creator of Blue's Clues, Super Why!

Jenn Casey said...

Thanks for your comments. Over the last couple of days, I've had the opportunity to hear from lots and lots of people about their love for Blue's Clues, too. So many parents I know jumped into the conversation immediately with "Oh yes! Blue's Clues!" And more than one mom lamented that her kids were too old for it now.

Angela, I'm especially thrilled that you took the time to comment. We really do appreciate the show so much. It's clear in every episode how much work and thought and love you all put into it. That's reflected by how much my kids, even my almost-9 and almost-6 year olds, are enjoying the show today. And me, too! I keep trying to convince my 2.5 year old to pick my favorite episodes to play next! (He's stuck on the Birthday episode from Season 2.)

So thank you SO much! If I could hug you, I would. And yes, we like Super WHY, too. :)

Angela said...

Virtual hug!

Angela said...

Virtual Hug!

And thank you, Jenn, for being a great voice for parents!


Chris said...

My one year old loves to watch SuperWhy and Blues Clues. I have to say they are some of the best programming I have seen for pre-schoolers. Thank you Angela.

Another pretty good one is Guess With Jess. It has a similar format to Blues Clues, but it is shorter and aimed at a bit younger audience.

Michael Garrett said...

Thanks for posting this, Jenn! Our son Max just turned 2. I haven't encouraged him to watch TV so far, but he's recently developed an interest on his own--looking at shows Mommy's watching, and putting DVDs in the DVD player. :)

A question: any recommendation about which Blues Clues DVDs to start with, or which episodes you most recommend? (I've read parent reviews on amazon, and they indicate that kids have a preference for the earlier episodes, with Steve, as you do.) Any other advice would be appreciated. Thanks again for a great post!

jahmaicherry said...

My son, who is nearly 2, is a fan of both Blue's Clues and Super Why! I had no idea that they where related until I read the comments.

@Michael Garrett - I recommend going with the Shapes and Colors disc which you can usually find for 5 dollars. Also any of the musical episodes are great.

If you are concerned about screen time for your son, like my wife and I, you will be relieved to know that each episode is under a half an hour.

One other great thing is that as an adult the show is still entertaining; even after watching the same episode 30 til=mes.

eacorpe5688 said...

Hey. My little brother was young when blues clues first aired. He was in love with that show. Now he's graduated and working for Ford.
However, my son is 20 months old. I decieded to show him this show for Jenns reasons, and that my brother loved it.
Anyways, he really likes Blues Clues AND Super Why!. I personally liked "super why" because is explains things without being too...for loss of words...obnoxious.

So thank you, for making TV shows for kids that are positive, and engaging.
Its improving their little minds, and helping them learn.

-E. Crenshaw