Some things kids will never forgive their parents for. In my case, its exposing them to Pee Wee Herman’s television show PEE WEE’S PLAYHOUSE from 1986 to 1990 during their “formative years” (my twins were born in 85 and my daughter in 83). I have even continued this onslaught of PEE WEE with the tradition of renting PEE WEE’S CHRISTMAS SPECIAL on DVD and forcing them now to watch it during the holidays. (Maybe that is why only 1 of my kids is coming here for Christmas). Yes, I will go on the record and say I have always enjoyed PEE WEE HERMAN (real name PAUL REUBENS) and his tv, movies and especially his Christmas special.
Pee Wee Herman’s television show aired on the CBS television network beginning in 1986 and ran 45 episodes until 1990 at 9 am Saturday morning. He was given a budget of $325,000 per episode and full creative control. This budget was equal to that of a prime time sitcom and unheard of for Saturday morning. The show was based on a live stage show which Herman began in 1980 where he developed his elaborate conglomeration of characters. The show took place in his “playhouse” and included Cowboy Curtis (played by Laurence Fishburne), Captain Carl (played by Phil Hartman), the slightly sexy Miss Evonne (played by Lynne Marie Stewart), Reba the Mail Lady (played by current Law and Order star S. Epatha Merkerson), the sexy male Latino lifeguard named Tito, the King of Cartoons, Mrs. Renee-Pee Wee’s nosy neighbor, and Dixie – the inner city New York talking cab driver. Cartoon and puppet characters were abundant with Jambi (a genie who granted wishes…long live JAMBI), Chairry ( a blue green armchair with eyes and a mouth who occasionally hugged you when you were sitting in her), Magic Screen – who allowed Pee Wee to connect the dots and jump into its screen for an adventure, Mr. Window, Clockey, Conkey – the Playhouse’s robot, Globey- the talking globe, Mr. Kite, Randy- the mean playhouse bully, Penney – who really had a penny as a head, and my personal favorite the FOOD in Pee Wee’s refrigerator…who were always doing some sort of acrobatics whenever he opened the door (like the salad jumping into a pool of dressing).
Creatively, there probably never has been a children’s show with so much going on. Puppetry, video animation, clay animation, and excerpts from classic 1930 cartoons, along with a specifically written soundtrack for each episode made this show special every week. In fact the opening theme song was actually sung by a lady named ELLEN SHAW who would go on to fame and fortune known as CYNDI LAUPER. Rocker Todd Rundgren and Mark Mothersbaugh (from the group DEVO) were regular music contributors.
As soon as it hit the airways, the show received critical praise. Many commentators and experts praised the show for its hodgepodge of characters, some human and some not, that were of diverse cultural and racial origins. Although it ran at 9am on Saturday morning, many surveys showed that much of its audience were adults watching. Herman stated he was influenced by the TV shows he grew up with such as Captain Kangeroo, Howdy Doody, and The Mickey Mouse Club and had many elements of those shows that he felt reminded parents of their past. He thought kids liked the show because it was fast paced (only 30 minutes long), colorful, never talked down to kids, and sought the show to be a positive role model for kids. The show received 22 Emmys and remains one of the most awarded children television shows in history.
His one hour Christmas special aired in 1988 and alone was nominated for 3 Emmy awards. It is ironic that with his success, his goal to send a positive message ended up being his downfall. A 1991 arrest for indecent exposure at an adult theatre ruined his career. After being in obscurity for many years, he has recently reappeared on the late night talk circuit and is opening a live play, The PEE WEE HERMAN SHOW at the Nokia Theatre in Los Angeles in early 2010. I don’t promote his personal actions, but I certainly do appreciate his quirkiness and his talent.
As my Christmas present to my readers…here from YOU TUBE is the exciting opening of his 1988 Christmas Special. I dedicate this to my kids…I am sure this exposure made you the success you are today!! HA!! Happy Holidays from Bemidjimike. My next BLOG will be around New Years Eve. Thank you for your support over the past 250 previous blogs!