Blue gets a new leash on life

Times Staff Writer

"Blue's Clues," Nickelodeon's Peabody Award-winning "thinking cap" show, is undergoing another seismic shift in content and, inevitably -- because this deservedly successful show is a merchandising cash cow -- in marketing opportunities too.

In 2002, it was the departure of notable original host Steve Burns, who was so identified with the show and its success that three transitional episodes were created, run and rerun so that viewers could say goodbye to Steve and adjust to his replacement, Joe (Donovan Patton).

Purists -- parents, mostly -- still miss Steve, but Patton has proved himself a nice fit, modeling Burns' sincerity and warmth and bringing a playful younger brother vibe to his interaction with viewers and the show's animated, folk art- and storybook-style cutout characters.

On Sunday, however, in the prime-time special "The Legend of the Blue Puppy," on Nickelodeon at 8 p.m., it's the show's animated canine star that will undergo a significant personality change.

Cartoon puppy Blue has been the show's only nonspeaking character, communicating through sweet, doggy-like sounds and the blue paw prints that she leaves as clues to each day's logic puzzle, which Joe and viewers solve together.

Now, Blue will not only talk, she will become a live-action puppet. Part time, that is.

Blue's "Legend," as revealed by a new character, Moona the Blue Moon fairy, is that she was born with a key to unlock her "greatest gift": the power of speech. When Blue finds her key, she gains entry to "Blue's Room," a live-action environment where a now-fuzzy puppet Blue can speak directly to viewers and invite them to play a new, regular slate of literacy-based games.

When she rejoins Joe, she returns to her nonspeaking cartoon persona.

After the special, "Blue's Room" segments, like "Elmo's World" on "Sesame Street," will become part of each "Blue's Clues" episode. These segments include a playful jukebox with a music game, a helpful easel with a guess-the-picture game, a dictionary that offers the word of the day, and storybook characters who will answer questions about their stories.

Clearly crafted with care and sensitivity, the live-action, puppet-driven "Blue's Room" not only complements the show's unique visual design but also adheres to its "Mister Rogers"-inspired "you are special" spirit.

Here, Blue, with her sweetly childlike voice, is host and facilitator, with the same direct-to-the-camera, quiet approach (with lots of long pauses for viewers' responses) as that of Joe and Steve.

Despite changes big and small since this landmark Nick Jr. show launched in 1996, the vision of creators Angela C. Santomoro (now the show's executive producer), Todd Kessler and Traci Paige Johnson remains intact. Yes, store shelves will now undoubtedly be crammed with "Blue's Room" merchandise, but the upside is that a sterling show for preschoolers is serving its audience by enriching and expanding its educational value.


'Blue's Clues'

Where: Nickelodeon

When: Sunday, 8-8:30 p.m.

Rating: The network has rated the special TV-Y (suitable for all children).

Donovan Patton...Joe

Creators, Angela C. Santomoro, Todd Kessler and Traci Paige. Executive producer, Santomoro.

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