This month marks the 25th anniversary of Blue’s Clues, and everyone’s favorite blue pooch is celebrating with a special release: Blue’s Clues & You: Story Time With Blue, and the original series — together in a 2-disc special edition DVD.
For those who aren’t in the know, this is a big deal. It’s brought together all three hosts in one video (posted at the bottom of this article), and marked the release of a sweet video with the OG host Steve explaining why he left the show — a video that went super-viral last week.
Why All the Love?
If you were to consider the shortlist of successful educational children’s programs in North America, Blue’s Clues might be one of the first that comes to mind. Created and produced by Angela Santomero and Traci Paige Johnson, Blue’s Clues blends live-action, animation, and concepts from early childhood education to help their young viewers learn as they participate.
The show follows its animated namesake, an animated blue-spotted dog, as she leaves a trail of paw print “clues” for the host and the viewers to find and interpret. Blue’s Clues has become the highest-rated show for preschoolers on American commercial television; a 2006 documentary called it “one of the most successful, critically acclaimed, and ground-breaking preschool television series of all time.”
But the bottom line? Whether you were a kid watching the original (and a possible parent now) or a current fan, Blue just holds a place in your heart.
Blue’s Clues 25th Anniversary
A few things have changed since the show first aired in 1996. As mentioned, there have been new human hosts with each reboot (Joshua Dela Cruz currently holds the baton) and Blue herself has received a 3D revamp. The show has also updated the “handy dandy notebook” to include a phone, and an email now arrives at “mail time”; both are subtle acknowledgments from Santomero and Johnson about the digital world in which young children now live and learn and the streaming services, apps and social media that vie for their short attention spans.
“The whole ecosystem has changed now, and Nickelodeon has just ridden that wave seamlessly with the YouTube original Blue’s Clues Channel and social media,” says Johnson. “And we’re so excited to actually be able to talk to our audience more than ever. We hear back from them, listen to them, and go to places we couldn’t go to on the [original] show.”
Santomero adds that the fundamental purpose of children’s programming remains the same. “Kids are still the same in the sense of development, their needs, critical thinking skills, and the way they view the world,” she tells Parentology. “We want to empower them and give them as much information as we can before they enter kindergarten. We know they’re so smart. We’ve always believed they were so smart. And then technology can play that role where we give them tools to take into the real world with them. It’s literally that sense of incorporating technology where we think it makes sense and where it can be used for the future.”
The show came at a time where parents and media were openly criticizing the lack of quality commercial television for children. By the time Blue’s Clues premiered, there were lots of TV shows for kids, but most of them were designed to sell merchandise. As Santomero put it in a previous statement, TV was merely “a vehicle for toy-based ‘commercials’.”
The dismal state of children’s programming left a gap for simpler fare; a show without excessive fighting, weapons or wares to sell. A show that engaged children, wherever they were. Not surprisingly, both Santomero and Johnson cite Mister Rogers and The Magic Garden’s Carole Demas and Paula Janis as childhood heroes (as well as inspirations for the show).
“We just loved the storybook and the simplicity of telling stories. They talked to the camera too, and included you and listened,” Johnson says. Indeed, Blue’s Clues echoes the success of its predecessors by treating children as smart, sentient, empowered beings, while breaking down the proverbial fourth wall to engage with children directly.
“I remember Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, at the very end. I think I was 12 and it blew my mind that he was talking to us like that,” says Santomero. “So it’s all of those moments. We probably have a million of them. We weren’t consciously thinking ‘let’s put all this together’, but when we were creating our own show we wanted to include all those things that we love.”
In a world where tablets and “smart” devices are ubiquitous, perhaps it is those quiet moments in Blue’s Clues, the pauses that pepper an episode, where a child is asked to respond, that offers the most engagement. “It is like a haiku. There’s a simplicity that we want to hit,” says Santomero. “The idea of having characters that don’t speak just helped to underscore that, because with kids, you need to take a beat to really make sure they’re included with you. When you don’t take the pause, you’re not going to get the genius that your kids are if you just ‘tell’ them.”
When asked what they attribute Blue’s Clues ongoing success to, neither Johnson nor Santomero hesitate. “It’s the kids,” they say, nearly in unison. “We’ve listened to kids. We respect kids, connect with them” says Santomero. “We think they’re so smart. Our process includes kids when we’re writing and researching and doing all our development of the series. And then we leave room for them to play with us.”
The Blue’s Clues & You! Story Time with Blue 2-disc special edition is now available on DVD from Paramount Home Entertainment and Nickelodeon Home Entertainment. Check out the video with all three hosts below.