8 Mysterious Facts About Ghostwriter

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Once called the "Children's Television Workshop's most ambitious educational project since Sesame Street," the PBS family mystery series Ghostwriter premiered in 1992 and lasted for three seasons. For readers who missed its original run, Ghostwriter was about a diverse group of kids who found and became friends with a ghost (a.k.a. Ghostwriter) that could only communicate by manipulating letters on signs, in books, and on computer screens. The ghost helped the group solve mysteries, while they also tried to solve the mystery of its identity. Whether you watched it religiously after school, or you've never seen a single episode, here are eight things you should know about Ghostwriter.

1. Ghostwriter was a murdered runaway slave.

The series was canceled before the kids could solve the mystery of who their ghost was before he died, but producer and writer Kermit Frazier had his identity sorted from the beginning. “Ghostwriter was a runaway slave during the Civil War,” Frazier told The New York Times in 2010. “He was killed by slave catchers and their dogs as he was teaching other runaway slaves how to read in the woods. His soul was kept in the book and released once Jamal (Sheldon Turnipseed) discovered the book.”

2. Samuel L. Jackson kicked off the adventures.

Jackson played Jamal’s father in the show, though he only appeared in three episodes in the entire series. The first episode starts with father and son digging through a basement for an old trunk for Jamal’s sister to use at college. Jackson has the first line of dialogue, and when he and Jamal move the trunk, the book that holds the ghost falls off of the shelf.

3. There were quite a few celebrity appearances.

Spike Lee, Daisy Fuentes, Bo Jackson, Salt-N-Pepa, Dr. Dre, Ed Lover, and other familiar faces showed up in episodes of the educational show, either playing themselves or small one-off roles.

4. Brooklyn was an important character in the series.

Atomische, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Set in the Fort Greene and Clinton Hill neighborhoods of Brooklyn, the writers and producers thought of Ghostwriter as a reflection of the borough. “We were looking for a neighborhood that was urban, multi-ethnic, but also had a bit of history to it,” executive producer Liz Nealon told The New York Times. ”When we first scouted Fort Greene, I said, ‘This is it.’” A church there, the Lafayette Avenue Presbyterian Church, was a stop on the Underground Railroad, and Nealon added that when Ghostwriter was alive, he would have stopped in that area.

5. The show was never really about the ghost.

While giving a group of kids a ghost to interact with is a fun way to get other kids interested, the makers of Ghostwriter wanted the primary focus of the show to be education. According to a 1992 article in Education Week, the three goals of the show were "to motivate children to enjoy and value reading and writing," "to show them how to use effective reading and writing strategies,” and "to provide them with 'compelling' opportunities to read and write.”

6. Ghostwriter was funded in part by Nike.

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In the early 1990s, Nike was a frequent advertiser with Fox (which premiered a sneak peek of the pilot episode) and the major underwriter of Ghostwriter. The athletic apparel and footwear company contributed $5 million to the show, which at the time was the “largest single corporate grant ever made for a children's educational television project.” Nike also promoted the show and literacy with its “Exercise Your Head, Read” campaign.

7. Its first episode bumped the X-Men: The Animated Series premiere.

 

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As a part of the deal with Nike and PBS, Fox had to do some strategic reworking of its Saturday morning cartoon lineup. On October 3, 1992, X-Men: The Animated Series did not premiere as scheduled. It was moved to October 31 to make room for Ghostwriter, but the commercials that were planned for its breaks were still shown. Also as a way to get viewers to watch both channels, part one of the premiere was shown on Fox, and viewers had to tune in to PBS on Sunday evening to see the conclusion.

8. It was Julia Stiles’ first acting credit.

IMDb lists Ghostwriter's "Erica Dansby" as Julia Stiles's first professional role (on television or film). As the editor of the school newspaper, she appeared in six episodes. But there is one clip that the Internet is obsessed with, in which Erica schools Tina (Tram-Anh Tran) on hackers.

Mifflin Madness: Who Is the Greatest Character on The Office? It's Time to Vote

Steve Carell, as Michael Scott, hands out a well-deserved Dundie Award on The Office.
Steve Carell, as Michael Scott, hands out a well-deserved Dundie Award on The Office.
NBC

Your years of watching (and re-watching) The Office, which just celebrated its 15th anniversary, have all led up to this moment. Welcome to Mifflin Madness—Mental Floss's cutthroat competition to determine The Office's greatest character. Is Michael Scott the boss you most love to hate? Or did Kevin Malone suck you in with his giant pot of chili?

You have 24 hours to cast your vote for each round on Twitter before the bracket is updated and half of the chosen characters are eliminated.

The full bracket is below, followed by the round one and round two winners. You can cast your round three vote(s) here. Be sure to check back on Monday at 4 p.m. ET to see if your favorite Dunder Mifflin employee has advanced to the next round. 

Round One


Round Two


Round Three


The Office Planned to Break Up Jim and Pam in the Final Season—Then (Smartly) Thought Better of It

Jenna Fischer and John Krasinski star in The Office.
Jenna Fischer and John Krasinski star in The Office.
NBCUniversal Media, LLC

Jim Halpert and Pam Beesly's relationship in The Office was truly a romance for the ages. Fans were delighted when, in Season 3—after years of flirting—John Krasinski and Jenna Fischer’s characters finally got together. But an alternative plan for the show’s ninth and final season saw the couple going their separate ways.

Season 9 saw one of the most stressful storylines the show had to offer when Jim took a job in Philadelphia and Pam struggled to take care of their children on her own back in Scranton, putting intense strain on their otherwise seemingly perfect relationship. In one unforgettable scene, a particularly tense phone call between the couple ends with Pam in tears. Fischer’s character then turns to someone off camera named Brian for advice.

As Collider reports, Pam and Jim's relationship could have taken a turn for worse in the final season—and the writers had planned it that way. As recounted in Andy Greene's new book, The Office: The Untold Story of the Greatest Sitcom of the 2000s, series creator Greg Daniels sat down with each of the show's stars before starting the final season to discuss where their characters would go. John Krasinski, who played Jim, pitched the idea of putting Jim and Pam’s relationship on thin ice. According to Krasinski:

"My whole pitch to Greg was that we’ve done so much with Jim and Pam, and now, after marriage and kids, there was a bit of a lull there, I think, for them about what they wanted to do … And I said to Greg, ‘It would be really interesting to see how that split will affect two people that you know so well.'"

Several writers weighed in with ideas about how they might handle a split between Jim and Pam from a narrative standpoint—though not everyone was on the same page.

Warren Lieberstein, a writer on the series, remembered when the idea of bringing Brian—the documentary crew's boom operator—into the mix. “[This] was something that came up in Season 5, I think," Lieberstein said. "What if that character had been secretly there the entire time and predated the relationship with Jim and had been a shoulder that she cried on for years?’ It just seemed very intriguing." Apparently, the writers thought breaking the fourth wall would jeopardize the show, so they saved it for the last season.

Writer Owen Ellickson said there was even some talk of Pam and Brian “maybe hooking up a little bit," but the negative response to the storyline led the writers to "pull the ripcord on [Pam and Jim's separation] because it was so painful to fans of the show." Ellickson said that they backtracked so quickly, they even had to re-edit certain episodes that had already been shot to nix the idea of Jim and Pam splitting up. Which is something the show's millions of fans will be forever grateful for.

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