Between 1995 and 1998, PBS fed kids classic tales like Ivanhoe and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow through a wise-cracking dog named Wishbone. The imaginative Jack Russell Terrier inserted himself into the plots of countless books and always found a way to connect even the most esoteric tome to the real-life problems of his owner, Ellen Talbot, and her teenage son, Joe.
But how did PBS pull off this canine-focused, kiddie Masterpiece Theatre? How Wishbone save college GPAs? And what's the story with the news that Wishbone could be making his way back to the big screen? Read on for more facts about the hit kid's series.
1. Wishbone's creator was inspired by his own Jack Russell Terrier.
Wishbone creator and executive producer Rick Duffield was long intrigued by the concept of telling kids stories from the point of view of a dog, like his own Jack Russell Terrier. It just took a fateful glance at his own library for the full idea to take hold. “I had gotten into the habit of giving voice to my own dog’s expressions and exploits around the house,” Duffield told The New Yorker. “One afternoon, as I struggled to convert that impulse into a show, I gazed at the row of books on my credenza. The one that caught my eye that day was Frank Magill’s Masterpieces of World Literature. Well, what if a little dog with a big imagination could take us into some of the greatest stories ever told? And, why not make him the hero?”
2. A total of five dogs played Wishbone over the years.
The coveted role of Wishbone went to a Los Angeles-based pup named Soccer. But Soccer couldn’t be in every shot. Although he did the bulk of the screen work, the studio also employed three other Jack Russell Terriers for stunts (Phoebe, Slugger, and Shiner) and another just for publicity stills (Bear).
3. Soccer, the main dog to play Wishbone, won the creators over with his backflip.
According to an “interview” Soccer gave to Boys’ Life magazine, he was chosen out of a pool of about 100 dogs for his personality—and his impressive tricks. During the 1994 casting call, Soccer did a backflip that bowled over the producers. Admittedly, he had a great teacher. Soccer’s owner, Jackie Kaplan, was a seasoned dog trainer who also coached the Dobermans that chase Arnold Schwarzenegger in True Lies.
4. Jensen Ackles got his start on Wishbone.
You can currently see Jensen Ackles on TV as Dean Winchester, one of the ghost-hunting brothers on Supernatural. His first television credit, however, came from Wishbone. Ackles got his big break playing Michael Duss, the preppy teen with a knack for “mechanical things,” in the season 1 episode “Viva Wishbone!” Check him out in the clip above.
5. Amy Acker appeared in three episodes of Wishbone.
Similarly, Joss Whedon regular Amy Acker—of Angel and Dollhouse fame—showed up in the book fantasy sequences of three different episodes of Wishbone. This gave her famous literary roles such as Catherine Morland from Northanger Abbey, Priscilla Mullins from The Courtship of Miles Standish, and even Venus from The Aeneid. Watch above to see her turn as that Roman goddess.
6. Wishbone wasn't just for kids.
Duffield received tons of letters from young children, parents, and teachers while Wishbone was on the air. But the series hit another, unexpected audience. “We were tickled that so many college students liked the show,” he said. “Some would write us thank you notes for helping them pass freshman lit class.”
7. Mo Rocca wrote for Wishbone.
You’ve probably caught comedian Mo Rocca on I Love the ‘80s, The Daily Show, or CBS Sunday Morning. Back in 1995, though, he was just another writer for Wishbone. As Rocca recalled in his 2016 commencement speech at Sarah Lawrence College (which you can watch above), “Writing on that show meant taking some of the greatest stories ever told—the books I was supposed to read in college but hadn’t and which I’m sure you have—and retelling each in a half-hour for kids, with a dog in the lead role … It was storytelling boot camp.”
8. Wishbone's voice actor made a cameo ... as a voice actor for Wishbone.
Wishbone was voiced by Larry Brantley. The actor appeared in voice only throughout the series—with one exception. In the episode “Rushin’ to the Bone,” Brantley has a brief cameo as an actor named Larry Brinkley. This Larry is also dubbing for Wishbone, as he shoots a dog food commercial involving a fake Scottish castle and period garb.
9. Wishbone went on a mall tour across America.
In between the first and second seasons of Wishbone, Soccer hit the road. He appeared at malls across America, greeting his fans from a red armchair. And his accommodations were none too shabby. While traveling, Soccer flew first class, stayed in four-star hotels, and had his own security detail. People noted that the handlers even gave Soccer a codename: The President.
10. Wishbone got a spinoff movie and several book series.
Wishbone was mostly an episodic kind of dog, but he did manage to score one feature-length film. Wishbone’s Dog Days of the West premiered on Showtime in the spring of 1998. It was based on the O. Henry short story collection Heart of the West, and it went directly to video soon after its television debut.
One movie may be a slim filmography, but Wishbone’s bibliography is much larger: Between 1996 and 2001, there were nine different Wishbone book series. The first franchise, Wishbone Classics, consisted of straightforward novelizations of the TV series. But soon there were Adventures of Wishbone, Wishbone Mysteries, and even Wishbone: The Early Years, a series that followed Wishbone as a puppy. The last spate of Wishbone books came in 2000 and 2001, all by the same author (A.D. Francis). You can still get those on Amazon.
11. Wishbone could be making a big-screen comeback.
Nearly 20 years after Wishbone ended its original series run, the literary-loving dog is ready for his close-up (again). In July 2020, The Hollywood Reporter announced that a Wishbone movie was in the works, with comedy legend Peter Farrelly set to produce, with Mattel Films and Universal teaming up to distribute the film.
"Our deep library of iconic franchises continues to offer cinematic storytelling opportunities," Mattel Films's Robbie Brenner, who will executive produce, said. "We're thrilled to be working with Peter Farrelly, Roy Parker, and Universal to take the beloved dog classic into a new direction with a modern reimagination of the franchise."
This story has been updated for 2020.