16 Treasure-Filled Facts About Blue’s Clues

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In the summer of 1994, Nickelodeon handed three novice producers a monumental task: Create a hit television show for preschoolers, and do it on a shoestring budget. After 30 days holed up in a tiny conference room high above Times Square, the three came up a puzzle-based show starring a little blue dog. Over the course of 11 years, Blue’s Clues not only became the hit Nickelodeon sought—it exceeded everyone’s wildest expectations. On the 20th anniversary of the show's premiere episode, we look back at Blue, Steve, Joe, and the show that redefined children’s television.

1. THE SHOW WAS STEEPED IN RESEARCH.

Todd Kessler, Angela Santomero, and Traci Paige Johnson—the trio that developed Blue’s Clues—wanted the show to be entertaining as well as educational. Along with co-creator Santomero, who had a master’s degree in child developmental psychology from Columbia University, the team enlisted the help of educators and consultants to craft a format that reflected the latest research in early childhood development.

Instead of the varied, nonlinear format popularized by Sesame Street and geared toward short attention spans, the team developed a narrative format. To keep kids engaged, they enlisted their help by having host Steve Burns pose questions to the camera, then pause to hear their answers. Simple, recognizable objects and sounds became the clues that eased young viewers into each episode, while the puzzles grew more challenging without becoming frustrating. The show had its own research department, which was rare for a kids’ program. Its research-based approach became what the production team called the "special sauce" in its recipe for success.

2. REPETITION WAS KEY.

The Blue’s Clues team wanted to promote mastery in children—that feeling that they were experts on a given topic. More than memorization or rote learning, mastery boosts kids’ self-esteem and ensures they’ll internalize information, which in turn better prepares them for school. Enforcing mastery requires repetition. So the show’s script repeated key words and phrases over and over in varying contexts. In the episode "Blue’s Predictions," for example, second host Joe says the word "predict" 15 times to help viewers become acquainted with the word. After finding that kids' engagement with the show increased with repeat viewings, Nickelodeon decided to air the same episode every day for a week before moving on to a new one.

3. THE PRODUCERS FIELD TESTED EACH EPISODE THREE TIMES.

After each script was finished, the show’s research team would test it on a classroom full of preschoolers, noting how the children responded to the material. The team would move on to another group, and then another, using the kids' reactions to further develop the episode as it went into the animation phase. All told, each episode took around nine to 10 months to produce.

4. THE ORIGINAL PRODUCTION TEAM PROVIDED SOME OF THE VOICES.

Because they were working with such a limited budget, the production team provided voices for the show themselves rather than hire talent. Nick Balaban, who composed the music, played the role of Mr. Salt, while his co-composer, Michael Rubin, provided the voice of The Sun. In determining who would play the part of Blue, the team went around the table to see who had the best bark. The winner was co-creator Traci Paige Johnson, who filled the role throughout the show’s run.

5. BLUE WAS ORIGINALLY A CAT.

Johnson, Santomero, and Kessler’s first choice for their show’s main character was an orange cat named Mr. Orange. They didn’t like that color, so they turned the cat blue and named him Mr. Blue. However, Nickelodeon already had an animated series in the pipeline that featured a cat, so the network asked the team to pick a different animal. "We thought, it couldn’t be a little puppy, could it?" said Johnson in a behind-the-scenes special celebrating the show’s 10th anniversary. The team made the switch.

6. MR. SALT ORIGINALLY SOUNDED LIKE TONY SOPRANO.

In the anniversary special, Balaban gave viewers a taste of the voice he initially gave Mr. Salt. "'Ey Mrs. Pepper! Blue’s in the kitchen and looks like he could use a little help," the composer bellowed, in an accent reminiscent of The Sopranos’s leading mobster. Balaban quickly shifted to a softer-sounding French accent after the production team deemed the accent too gruff.

7. THE HOST WAS SUPPOSED TO BE FEMALE.


TV Guide cover in 1998. Jim Ellwanger via Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0

In conceiving the show, the production team envisioned a female host interacting with Blue and the gang. When it came time to cast the show, though, they opened up auditions to both male and female actors. After looking at more than 1000 eager young aspirants, they found that Steve Burns, a 22-year-old whose only previous credits included an episode of Law & Order and a Dunkin' Donuts commercial, got the best response from test audiences. "There was something about this kid fresh out of Pennsylvania," said Johnson in the anniversary special. "He knew just how to look into the camera and talk to the kids."

8. STEVE BURNS DIDN’T LOOK THE PART.

As a young actor, Burns didn’t have his sights set on a kids’ show—quite the opposite, in fact. "I had moved to New York to become Serpico," he said in a 2010 monologue at The Moth, a storytelling venue located in New York. As such, Burns sported a grungy '90s look, complete with long hair, earrings, and facial stubble. Before he auditioned for Blue’s Clues, Johnson called up Burns' agent and told him to clean up his appearance before he came in. He did, and immediately went from tough guy to kiddie favorite.

9. HIS GREEN POLO SHIRTS WERE UNCOMFORTABLE.

In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Burns joked that his signature green polos were "carefully handmade to be as uncomfortable as possible." The shirts were a hit with kids, of course—perhaps too much so. After parents complained to the network that their children wouldn’t take off their green polo shirts—because Steve never did—producers decided to give replacement host Donovan Patton (a.k.a. Joe) a more varied wardrobe.

10. STEVE ONCE CRASHED A KID’S BIRTHDAY PARTY.

After being named one of People Magazine’s most eligible bachelors in 2000, Burns started getting a lot of date requests. One that particularly interested him came from a swimsuit model, who mailed him a picture with her phone number. Burns called and arranged dinner, and agreed to pick her up at her home in New Jersey. When he finally met her, he discovered a significant size difference between the two of them (Burns is 5’6”). Eager to impress, he saw a sign in front of her neighbor’s house for a Blue’s Clues themed birthday party. "I had the green polo and some toys in the back of my car," he said during his appearance at The Moth. "And I thought, 'This is the only game you’ve got right now.'" Bewildered parents watched as the television host burst onto the scene and entertained the delighted crowd. The party was a complete success. The rest of the date? Not so much.

11. THE PRODUCERS WERE VERY CAREFUL ABOUT LICENSING.

With more than 14 million young viewers tuning in every week, Blue’s Clues had massive earning potential in licensed toys, clothes, games, and other products. But Nickelodeon and the show’s creators didn't just lend Blue's image to any candy company or board game maker that came calling. Knowing that the show’s popularity came from its ability to educate and empower children, the team carefully reviewed every licensing opportunity. Many companies were turned away.

In reviewing a proposal from a clothing company, the Blue’s Clues team interviewed parents about their kids' clothing needs. "We thought, what can we do to help children dress themselves?" Alice Wilder, director of research and development for the show, said in an interview. The result: a line of clothing with elastic waistbands and big buttons that color-matched with each buttonhole.

12. IT GOT SESAME STREET TO CHANGE ITS FORMAT.

When Blue’s Clues premiered in 1996, its main competition was Sesame Street, which had been on the air for nearly three decades. Within just a few years, Nickelodeon’s little blue dog had eclipsed Big Bird and company, prompting the PBS mainstay to change its long-standing format to include more interactive segments and other elements that appealed to preschoolers.

13. THE FLAMING LIPS INSPIRED BURNS TO LEAVE THE SHOW.

In 2001, at the height of Blue's Clues's popularity, Burns suddenly announced he was quitting the show. The decision rocked the production team, who tried desperately to persuade him to stay. And it would go on to shock TV watchers, fueling death rumors that grew so pervasive, Burns had to go on The Rosie O’Donnell Show to prove he was still alive. But Burns had his reasons.

In an interview with SPIN, Burns talked about a party he had gone to the year before where he heard The Flaming Lips' album The Soft Bulletin for the first time. "It completely rearranged my head," Burns told the magazine. The whimsical, yearning alt-rock inspired Burns to begin writing music again, something he had done as a teenager growing up in rural Pennsylvania. After quickly penning three dozen songs, Burns knew he wanted to pursue a music career. In 2003 he made good on his decision, releasing Songs for Dustmites, a critically acclaimed album that featured The Flaming Lips' Steven Drozd on drums.

14. BURNS HAD OTHER REASONS, TOO.

In the years since his departure, Burns has revealed that his hair loss also influenced his decision to leave. "I refused to lose my hair on a kids' TV show, and it was happening fast," he said in the anniversary special. Burns has also discussed how the show's runaway success made him uncomfortable, particularly since he didn't intend to make a career in children's television. "I began thinking, do they have the right guy here?" he said during his Moth monologue. "Maybe they need a teacher or a child development specialist. I was very, very conflicted about it."

15. DONOVAN PATTON DIDN’T KNOW WHAT THE SHOW WAS ABOUT WHEN HE AUDITIONED.

Having never watched Blue’s Clues, the 24-year-old actor who would replace Burns thought the show was about a dog that played blues music. Luckily, that didn’t affect his audition for the role of replacement host. Like Burns, Patton was a hit with preschool test audiences—a reception he credited to a warm relationship with his 5-year-old sister. Burns worked extensively with Patton, and in 2002 viewers watched as Steve went off to college and his younger brother, Joe, took over.

16. BLUE'S CLUES WAS VERY EFFECTIVE.

In the years since Blue’s Clues debuted, study after study has venerated the show’s effectiveness as an educational tool. Researchers at the University of Alabama found that regular viewers displayed increased learning comprehension over non-viewers. Another study from Vanderbilt University suggested that the show’s participatory format increased social interaction in children, while others have shown that watching Blue’s Clues enhanced kids’ vocabulary. Imitation may be the greatest testament to the show’s value, with programs like Dora the Explorer following the interactive path Blue’s Clues set down.

6 Protective Mask Bundles You Can Get On Sale

pinkomelet/iStock via Getty Images Plus
pinkomelet/iStock via Getty Images Plus

Daily life has changed immeasurably since the onset of COVID-19, and one of the ways people have had to adjust is by wearing protective masks out in public places, including in parks and supermarkets. These are an essential part of fighting the spread of the virus, and there are plenty of options for you depending on what you need, whether your situation calls for disposable masks to run quick errands or the more long-lasting KN95 model if you're going to work. Check out some options you can pick up on sale right now.

1. Cotton Face Masks; $20 for 4

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At Mental Floss, we only write about the products we love and want to share with our readers, so all products are chosen independently by our editors. Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a percentage of any sale made from the links on this page. Prices and availability are accurate as of the time of publication.

29 Prescient Quotes About the Internet from 1996

Many of the predictions made about the internet in 1996 were wildly accurate—and also quite funny.
Many of the predictions made about the internet in 1996 were wildly accurate—and also quite funny.
Evan Agostini/Liaison/Getty Images Plus

In 1996, the Web was young, but it was hot, and everyone was trying to figure out what it meant. While a lot has changed since then, here are 29 quotes from 1996 that were truly prescient.

1. On the future of America Online

“Ten years from now, America Online will have gone the way of the water-bed store,” Bruce R. Burningham wrote in a letter to the editor published in the January 14, 1996 issue of The New York Times.

2. On Microsoft’s Internet Explorer web browser

According to the September 16, 1996 issue of TIME, “It’s the browser your mom will use.”

3. On email

“Email is boring but good. Like pencils, it just works,” Tom Jennings told WIRED in April 1996.

4. A comparison to the past

In September 1996, Jim Barksdale, then the CEO of Netscape Communications Corporation, said that “the Internet is the printing press of the technology era.”

5. Cybersex vs. Bird-Watching

When a reader wrote to Ann Landers in June 1996 to emphasize the benefits of the internet—which the reader said they used for graduate research, as well as to attend bird-watching meetings and support groups—Landers responded, “Thanks for accentuating the positive, but I'm afraid more people are interested in cybersex than bird-watching.”

6. On dating online

In a February 1996 article in USA Today, Leslie Miller interviewed Judith A. Broadhurst, author of The Woman's Guide to Online Services. Broadhurst told Miller, “For better or worse, one of the most popular ways to look for a mate in the '90s is on-line … I heard from so many women who met their husbands on-line ... that I began to wonder if anyone meets in any other way anymore.”

7. On catfishing before catfishing was a thing

When one reader asked Dear Abby if he should pay for his (married!) online paramour from Australia to visit him in Michigan, she responded in a July 1996 column that, “It sounds like asking for trouble to me. Aside from the fact that you are carrying on with a married woman, Kate may not be what you expect. I recently heard about a teen who was communicating online with a female he thought was about his age; when they met, he found out she was a 76-year-old granny!”

8. On being addicted to the internet (a.k.a. “Netaholism”)

“Dr. [Kimberly S.] Young said that if alcoholism is any guide to Netaholism, between 2 percent and 5 percent of the estimated 20 million Americans who go on line might be addicted,” Pam Belluck wrote in the December 1, 1996 issue of The New York Times.

9. College and internet addiction

According to a piece in the June 26, 1996 issue of the Chicago Tribune, “Universities are considered hot zones for potential Internet junkies because they often give students free and unlimited Net access.”

10. On losing access to your email

“Letting your e-mail address fall into the wrong hands isn’t exactly like having a maniacal stalker parked outside your front door,” the March 1996 issue of Spin noted. “But it’s close.”

11. On the potential of the internet

“These technologies are going to profoundly affect the way we perceive our humanity,” Anthony Rutkowski, “a de facto global spokesman for all things cyberspace,” told the Washington Post in February 1996. “We all have ideas to share and stories to tell and now we really can.”

12. On the ugliness of online behavior and content

“The people decrying the Net are using technology as a scapegoat for the fact that we haven’t, as a society, addressed these problems,” John Schwartz said in a November 1996 Washington Post article. “Yes, it’s a shame that there are pedophiles on the Internet. But the real horror is there are pedophiles in the real world and that pedophilia exists at all. ... Let’s face facts. To the extent that there’s a problem out there, it’s our society that’s sick—or at least, it has spawned a number of sick and broken people. The Internet, as the most personal medium ever developed, reflects that. I guess cartoonist Walt Kelly said it best: ‘We have met the enemy, and he is us.’”

13. On the internet’s “insidious seduction”

In the May/June 1996 issue of The American Prospect, Sidney Perkowitz wrote that “Aimless chat is the insidious seduction of the Internet; it can replace inward contemplation and real experience.”

14. On the internet in education

“The Internet has the potential to raise students’ sensitivity,” Diane Romm, one of the first librarians to use the internet, told The New York Times in June 1996. “Because it is international in its communication, people have to become more sensitive to the way what they say may be interpreted by people who come from different cultural backgrounds.”

15. On the virtual experience

“People can get lost in virtual worlds. Some are tempted to think of life in cyberspace as insignificant, as escape or meaningless diversion. It is not,” Sherry Turkle wrote in WIRED’s January 1996 issue. “Our experiences there are serious play. We belittle them at our risk. We must understand the dynamics of virtual experience both to foresee who might be in danger and to put these experiences to best use. Without a deep understanding of the many selves that we express in the virtual, we cannot use our experiences there to enrich the real. If we cultivate our awareness of what stands behind our screen personae, we are more likely to succeed in using virtual experience for personal transformation.”

16. On trying to get people to pay for content online

“There's so much free content [online], it's going to be extremely hard to get people to pay,” Marc Andreessen told USA Today in February 1996.

17. On the decline of print

“I can imagine a not-so distant future when a sizable fraction of professional writers won't ever enter the world of print but will go directly from school to digital publishing,” Paul Roberts said in the July 1996 issue of Harper’s. “Maybe they'll be constrained at first by the needs of older readers who were raised on print and who have only recently and partially and timidly converted to the nonlinear faith. But in time, this will change, as printing comes to be seen as too expensive and cumbersome, as computers become more powerful and more interlinked, and as they show up in every classroom and office, in every living room and den.”

18. On distinguishing between content and ads on the internet

“Sometimes, surfing along on the World Wide Web, you can cross the line from content to advertisement without even knowing it,” Sally Chew wrote in New York Magazine in May 1996.

19. On the internet amplifying individual voices

“The Internet has become the ultimate narrowcasting vehicle: everyone from UFO buffs to New York Yankee fans has a Website (or dozen) to call his own—a dot-com in every pot. Technology will only quicken the pace at which news is moving away from the universal and toward the individualized,” Richard Zoglin said in the October 21, 1996 issue of TIME.

20. World peace versus loss of privacy

“The Web is a crazy quilt of both utopian and Orwellian possibilities,” Elizabeth Corcoran wrote in the Washington Post in June 1996. “Its fans make wide-eyed predictions of world peace and democracy even as privacy advocates say that it will destroy the notion of confidentiality in our home lives.”

21. On internet decryption

“As for encryption, the Government keeps trying to do what governments naturally do: control people. They would like to ban encryption [which scrambles and unscrambles information on computers] to make it easier for law enforcement to listen in on people,” Esther Dyson told The New York Times on July 7, 1996. “In principle, all they want to do is stop crime. But the fact is that encryption is defensive technology against big government, big business, big crime. I’d rather have defensive technology than leave the power to snoop in the hands of people I might not trust.”

22. On Corporate America exploiting the internet

“Technolibertarians rightfully worry about Big Bad Government, yet think commerce unfettered can create all things bright and beautiful—and so they disregard the real invader of privacy: Corporate America seeking ever-better ways to exploit the Net, to sell databases of consumer purchases and preferences, to track potential customers however it can,” Paulina Borsook said in the July/August 1996 issue of Mother Jones.

23. On interacting on the internet

“I think the importance of interactivity in online media can’t be overstated,” Carl Steadman, co-founder of early web magazine Suck—“an irreverent online daily”—told TIME in October 1996. “When I can cheerfully scroll past the cyberpundit of the moment’s latest exposé to the discussion area that features the opinions of true experts like myself and my hometown’s own Joe Bob, I’ll feel I’ve finally broken free.”

24. On using the internet for piracy

“As the Internet’s capacity for data transmission increases and multimedia technology improves, it will become as easy to copy music, photos and movies as it is to copy text now,” Steven D. Lavine wrote to The New York Times in March 1996. “How can government hope to prevent copyright infringement without encroaching upon individual privacy rights? It cannot. Content providers must accept the loss of those customers willing to pirate content and concentrate on packaging their products with enough value added so that wealthier customers remain willing to pay.”

25. On CD-ROMs

“CD-ROMs have become so popular that virtually all new desktop computers are shipped with the ability to use them. But by the turn of the century, CD-ROMs could themselves become unused relics, just like those old 5¼-inch floppies,” William Casey wrote in the July 22, 1996 issue of the Washington Post. “And why? The big ol’ Internet, as you might expect.”

26. On an extremely connected world

“Just wait, says Microsoft chief technologist Nathan Myhrvold. Even your hot-water heater will become computerized and hooked to the Net,” Kevin Maney wrote in USA Today in November 1996. Myhrvold told Maney, “Anything that can be networked will be networked.”

27. On communicating on the internet

“How many times have you received a message on paper and wished you could send quick reply back to the sender?” Frank Vizard wrote in Popular Science’s December 1996 issue. “Motorola’s new PageWriter two-way pager lets you do exactly that—no need to connect to a telephone or computer as previous two-way pagers have required. To send a message, all you do is unfold a miniature keyboard and type in your text. [...] Just how big demand for the device will be remains to be seen.”

28. On the growth of the internet

“The Internet as we know it now will be quaint,” Timothy Logue, “a space and telecommunications analyst with Coudert Brothers in Washington,” told Satellite Communications in September 1996. “The Citizen’s Band radio phase died out, and the Internet is kind of in that CB radio state. It will evolve and mature in a couple of ways. It’ll be a global electronic city, with slum areas and red light districts, but it’ll also have a central business district.”

29. On the internet changing the world

We’ll leave you with a quote from Bill Gates, made in the September 16, 1996 issue of TIME: “The Internet is a revolution in communications that will change the world significantly. The Internet opens a whole new way to communicate with your friends and find and share information of all types. Microsoft is betting that the Internet will continue to grow in popularity until it is as mainstream as the telephone is today.”