By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
The temperature approached 100 degrees, but the hundreds of children and parents stood firm in a sweaty and noisy three-block-long line outside KD Studio in Dallas. The children were all trying to land a role in the upcoming season of Barney & Friends, the long-running program on public television. The parents smiled at a photographer and pinched a smile from their children. They'll sweat with a smile if it gives them a chance for a piece of Barney.
Other people want a piece of Barney, too, but not at a casting call. These other people don't love Barney. They hate him. Some have hated Barney since he first showed up on national television in the early 1990s. Just like the new little fans that Barney keeps enticing to the television year after year, the ranks of those who hate Barney also have remained strong. To protect Barney's wholesome image (and impressionable toddlers) HIT Entertainment (formerly Lyrick Studios) lawyers regularly shut down Web sites and stop other Barney bashing with lawsuits or threats of lawsuits.
In cyberspace, Barney is called "The Dark Lord," Satan (by someone who can prove it with a mathematical formula) and other even more derogatory things. Some say they want Barney dead and have hundreds of ideas about how to do the deed. A couple of suggestions include giving Barney a nitroglycerin suppository or having him bungee jump with a real rope wrapped around his neck.
The "Kill Barney" site says, "Kill Barney. Big fat loser. Child abuser. Likes to touch her. Get your hands off her!"
"Barney, Barney, stab him in the eye. Barney, Barney, he's going to die."
"Kill Barney. He's got no friends. He just pretends. He's a sex machine and a sexy drag queen."
The "Anti-Barney League" (also known as the "ABL") describes itself as "a group of people united in a single goal. Be scared Barney...It is time that we must unite against a force that is covering our nation like a dark cloud. Barney is evil."
To the disappointment of critics, nearly 10 years after joining the likes of Big Bird and Mr. Rogers on public television, the Dallas-produced Barney is still hop, hop, hopping along. In fact, during the last decade, Barney's profitability has become as fixed as his unsettling grin. New toddlers continue to discover Barney, and his valuable base of toddler product tie-ins such as diapers and toys continues to grow. Commercial licenses number 208 at the last count. More than 65 million Barney videos and more than 100 million Barney books in a variety of languages have been sold, and Barney has television contracts in more than 100 countries. Commercial licenses earned Barney's owners $177 million during the last nine years, a HIT Entertainment spokeswoman says. In the United States, Barney & Friends is seen on 320 public television stations, and the show has an average audience of 6 million. Our homegrown Barney has slowly entered the realm of stalwart icons with staying power, something known in the business as an "evergreen" property like Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck and Bugs Bunny.
At the HIT corporate headquarters in Allen, the black, lifeless eyes of hundreds of stuffed purple Barneys silently watch employees from the tops of desks and cubicles and floors and walls and filing cabinets. Like the children who look up to Barney, the corporate "family" at HIT loves Barney, and Barney is on a roll again. Lyrick Studios just this year was purchased by the British HIT corporation for $275 million, and the show is tooling up for another long run on PBS with Dallas production set to begin this fall and shows possibly to run until 2007. Although the studio doesn't make money from airing on PBS, the exposure keeps Barney in front of new fans who, it's assumed, will want to buy new things from Barney's massive product line. Love him or hate him, it looks like Barney is here to stay.
Is that bad?
One of the actors who wore the Barney suit for the Barney & Friends stage show that toured in North America and parts of Europe in the late 1990s says the production company hired roadies who had moved equipment and set up stages for big-name groups such as the Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin. The actor, who didn't want his name used (being one of the guys in the Barney suit apparently isn't a big selling point for an actor), says Barney regularly played to sold-out shows, and Barney's reception was always the same.
"The roadies said that right when Barney jumped out at the beginning was the loudest they had ever heard a crowd...even louder than the Stones," he says. "It was loud, dude, real loud."
Barney wouldn't have been such a big hit a decade earlier. Back then, the only widely recognized purple dinosaur was Dino from The Flintstones. For the uninitiated (you gotta be kidding), Barney is a 6-foot purple and green dinosaur character that appears to be made out of foam rubber. Previous episodes of Barney & Friends were set in a faux classroom with four or five children who appear to be between 7 and 10 years old. When the children "use their imagination," a toy Barney becomes the real Barney. Then, with Barney's help, the children dance and sing and go on imaginary adventures that involve numbers or letters or important life lessons like when it's OK to hug a dinosaur.