From Selena Gomez to Stars From The Walking Dead: Celebrities Who Got Their Start on Barney

A new Peacock documentary called I Love You, You Hate Me looks at the light and dark sides of the beloved/hated '90s children's show. Here are the stars who owe their start to Barney.
A new Peacock documentary called I Love You, You Hate Me looks at the light and dark sides of the beloved/hated '90s children's show. Here are the stars who owe their start to Barney. Mark Perlstein
Off the top of your head, what’s the most obnoxious children’s television show of all time? While some people might think of Caillou, Teletubbies or Max & Ruby, the image that probably jumps to mind is one of a certain purple dinosaur. Barney & Friends has its origins in Plano. The educational series began shooting in North Texas when it debuted on PBS in 1992.

Barney & Friends became a phenomenon that quickly drew the ire of irritated parents. Is there anything more obnoxious than hearing this purple monster sing with a group of children? The new Peacock original docuseries I Love You, You Hate Me explores the deep well of “Barney hatred” that swept the nation.

During the dawn of the internet, Barney & Friends inspired some of the first online trolls and hate groups.
I Love You, You Hate Me explores some of the disturbing ramifications of the controversy. There were death threats against the show’s creators and composers, and many of the children who were featured in the series were relentlessly bullied. Although frat boys’ tradition of holding “smashing” parties for Barney toys seems like it was all in fun, the hatred inspired some haunting online parodies and extremist groups. A Marine Corps University professor, Douglas Streusand, even discovered that online searches for “jihad” were often linked to searches for Barney & Friends.

As the docuseries notes, there was nothing about Barney that was done in bad faith. The show’s creator, Sheryl Leach, came up with the idea to entertain her young son, Patrick, but the strains on her marriage and the pressure of the series ended up destroying the family. Patrick Leach grew up to resent his mother’s show; in 2013, he was arrested in Malibu on charges of attempted murder.

Like everything on the Internet, the “Anti-Barney” campaign is only funny if you don’t take it seriously. Barney & Friends was the first acting gig of many child stars who went on to find success in the series. Check out these future stars that were among Barney’s family.

Selena Gomez
Long before she made her Disney Channel debut on The Wizards of Waverly Place, the future pop star (and Grand Prairie native) was a regular on Barney & Friends. Gomez appeared as Gianna, one of Barney’s best friends, on the series from 2002 to 2004. Although the realization caught a lot of her fans off guard, Gomez was able to make fun of her role in her monologue on Saturday Night Live. Demi Lovato
Gomez wasn’t the only future megastar to make her start on Barney & Friends. During Gomez’s run on the series, Demi Lovato appeared as her companion Angela. It kicked off a friendship between the two that has a notoriously rocky history, but at some point Gomez referred to Lovato as “my best friend since we were seven years old.” Malese Jow
Here’s one for you, The Vampire Diaries fans. Malese Jow (professionally known as Melise) got her start with Barney at the age of six. While The Vampire Diaries may have been popular among teenage audiences, Jow has also appeared in more critically acclaimed projects like The Social Network and CW’s The Flash. Maybe Barney taught her a thing or two about working hard.

Jaren Lewison
Another Dallas native, Jaren Lewison, graduated from Pearce High School in Richardson in 2019. He’s currently a heartthrob on Netflix’s Never Have I Ever, but he made his acting debut on Barney & Friends back in 2008. Would Barney approve of all the teen drama on Never Have I Ever?

Jackson Pace

Jackson Pace announced himself as “one to watch” with his child role on Homeland, but he’s recently shown his dramatic range with a performance as Gage on the last few seasons of The Walking Dead. While Pace may have been hailed as a “breakout star” upon his Homeland debut, his actual first acting gig was on two episodes of Barney & Friends in 2006.

Kyla Pratt
Remember Eddie Murphy’s adorable daughter from the Dr. Dolittle sequels? Kyla Pratt appeared alongside the comedy legend in those family films before her breakout role as Penny Proud on the Disney Channel series The Proud Family (which received an acclaimed reboot on Disney+). Pratt didn’t just show up for a few random Barney & Friends episodes; she co-starred with the purple dinosaur in the 1998 feature film Barney’s Great Adventure.

Brighton Sharbino
It’s a little unnerving how many stars have appeared on both Barney & Friends and The Walking Dead. Maybe there’s a crossover in the future; could we see zombie dinosaurs in The Walking Dead’s last season? Brighton Sharbino (aka Lizzie) sang with Barney during her youth, but she managed to take on some more adult roles with her appearance as Woody Harrelson’s daughter in the first season of True Detective.

Madison Pettis
The star of Cory in the House on the Disney Channel also appeared as Dwayne Johnson’s daughter in The Game Plan. However, Pettis appeared in several projects within the Barney universe, including the films Barney: Can You Sing That Song? and Barney: Let’s Make Music. To be honest, the Barney films probably received better reviews than Netflix’s He’s All That, in which Pettis also co-starred.

Debby Ryan
Barney & Friends was a launching point for many Disney Channel child stars, including the future Bailey Pickett from The Suite Life on Deck. Perhaps there’s a larger Barney-connected universe going on, because Debby Ryan also appeared as a guest star on The Wizards of Waverly Place. Maybe she and Gomez were able to bond over their collective experience with the purple dinosaur.

Sophia Ali

If you’re catching the acclaimed Amazon Prime Original series The Wilds, you know that Sophia Ali has an inherent sensitivity that makes her performances more vulnerable. Perhaps this is something she picked up from Barney: Ali appeared as herself in three episodes back in 2006.
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Liam Gaughan has been covering film and television since before he had a driver's license, and in addition to the Observer has been published in, Schmoes Know, Taste of Cinema and The Dallas Morning News. He enjoys checking classic films off of his watchlist and working on spec scripts.

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