Often referred to as “one of the most successful and ground-breaking preschool television series of all time” due to its inclusivity and narrative format, “Blue’s Clues” was a staple for many kids watching television between 1996 and 2006.
Celebrating the 25th anniversary of the iconic series, Nickelodeon recently brought back the show’s original host, Steve Burns, to deliver a heartfelt Twitter message to those who grew up watching the program. The short video left millions of people in tears, causing them to realize just how much their lives have been shaped by groundbreaking children’s programming like “Blue’s Clues.”
Creating a Phenomenal Show
Some of the best children’s shows understand that the young audience is smart enough to handle concepts such as friendship, sharing, family and the power of creativity. Kids are often able to comprehend more than adults give them credit for, which is one of the reasons why it was so difficult for many creators of children’s TV shows to find a balance between fun, education and profitability.
That is, until “Blue’s Clues” came along. The preschool show follows a rigid format in which the host and his dog, Blue, help the viewers solve a puzzle or problem presented at the beginning of the episode by searching their animated world for clues, which are identified by Blue’s paw prints. The tone of the show is casual and encourages creative problem-solving, while respecting a child’s level of intellect and their desire to think critically with the host.
Of course, “Blue’s Clues” wasn’t the first show to implement an interactive experience with its young viewers. Highly acclaimed shows like “Sesame Street” were also praised for this format, and “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood,” well-known for its handling of difficult topics, was one of the show’s primary inspirations. But “Blue’s Clues” was created at just the right time, during a period of uninspired children’s TV.
By the beginning of 1990, parents, teachers and media experts had been criticizing the lack of quality educational shows for children on commercial television for years. PBS was, at the time, the only source for quality children’s television. There were many TV shows for children, though most of them were non-educational, violent and designed to sell toys and other products to kids. The channel Nickelodeon was interested in creating programming for young kids, and wanted to provide “programs that would actually benefit preschoolers rather than merely entertain them.”
With this in mind, “Blue’s Clues” was developed as one of Nick Jr.’s first shows. It aimed to be simple, visual and slow while “emphasizing social and emotional skills, treating children like they were smart, and helping them feel empowered,” according to The New York Times. In addition to these points, the show was admired for host Steve’s interaction with the audience, which encouraged friendship and group thinking, as well as the wide variety of math and science skills presented to the viewers through the influence of creativity and song.
Since the show’s premiere, it’s also been praised for its inclusion of real-world topics, the incorporation of sign language and breaking social stigmas. For example, though Blue and her friend Magenta are girl dogs, their color does not signify a gender, which helped teach kids that colors can be for anyone.
The “Blue’s Clues” premiere was the highest-rated premiere of any Nickelodeon program at the time. The show was later recognized as crucial to the network’s growth and success, and scholars even went as far as to call it the “cornerstone” of Nick Jr.’s educational programming. Within the next few years, it was ranked the third-highest rated children’s public television show, just behind other influential classics like “Barney & Friends” and “Arthur.” By 2002, the show had garnered 13.7 million viewers each week, and aired in over 50 countries worldwide.
“Blue’s Clues” was a phenomenon for children at the turn of the century. Steve’s encouraging remarks and kindhearted discussions with the audience formed a bond with him, and the show, which shaped a lot of viewers into the people they are today. Which is why so many of us — at least 2 million, in fact — were emotional over the return of our favorite green-wearing host on Sept. 8.
The Green and Blue Impact
In Steve Burns’ video celebrating the 25th anniversary of “Blue’s Clues,” he addresses the audience by apologizing for his departure from the show in 2002 (which was explained, to the viewers, by claiming he “went off to college”). Burns, in character, then praises the viewer for all they’ve done in their time since growing up with Blue. “And then look at you, and look at all you have done, and all you have accomplished in all that time. And it’s just, it’s just so amazing, right?” he said. “I mean, we started out with clues, and now, it’s what? Student loans, and jobs, and families? And some of it has been kind of hard, you know? I know you know.”
— Nick Jr. (@nickjr) September 7, 2021
In addition to the kindness shown in the video, and the reminder that we have grown up with some challenges along the way, the video is genius in that Burns is still in character as “Steve.” He speaks just as he did to us when we were young, with his classic verbal traits like pausing after a statement to give the viewer time to respond.
Twitter users appreciated his awareness that his viewers had grown up, and how he tied childhood to adulthood in a simple, raw and realistic manner. “It’s honestly nice hearing Steve still talking to us in character after all these years,” a user commented below the original video. “No matter how much time has passed since we said goodbye, it just makes the next time we say hello all the more joyful.”
Other users followed suit, flooding the comments with equally heartfelt responses to the video. “Hearing Steve again… takes me back to a time when happiness felt so simple and kindness came so easily,” said another touched viewer. “To the kids who were tiny back when I was, in the 90s/00s, please keep being kind to yourselves, even if no one else is. Don’t stop believing in you.”
That’s why “Blue’s Clues” was, and is, so special to kids both now and then. It interacted with the audience knowing that they would grow to be adults, but not without joys and challenges, too. The show respected the child viewers as people who could develop in a multitude of different ways, rather than as one distant and unreachable person, and intended to foster a lasting relationship between the characters and the viewers that endured long after the final episode. No matter who the viewer was, Steve and the other characters believed in them.
Each episode not only aimed to entertain the audience while encouraging imaginative thoughts, but they also taught us a bit about the world we would encounter when we got older. Episodes about other cultures, the use of sign language and celebrations such as Kwanzaa or Hanukkah taught young viewers how to be curious about the people around us, how to build connections with others with welcome arms.
But perhaps more subtly, “Blue’s Clues” braced us for the realities of growing up. With Steve’s departure in 2002, many viewers were left confused or sad about Steve leaving the show for college. Why did he have to leave, and what would we ever do without him? For most, the show was never quite the same without him, but his exit also brought a few lessons. College was something anyone could do, if they used their minds well enough, and sometimes change was for the better, no matter how much it hurt to go through with it.
“Out of all of the show’s attempts to tell those at home about music, or math, or to encourage problem-solving, it’s most infamous lesson was also its most important: that time waits for no one,” said creator Quinton Reviews in a YouTube video titled “What Blue’s Clues Really Taught Us.” He analyzes the scope of Steve’s influence, and goes on to say, “Throughout your life, you’re going to meet a lot of people like Steve. Kind, caring people who make your day a little brighter. Then sometimes that has to end, and that can hurt a lot, but you have to keep moving. ‘Blue’s Clues’ taught me that nothing is forever, and that’s okay.”
The Clues That Stick With Us
“When we use our minds, and take a step at a time, we can do anything that we want to do!” said the lyrics to one of Steve’s most iconic songs.
Though the original “Blue’s Clues” audience has now grown, we’ve been impacted enough by the show to be transported back to our childhoods with the simple reminder that Steve was there to help us understand the world we now live in. As adults, many of us can appreciate that we’ve gotten to where we are because of influential shows like “Blue’s Clues,” which helped prepare us to create bonds, solve problems and enjoy whatever situation is thrown our way.
If watching “Blue’s Clues” was one of your fondest childhood memories, remember that you can do anything you want to do. The world is yours now, and the lessons from your childhood will stick with you for as long as you allow them.