It didn’t faze them.
Not at all. And they’d be very serious about talking to you. You know, “I have a lot of questions to ask you, Pee-wee…we only have a minute, so let’s get to it. Where exactly is the playhouse? What’s Chairy doing right now?” [Laughs] All the stuff we purposefully never disclosed in the show, that was what they wanted to know. Kids weren’t going crazy and wild around me. They wanted to have a conversation.
What I think a lot of people didn’t realize was, this wasn’t a goof on kids’ shows. I felt like it was a mission and this was what I was supposed to do; I considered it important work. I always sort of thought that this would have a positive effect on kids. And they picked up on that, I think. [Pause] I’ve spent a lot of time rewatching these episodes during the restoration process for this set, and I’m still really proud of what we all did.
These remastered episodes on the Blu-ray set look pretty astounding, to say the least.
What a lot of people don’t realize is, the show was shot on film. But it’s never been seen on film — we’d shoot it and immediately transfer it to tape, then we’d edit it on tape and add the effects in on tape. The whole thing is then put on a “broadcast tape,” for airing. You lose information and clarity the more you dupe, so in some cases, we’re talking six generations of loss. We’ve cleaned all that up. I’ve spent over a year in a lab helping the folks putting this out with color corrections, helping them find the right source material for some of the effects — many of which they recreated from scratch for the Blu-rays. The amount of work that went into this was huge.
One of the things I always loved about the show was the amount of detail we were able to pack into the show, how great everything was made to look — and so much of that got lost because of transfers and time. Someone told me that it’s basically impossible to show Playhouse re-runs on TV over the last five years, because they would just look horrible — and he was right. But we’ve rescued these episodes now. You can see all the details and the vibrancy now. I was looking at the box of the DVD set that came out in the early 2000s, and it says something like “as you’ve never seen them before.” This is really how you’ve never seen them before. Fans are going to freak out.
It’s one thing for fans who grew up with this to get excited watching these episodes, but I showed some to my kid and she was immediately hooked. Why do you think this show has been able to maintain its appeal to youngsters, while a lot of other kids’ shows from the past just feel like relics?
This is territory I always shy away from; if I have to dissect what I do, it stops being fun for me. I give this kind of thing very little thought. But if you’re just asking my opinion…
Just your personal opinion, yeah.
Well, what it comes down to is: I really love kids. I’m always knocked out by kids, how funny they are and what they appreciate. The greatest moments in the writing room were always when myself or someone else would come up with something that would make us say: This is going to make a six-year-old fall off the couch [laughs]. It was so much fun and so rewarding to do something where the goal was to just make kids laugh, entertain them and show them a world that embraces creativity and nonconformity.
And one of the few things I feel that the show did really well was that we never talked down to kids. It was a show that assumed its viewers were very young but very smart. It never seemed like a kid’s show if you actually were a kid. Does that make sense? We weren’t under the auspices of something like the Children’s Television Workshop, where a certain part of the content has to be educational, I’m guessing. We tried to disguise anything that might seem overtly like a lesson or a lecture, but we still got some important points across. It’s tough to make a kid’s show; it’s even tougher to make a kid’s show that real kids like. And I take great pride in the fact that that’s what we did.