Pee-wee's Playhouse

From Academic Kids

Pee-wee's Playhouse was a half-hour CBS USA TV Saturday morning "children's show" starring Pee-wee Herman (played by Paul Reubens) that aired from 1986 until 1991 and was enormously popular with both children and adults. The show returned in reruns from 1998 to 1999 on Fox Family Channel (now ABC Family).

The Pee-Wee Herman character was created by comedian Paul Reubens. One commentator described the character as combining "a transgressive sexuality, unabashed materialism, obsessive neatness and a sly anti-authoritarian pose, dressed up in a distinctive costume of white shoes, white socks, red bowtie, tight plaid suit, rouge and lipstick".

Pee-Wee first appeared as a cameo character in a revue that was staged while Reubens was a member of the Los Angeles-based comedy troupe The Groundlings. He then developed a live stage show starring Pee-wee, and when it became successful he sold it to TV, and it was filmed as an (adult) comedy special. He then teamed with young director Tim Burton in 1985 and they made the comedy film Pee-Wee's Big Adventure. It became one of the year's surprise hits, and was also hugely profitable -- it cost a relatively modest US$8 million to make, but took US$45 million at the box office.

Thanks to the movie's runaway success, in 1986 CBS offered Reubens a Saturday-morning TV timeslot, total creative control and a huge budget of US$325,000 per episode (a figure usually reserved for prime-time sitcoms). The result was one of the most original children's shows ever made, combining live action, video effects, animation, puppetry and vintage cartoons.

At the beginning of each show, viewers were told the day's "secret word" and were instructed to "scream real loud" every time a character on the show said the word, which was given to Pee-wee by his robot friend, Conky. But he often was the sucker for his own tricks, as he accidentally said the secret word and everyone practically screams in his face. Also, throughout the series, Pee-Wee demanded quiet and silence from the characters and perhaps the viewers (see below).

The show was notorious for its campy undertones and double entendre.

As soon as it first aired, Pee-wee's Playhouse fascinated media theorists and commentators, many of whom championed the show as a postmodernist hodgepodge of queer characters and situations which appeared to soar in the face of domineering racist, sexist, and heterosexist presumptions. In its first season, the show won six Emmys as well as other awards.

"I'm just trying to illustrate that it's okay to be different -- not that it's good, not that it's bad, but that it's all right. I'm trying to tell kids to have a good time and to encourage them to be creative and to question things," Reubens told an interviewer in Rolling Stone.

Many now well-known T.V. and Film actors received their major break on the show, including the late Phil Hartman, as "Kaptain Karl;" Laurence Fishburne, as "Cowboy Curtis;" Jimmy Smits, as "Your authorized conky repairman;", Lynne Stewart as "the most beautiful woman in Puppetland;", Miss Yvonne, and S. Epatha Merkerson, as "Reba the Mail Lady."

The music for the show was provided by artists including Mark Mothersbaugh, Todd Rundgren, Danny Elfman, Mitchell Froom, Van Dyke Parks, George Clinton and Dweezil Zappa.

The opening prelude theme is an interpolation of Martin Denny's "Quiet Village". Although credited to "Ellen Shaw", the show's jaunty theme song was in fact performed by Cyndi Lauper.


Characters include:

and of course Pee Wee Herman!

The Picturephone

The Picturephone was a prominent feature on the show. It was a videophone. A large booth in the shape of a woman's head was the exterior. The lips served as the double doors. Inside was a TV monitor and several levers and other controls that Pee-Wee pulled and twisted, as well as lights to brighten the inside. Also, a pull-down drape was often seen; it parodied a lot of modern day artwork, such as American Gothic. In the first season, Pee-Wee was the only person that could use the Picturephone, but in later seasons, characters such as Miss Yvonne, Mrs. Renee, and Cowboy Curtis used it. The interior only had one seat, but three people could get inside it, as seen on the episode "Store". Also, it seems that there's more than one Picturephone, as Pee-Wee calls a very erotic-sounding phone operator that seems to have feelings for PW. Pee-Wee, on occasion, engaged with some kind of phone sex with Miss Yvonne, too.

The "conversations" were actually pre-recorded video films of any character that Pee-Wee "called".

Times where Pee-Wee wanted silence

There were, however, several times where Pee-wee demanded absolute quiet and silence, from both the characters, and perhaps the viewers watching the show.

  • The first was in the episode "Love That Story" in which the gang was playing library, and Pee-Wee was the librarian. Miss Yvonne played one of the persons reading/studying. When the Playhouse characters, minus Pee-wee and Miss Yvonne, were screaming after Miss Yvonne said the word "End", Pee-Wee got so mad that he shouted "SILENCE!!" and made everyone fall quiet.
  • The second time was in "Pee-Wee Catches a Cold". Magic Screen said the word "out", which, as usual, caused everyone to scream. Pee-Wee shouted, "STOP ALL THAT SCREAMING! CAN'T YOU PEOPLE HAVE A LITTLE CONSIDERATION?!" in which everyone fell silent. Miss Yvonne cringed in fear at the anger.

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