The show originated from the home video series, Barney & the Backyard Gang, which was produced by The Lyons Group from 1988 to 1991. The first three videos of the series starred actress Sandy Duncan. As the Backyard Gang video series was becoming only a moderate success outside of Texas (where it was considered successful for a local video series), the daughter of Larry Rifkin (former head of Connecticut Public Television) got a Barney video from a video store. She was entranced with Barney's character and her father liked the concept, so he talked to Sheryl Leach, the creator of Barney, about possibly putting Barney on television.
In 1992, long after the video store surprise, production began on thirty episodes of the first season of Barney & Friends. After the television series debuted on April 6, 1992, Barney was a smash hit, exceeding many of PBS' and audiences' expectations.
The show was originally taped at the ColorDynamics Studios facility at Greenville Avenue & Bethany Drive in Allen, Texas, after which it moved to The Studios at Las Colinas in Dallas. In its final seasons, the series was produced in Carrollton, Texas, a suburb of Dallas.
Focus on Education
The show utilizes both original and children's songs to convey various preschool topics using imagination, engaging them with music and emphasizing friendship in a loving environment. Vice-President of Content Development, Mary Ann Dudko, Ph.D. states that "Each Barney episode emphasizes language and cognitive development, physical activity and social interaction...in each episode, young viewers are invited to use their imaginations in problem-solving situations."
Yale researchers Dorothy and Jerome Singer concluded that episodes contain a great deal of age-appropriate educational material, calling the program a "model of what preschool television should be". Additionally, their research illustrates that Barney & Friends helps children be better prepared to enter a structured learning environment. The episodes have been described as "good examples" in dealing with pro-social behaviors and with emotion.
The series opens with the theme song (over clips from various episodes) and the title card before it dissolves into the episode's topic. The children imagine something and Barney comes to life from a plush doll, transforming into the "real" Barney, how he appears to the children while they're imagining.
Here, the main plot of the episode takes place. Barney and the children learn about the main topic of the episode, with Baby Bop, B.J., or Riff appearing during the episode and numerous songs themed relating to the subject featured in the series. The roles of the dinosaur children are larger in later seasons, and later episodes venture outside of the school to other places within the neighborhood and to other countries around the world in Season 13.
Barney concludes with the song "I Love You " before he dissolves back into his original stuffed form and winks to the audience. After the children leave for the day, the sequence cuts to a segment entitled Barney Says where Barney, who is off-screen, narrates what he and his friends had done that day, along with still snapshots from the episode. Then Barney, himself, signs off before the credits roll. In Seasons 3-8, and 12, he later appeared on-screen by saying, "And remember, I love you," and waves goodbye. Barney's Birthday is one of the few rare episodes in which Barney doesn't change back into a doll.
The show has been the frequent subject of criticism, most notably for a supposed "lack of educational value", even despite several peer-reviewed studies saying othewise.
Many families began to refuse to watch the show because of its supposed "one-dimensionality", and several YouTube videos have plush dolls of the character being either blown up or set on fire. Sources of hostility include episodes of the show that have since been removed from airing depicting Barney instructing children to talk to strangers (an episode that does not, in fact, exist at all).
Other sources of hostility include supposed episodes where the character instructs children to do other potentially "harmful" acts (that do not appear at all in the show), such as lying, cheating, stealing, and catching stinging insects (referring to the song Baby Bumblebee. Other reasons cited for the hostility also include Barney's voice (described by many adults as "dopey"), lack of varied facial expressions other than a toothy smile, and personality (described as being "self-centered"), as well as how the children in the series interact with the dinosaur characters.
One specific criticism is:
- "[H]is shows do not assist children in learning to deal with negative feelings and emotions. As one commentator puts it, the real danger from Barney is denial: the refusal to recognize the existence of unpleasant realities. For along with his steady diet of giggles and unconditional love, Barney offers our children a one-dimensional world where everyone must be happy and everything must be resolved right away."
Additionally, the show is ranked #50 ranked on TV Guide's List of the 50 Worst TV Shows of All Time.
This criticism has led to several humorous attempts, dubbed "anti-Barney humor ", namely in the form of Internet videos, songs, Internet fiction, print media, and video games.
- Some episodes of the television series were encoded with signals that enabled the Actimates Barney doll to interact with the program. During this time period, some reruns of Season 1-3 episodes removed the Barney Says segment to fit the program into the shortened time slot.
- The show was put on a hiatus from 2010 until the revival of the show, which was originally set air in 2017. As of 2019, no revival has surfaced.
- The Barney & Friends webpage was removed off of the main PBS Kids site around 2009, although the page is still up and running.
- According to Pia Hamilton, a typical 30-minute episode took four days to complete. Rehearsals were normally on Mondays, and filming took place Tuesdays-Thursdays.