|Between the Lions|
|Theme music composer||Sarah Durkee|
|Opening theme||"Between the Lions" sung by Cindy Mizelle|
|Ending theme||"Between the Lions"|
|Country of origin||United States|
|No. of seasons||10|
|No. of episodes||130 (list of episodes)|
|Production locations||New York, New York|
|Running time||26 minutes|
|Original network||PBS Kids|
|Original release||April 3, 2000 –|
November 22, 2010
Between the Lions is an American animated/live-action/puppet children's television series designed to promote reading. The show was a co-production between WGBH in Boston and Sirius Thinking, Ltd., in New York City, in association with Mississippi Public Broadcasting, the distributor from seasons 1–10, in Mississippi. The show won nine Daytime Emmy awards between 2001 and 2007. Although it was created by alumni of the fellow PBS children’s show Sesame Street, Between the Lions was not created by Sesame Workshop, nor was it produced with their involvement in any way. The show ran from April 3, 2000 to November 22, 2010, taking over the schedule slot held by The Puzzle Place upon its debut.
The series focuses on a family of clumsy anthropomorphic lions operating and living in a large, busy library called, “The Barnaby B. Busterfield III Memorial Public Library” starring alongside characters such as Click, an electronic, anthropomorphic computer mouse, the Information Hen, who answers library calls, and Heath, a dinosaur who serves as the library’s thesaurus. The program's format is intended to promote literacy and reading; in each episode, the lions introduce a picture book to the audience and read it. Some episodes have featured adaptions of well-known folktales or ancient myths or fables, while others have featured popular storybooks such as Click, Clack, Moo: Cows that Type, or shown the lions learning or benefiting from the lessons presented by the story.
The series often features an array of educational segments formatted each in its own distinctive style, particularly parodies of well-known media redesigned educationally for younger audiences or simple animations, some sketches more repetitive than others. A distinctive feature of the series is that it is virtually never set outside of the library, as it usually chronicles the lions' experiences within it. A subplot features a pair of pigeons named Walter and Clay comically infuriating a living bust of the library's deceased founder, Barnaby B. Busterfield III, located in an upper section of the library, that is normally intended for comic relief.
After the fourth season, the series underwent a noticeable format change. Notably, the show consisted of two ten-minute shorts, each a condensation of an earlier episode, tied together and united around a theme. The series also began to focus on consonants instead of vowels. Old segments such as "Magic Time" "Sam Spud" and "The Monkey Pop-Up Theater" were replaced with new ones such as "Joy Learno" and "The Flying Trampolini Brothers". Later episodes shifted away from the earlier focus on reading, and stories were just told to tie into the theme of the episode. Major characters such as Busterfield, Heath, Walter, Clay, and Martha Reader vanished from the show as well, despite still appearing in the intro.
Main article: List of Between the Lions episodes
|First aired||Last aired|
|1||30||April 3, 2000||May 12, 2000|
|2||25||April 2, 2001||May 4, 2001|
|3||10||September 16, 2002||November 18, 2002|
|4||5||September 15, 2003||September 19, 2003|
|5||10||April 18, 2005||June 21, 2005|
|6||10||April 17, 2006||June 19, 2006|
|7||10||September 17, 2007||November 19, 2007|
|8||10||September 15, 2008||November 17, 2008|
|9||10||September 21, 2009||November 23, 2009|
|10||10||September 20, 2010||November 22, 2010|
There are many special guest appearances in the show featuring well-known celebrities. Al Roker, India Arie, Jasmine Guy, Ossie Davis (along with his wife Ruby Dee), Bruno Kirby, Denyce Graves, Roma Downey, Vanessa Williams, and Jane Seymour as well as a few athletes have also made appearances to read words to the viewers, including basketball player Stephon Marbury. Joe Lynn Turner sang a few songs on the show. LeVar Burton also appeared alongside the cast in several PBS Kids promotional spots. In addition, characters from other PBS Kids shows have appeared in Between the Lions. Three cast members of Zoom (Rachel Redd, Kenny Yates, and Kaleigh Cronin) have appeared, teaching viewers how to read the word "Zoom." Several Sesame Street Muppets made cameos in Season Two and in the “Dance in Smarty Pants” music video.
Between the Lions often makes wild parodies of (often children's) programming. The title itself is a double entendre in that it is a play on the phrase "between the lines" and that many classic library buildings have two lions separated by the main entrance. Thus in order to enter the library, one must go "between the lions". Some recurring segments include:
The Monkey Pop-Up Theater: A monkey with blonde hair (monkeys are often featured as background characters or library patrons in this series) opens a pop-up book which presents a zany musical performance by monkeys who sing in operatic voices.
The Vowelles: Three colored lips with satin gloves and wigs perform vowel songs for an audience. In the first few seasons, Click's hand would pick up the letters of a word from the book and transition them to their segment to establish the vowel and word family of the episode. The Vowelles are usually accompanied by Johnny Consananti and Martha Reader. In Season 1, the stage backdrop is not lit, leaving viewers to see only lips, and usually satin gloves and feather boas, and hair. In seasons 2–4, the dark stage background is replaced with a colorful silver background obviously revealing that The Vowelles are only three pairs of lips surrounded by wigs, and usually accompanied by satin gloves and feather boas, and the unidentified puppets in the audience are replaced with monkeys and Johnny Consananti is the announcer. Martha Reader and The Vowelles is a parody of Martha Reeves and The Vandellas, a popular Motown group from the 1960s.
The Word Doctor with Dr. Ruth Wordheimer: Dr. Ruth Westheimer portrays "Dr. Ruth Wordheimer", a friendly therapist. Her two types of clients are:
Little Wendy Tales: In an animesque segment, a girl with black hair tied in pigtails reads the misadventures found in Little Wendy Tales when sitting next to her white cat Cuddly Kitty on her bed. In classic fashion, the dark-haired girl and Cuddly Kitty transform themselves into The Punctuator and Emoticon the Cat (a parody of Sailor Moon, among other anime clichés) and saves Wendy by means of switching around the punctuation, altering the scene in the process. She rereads the altered adventures after correcting the sentences.
Fun with Chicken Jane: A parody of the famous Dick and Jane books for children. In this, two naive children, Scot and Dot, place themselves in harm's way. An intelligent chicken named Chicken Jane spells out an obvious solution to the problem. At the last moment, the children get out of the way and Chicken Jane gets hurt instead. The theme song is a parody of the old Alka Seltzer jingle. When the skit starts, Scot, Dot, and Chicken Jane come skipping down a dirt road to the jingle that goes "Look, look, see, see, coming down the lane. Here comes Scot, here comes Dot, here comes Chicken Jane!" When the skit is over, Scot and Dot headed back up the road (Chicken Jane limping along behind with an injured wing) to "Look, look, see, see, going up the lane. There goes Scot, there goes Dot, there goes Chicken Jane!". In the Episode, "Stop That Chicken", Chicken Jane once fell out of one of the books and ended up in several other books which are Colonial America, Sleeping Beauty, and Cook A Lot Like Me by Molly Stewpot (a reference to Martha Stewart). The very demanding chef Molly sees Chicken Jane and wants to use her in one of her recipes while ignoring what Chicken Jane is saying. The book is then swatted at in an attempt for Chicken Jane to come to life while jelly is spilled onto Molly in a defeat, and Leona succeeds in getting Chicken Jane back in her book.
The Adventures of Cliff Hanger: This common cartoon segment centers around Cliff Hanger, a lantern-jawed outdoorsman who is usually stranded hundreds of feet above the ground, holding onto a branch on the side of a cliff (hence the skit's title). Each episode presents Cliff with a preposterous situation of some kind, which he attempts to use to his advantage by reaching into his backpack, pulling out what he calls his "trusty survival manual", and following the instructions provided there. The instructions, though often highly unorthodox, usually prove successful, and Cliff briefly escapes from the cliff. But, inevitably, another highly unlikely incident sends Cliff back to where he started, hanging onto his branch once again. The cartoon then ends when the branch starts cracking as Cliff says his baleful catchphrase: "Can't... hold... on... much... longer!" and the sun sets as a cliff hanger. This scene occurs at the beginning of the cartoon as well. Similar to cartoons such as Wile E. Coyote and Road Runner, these cartoon clips follow the same storyline; although Cliff never gives up on trying to get off the cliff, he never succeeds. Each segment begins and usually ends with a theme song sung by a formally dressed group of singers that flies by in a helicopter, singing "Cliff Hanger, hanging from a cliff! And that's why he's called Cliff Hanger!" Cliff attempts to attract their attention to his predicament by calling out "Excuse me! Excuse me!", but to no avail. In one episode, he apparently succeeds at drawing their attention, and they rescue him, but it turns out he is simply dreaming. He once got off the cliff when he jumped on a whale's blowhole and washed up on a beach in "The Last Cliff Hanger" and Lionel is upset about the last book, but eventually missed his cliff and, through a series of bizarre events (thanks to the writer, Livingston Dangerously), got himself back onto it. His name is a play on the media term "cliffhanger" which is often shown on non-Between the Lions episodes as "to be continued".
In three episodes Cliff Hanger and the Solid Oil Lamp, Cliff Hanger Meets the Sleeping Gypsy, and Cliff Hanger and the Sheep on a Ship, Cliff Hanger imagines he is in a restaurant eating steak, he is in a bathtub and a starstruck door.
In another episode, Lionel's friend Lenny, a lizard, introduces a similarly styled series of books called Justin Time, about a stereotypical explorer named Justin Time who relaxes in a hammock until an absurd scenario like those of Cliff Hanger occurs, forcing him to intervene to restore the calm, boasting, "Couldn't be more comfortable.", as opposed to Cliff Hanger's catchphrase "Can't hold on much longer!" He too used a version of the Survival Manual, called a Safety Manual, which is from his Survival Kit, a version of Cliff Hanger's backpack and the same formally dressed chorus, riding in the back of a Pickup truck introduces him at the beginning of the story, singing "Justin Time, he's always saved just in time! And that is why he is called Justin Time!" Then Justin rudely tells the singers "Go away!" just like how Cliff Hanger always gets their attention to his predicament. Ironically, Lionel disliked this series. Only one Justin Time segment was ever shown as it only appeared in one episode. In the series, the character Lionel is a fan of Cliff Hanger books, which his sister Leona thinks are pointless. But, even in episodes where she expresses hatred, she has shown respect for it, such as when she decided to help Lionel get Livingston Dangerously to write more books.
Gawain's Word: A Wayne's World spoof hosted by a knight with an American surfer accent, featuring two jousting knights charging at each other, each touting a speech balloon with half of a word which then became their respective names, then demonstrating the word. For example, one skit featured "Sir Sh" dressed in silver armor and "Sir Ark" dressed in gold armor. Then Gawain says, "Blend on, dudes!" when it is time to put the halves together. When Sir Sh bumps into Sir Ark, their speech balloons meld together to form the word "shark." Then they react to the word, by running away from a hovering shark. Though the title of the segment clearly is a parody of the Saturday Night Live skit, the two knights in the segment speak more characteristically like Bill and Ted from Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure than Wayne and Garth from Wayne's World.
Tiger Words: A pun of golfer Tiger Woods. Tiger is always seen participating in a spelling competition (modeled off a golf tournament), where he always misspell a word. While the crowd and announcer are surprised and dismayed at his error, Tiger corrects his mistake by using another tool in his pencil bag (using an eraser to fix mistakes in pencil, or paint to fix mistakes in pen, for example). Tiger correctly spells the word and wins the championship.
Sam Spud: Par-Boiled Potato Detective: A spoof of the Sam Spade detective stories, this segment portrays a par-boiled potato (voiced by Michael K. Frith) who types out the voice-over narration typical of film noir on a late night, making and correcting typographical errors that demonstrate word sounds. This segment makes heavy use of sight gags based on wordplay (such as the narrator referring to the entrance of a "tomato"—1930s slang for an attractive woman—who is revealed to be a real tomato wearing a costume; or a neon sign that blinks the words "Flicker Flicker" or "On" and "Off"). In most cases, the segments would end with a live-action child watching Sam Spud on television and calling out to his or her mother that "there's a talking potato with a hat on and no mouth!" (or some variation), and the mother calling from offscreen telling her child not to worry and that it's educational television, so it must be good for him/her. On one occasion, it ends with the mother saying that it is not nice to say "dumb", after a girl was describing a pickle with a zipper.
The Un-People: This cartoon is aimed at teaching kids their prefixes. The main character is "young" Monica Maxwell, a girl about 8 years-old who seems to have an inordinate amount of trouble with a group of rambunctious rhinos or other misfortunes. The segment always begins with the rhinos running amok (or other non-rhino related situations, such as when Monica marches down a street in a parade) usually in Monica's house. The clever, resourceful girl somehow manages to subdue or round up the rhinos, for example, putting them in a zippered bag (not all these segments have relationship with rhinos.) All of a sudden, the evil Un-People come along and "un-zip" the bag, causing the rhinos to run free again and resume their rampage of destruction (or other misfortune not caused by the animals.) But when the crime-fighting Re-People appear, they "re-zip" the bag and the destruction of the charging rhinos stops, or other misfortune-quelling results. This segment may be considered a parody of common superhero-themed cartoons such as the Justice League. There are at least two skits that did not feature rhinos—the "undressed"/"redressed" skit where a marching band is seen without clothes, only to get redressed in their outfits, and the "unbuttoned"/"rebuttoned" skit where Monica is seen playing in the snow, with her coat becoming unbuttoned and then finally rebuttoned.
Silent E: A sly criminal, Silent E, has the ability to make the vowel sounds say their names and changes the words without a silent e into words with a silent e, for example: he changes a cub (which resembles Leona) into a cube, a tub into a tube, a twin into twine and a can into a cane. In each segment, Silent E is carted off to jail by a policeman. Silent E then writes a note to the policeman, which usually reads something like, "Sure do like that pin/cap you're wearing! I would love to get a closer look!" The policeman then remarks, "Well, sure! I don't see any harm in that!" The policeman hands the object to Silent E, who then easily escapes by using either the policeman's pin and turning it into a pine to climb out the window or the policeman's cap and turning it into a cape to fly out the window. Either way, after that, the policeman shouts, "Well, Silent E, you may have slipped out of my grasp this time, but mark my words: I'll get you YET!!!!"
Dr. Nitwhite: This sketch usually begins with Dr. Nitwhite ordering in his assistant, Watson (the character most guilty of calling him "Dr. Nitwit"), for Nitwhite claims he has discovered "the only word in the entire English language!" with a particular letter combination in it, showing extreme pride in his achievement. Unfortunately for Nitwhite, Watson casually utters an expression or sentence containing another word with that same combination (for example, in one sketch, Nitwhite proudly presents what he claims to be the only two-letter word with the short 'I' sound: in. An impressed Watson remarks, "Dr. Nitwhite! This time, I think you have really done it!"). After Nitwhite realizes this, he breaks down and advises Watson to leave, which the latter does, calling him "Dr. Nitwit" once more.
Vowel Boot Camp: In this segment, the soldiers, who are lowercase vowels (except the drill sergeant, who is an exclamation point and is revealed to be aptly named Sergeant Mark in one sketch), practice making their sounds and then go out to make words. The famous catchphrase is "This isn't Camp Nappy Packy Wacky Lake/Camp Easy Peasy Eat-a-lot/Camp Itty Bitty Kitty Time/Camp Hoppa Woppa Coppa Nope/Camp Gummy Wummy Cutie-pie; this is Vowel Boot Camp!" In three skits, the lowercase "I" soldier is seen missing a dot before being corrected by the drill instructor, the "U" soldier is seen upside down, looking like a lowercase "N" before being corrected by the drill sergeant to set his head to the proper position and the "O" soldier has a pillow from his footlocker in his mouth before the sergeant (who had told him this on several prior occasions) tells him to spit it out, which he does. Portions of this segment deal with silent "E" and letters containing two vowels. For example, the "I" soldier is accompanied by two letters, "R" and "P" to form "rip" until the "E" is added at the end of the word to turn the word into "ripe". The drill sergeant then asks the soldiers regarding the rule prompting the soldiers to sing the tune "When "E" on the end plays a no-talking game, the vowel before it says its name." Another example is when the "A" soldier is sandwiched between two lowercase consonants "M" and "N" to form the word "man". However the "I" soldier comes into the word to change it into "main". The drill sergeant then asks the other vowels regarding the rule, prompting them to sing the tune "When two vowels stand side by side, the first one says its name with pride." The sergeant always ends up getting trampled by the vowels as they leave. On one occasion, he misses them, but they end up shutting the door on him, locking him in, causing him to bang on the door.
The Lone Rearranger Rewrites Again: A spoof of The Lone Ranger, this animated segment features an intelligent, banana nose cowboy named The Lone Rerranger, (or Lone for short), with his horse Hiho, and his sidekick whose name is Russell-Upsome Grub, and a sentence which needs to be rearranged. For example, "Horses must ride cowboys into the corral" needs to be rearranged to say "Cowboys must ride horses into the corral". After Lone fixes the sentence with his whip, he, Hiho, and Russell leave and the people who did what the original sign said for them to do never get a chance to thank him or Russell, or something loosely related to the subject. Afterwards, the segment would end with Lone on top of Hiho yelling, "Hi-yo, Hiho! Away!", and then the camera would pan to Russell, who was seen covering his ears and then saying, "Why you must you always yell in that poor horsey's ears?"
Moby Duck: A spoof of Moby-Dick, this takes place in a peapod (spoof of Pequod) where there are two captains. The first is Captain Starbuck, the second Captain Ahab. Starbuck looks through a telescope and sees a white animal and yells, "Wait, Cap'n! Thar she quacks! Moby, the great white duck!" Captain Ahab takes a closer look and gives the tagline "Nay, Mr. Starbuck! That not be Moby, the great white duck! Argh!", and explains the differences and sounds out syllables, showing, for example, Daisy, the entertaining white snail. The two admit defeat before continuing their search. A running gag is the fact that they never look behind them, which is exactly where Moby is. Another running gag would feature an onscreen assistant throwing water into the face of Ahab, humiliating him. The author is said to be "Melvin Hermille", a spoof of Moby Dick author Herman Melville.
Blending Bowl: A kind of "bowl game" in which NFL players blend sounds to make words. It stars former NFL superstar quarterback turned FOX Sports co-host Terry Bradshaw as a commentator. It is similar to Gawain's Word and Blend Mart but with a football setting.
Opposite Bunny: A superhero bunny who saves the day by turning bad things happening in the neighborhood back into good things. The segment ends with the neighbors reviewing the opposites. For example, one episode has the neighbors saying, "First it was raw; now it is cooked. How does that bunny do it?!"
Swami Marmy: This segment features Smarmy Marmy as a fortune teller who tells monkeys their future. In one segment, she tells a monkey that his sister will drop in for a visit, after which she literally, drops in from above. In another segment, she simply tells a monkey "Oops!" after which Marmy knocks her crystal ball off the table and it rolls off and breaks.
Fred Says: Fred Newman portraying himself appears onscreen sounding out a word syllable by syllable after which he acts it or demonstrates it in his usual humor by attaching sounds to each syllable. On multiple occasions, Fred would appear doing his segment twice in the first season.
What's Cooking?: A cooking segment starring Theo and Cleo Lion as chefs. In each segment, they have a recipe and all the things they need (and a few they do not need) in front of them with their names on them (For example, slammed and rammed ham with no yam or clam). They read the recipe step-by-step which usually involves getting rid of the extra ingredients and doing something (rather literally) to the main item before placing it in something. When they reach the last step, which involves cooking the food for a certain amount of time, they just say "Nah" and eat it raw. Sometimes, the camera zooms in on the refrigerator and segues into a Sam Spud segment.
The Joy Learno Show: Female Parody of Jay Leno talks to various guests about words and their meanings.
Replacing Letter Songs: Each song for the vowels such as "a" and "e", etc. This is sung in different words such as "Ben" and "hen". At the end, a letter is replaced such as "t" and changes a letter to "ten". Heath the Thesarus would sometimes introduce the segment by saying, "And now, a little poem in which letters change. And make something very interesting happen."
Marmy's Poetry Corner: This segment features Marmy with guest stars.
Between the Lions focuses on teaching reading and a love of books to young children in a fun, informative way.
Among the educational techniques used by Between the Lions are the following:
In addition to teaching basic reading, pronunciation, and grammar skills, Between the Lions also strives to promote a general love of reading in its viewers. It explores the many subjects that books can cover and shows how different people may enjoy reading different things. It also demonstrates the value of reference books and the importance of reading in other everyday activities like using a computer, cooking with a recipe, or finding your way with street signs.
Some Between the Lions episodes also deal with larger episodes related to literary matters: How to handle the scary parts of a story, for example, or the fact that it's okay to be a little sad or scared if something bad happens to a character that you like in a book. It also shows how children can use books as jumping points for their own imagination.
Above all, every character on the show expresses a contagious enthusiasm for reading, with the underlying message being "Reading is cool".
The show's curriculum director, Linda Rath, not only had been a working elementary-schoolteacher for many years specializing in reading but also has a PhD from the Harvard Graduate School of Education (where she obtained a master's before becoming a schoolteacher), working with reading specialist professor Jeanne Chall. The program's educational effectiveness have been researched in several studies.
The series won many Emmy Awards. A more complete list is available from IMDb's page, Awards for "Between the Lions". These awards include:
Outstanding Pre-School Children's Series – 2009
Executive Producers: Judith Stoia, Christopher Cerf, Norman Stiles, Brigid Sullivan. Series Producer: Beth Kirsch. Coordinating Producer: Rick Klein, Bill Berner, Diane Hartman, Chris Cardillo, Philippa Hall. Producer: Scott Colwell, Carol Klein.
Outstanding Writing in a Children's Series – 2008 & 2009
Norman Stiles, Ray Messecar, Peter K. Hirsch, Brian Meehl, Jennifer Hamburg, Sarah Durkee, Luis Santeiro, Christopher Cerf, Beth Kirsch, Fred Newman, Judith Stoia, Candy Kugel (PBS)
Outstanding Achievement in Music Direction and Composition – 2008 Nomination
Paul Jacobs, Sarah Durkee, Christopher Cerf
Outstanding Achievement in Art Direction/Set Decoration/Scenic Design – 2008 Nomination
Christopher Cerf, Norman Stiles, Judith Stoia, Brigid Sullivan, Bill Berner, Chris Cardillo, Philippa Hall, Diane Hartman, Rick Klein, Scott Colwell, Beth Kirsch, Carol Klein (PBS)
Outstanding Pre-School Children's Series – 2008 Nomination
Laura Brock, Karen Wing, Jerel Levanway, Bill Reinhart, Jack Thomas, Mary Goodson, Ray Green, Jimmy Thrasher (PBS)
Composition – 2008 Nomination
Paul Jacobs, Sarah Durkee, Christopher Cerf (PBS)
Between the Lions premiered on PBS Kids in the United States on April 3, 2000, replacing The Puzzle Place on the program lineup. The original run lasted until November 22, 2010, with reruns continuing through August 31, 2011. The show is no longer broadcast on PBS Kids; however, some video clips and other online resources remain available online for educators. According to tvguide.com, the show is currently not available on any streaming platform.