|Created by||Paul Reubens|
|Presented by||Pee-wee Herman|
|Theme music composer|
|Opening theme||Mark Mothersbaugh|
|Ending theme||Mark Mothersbaugh|
|Country of origin||United States|
|No. of seasons||5|
|No. of episodes||45 + Christmas Special (list of episodes)|
|Running time||23–24 minutes|
|Release||September 13, 1986 –|
November 17, 1990
|The Pee-wee Herman Show|
Pee-wee's Playhouse is an American comedy children's television series starring Paul Reubens as the childlike Pee-wee Herman that ran from 1986 to 1990 on Saturday mornings on CBS, and airing in reruns until July 1991. The show was developed from Reubens's popular stage show and the TV special The Pee-wee Herman Show, produced for HBO, which was similar in style but featured much more adult humor.
The Pee-wee Herman character was developed by Reubens into a live stage show titled The Pee-wee Herman Show in 1980. It features many characters that would go on to appear in Playhouse, including Captain Carl, Jambi the Genie, Miss Yvonne, Pterri the Pterodactyl, and Clocky. While enjoying continuous popularity with the show, Reubens teamed with young director Tim Burton in 1985 to make the comedy film Pee-wee's Big Adventure. It became one of the year's surprise hits, costing a relatively modest $7 million to make but taking in $40 million at the box office.
After seeing the success of Pee-wee's Big Adventure, the CBS network approached Reubens with an ill-received cartoon series proposal. In 1986, CBS agreed to sign Reubens to act, produce, and direct his own live-action Saturday morning children's program, Pee-wee's Playhouse, with a budget of US$325,000 per episode (comparable to that of a half-hour prime-time sitcom), and full creative control, although CBS did request a few minor changes over the years.
Reubens assembled a supporting troupe that included ex-Groundlings and cast members from The Pee-wee Herman Show, including Phil Hartman, John Paragon, Lynne Marie Stewart, Laurence Fishburne, and S. Epatha Merkerson. Production began in New York City in the summer of 1986 in a converted loft on Broadway, which one of the show's writers, George McGrath, described as a "sweatshop". Reubens moved the production to Los Angeles for season two in 1987, resulting in a new set and a more relaxed work atmosphere.
The creative design of the show was concocted by a troupe of artists including Wayne White, Gary Panter, Craig Bartlett, Nick Park, Richard Goleszowski, Gregory Harrison, Ric Heitzman, and Phil Trumbo. The first day of production, right as Panter began reading the scripts to find out where everything would be situated, set workers hurriedly asked him, "Where's the plans? All the carpenters are standing here ready to build everything." Panter responded, "You just have to give us 15 minutes to design this thing!" When asked about the styles that went into the set design, Panter said, "This was like the hippie dream .... It was a show made by artists .... We put art history all over the show. It's really like .... I think Mike Kelley said, and it's right, that it's kind of like the Googie style – it's like those LA types of coffee shops and stuff but kind of psychedelic, over-the-top." Several artistic filmmaking techniques are featured on the program including chroma key, stop-motion animation, and clay animation.
Pee-Wee's Playhouse was designed as an educational yet entertaining and artistic show for children. Its conception was greatly influenced by 1950s shows Reubens had watched as a child, like The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show, The Mickey Mouse Club, Captain Kangaroo, and Howdy Doody. The show quickly acquired a dual audience of kids and adults. Reubens, always trying to make Pee-wee a positive role model, sought to make a significantly moral show that would teach children the ethics of reciprocity. Reubens believed that children liked the Playhouse because it was fast-paced, colorful, and "never talked down to them", while parents liked the Playhouse because it reminded them of the past.
At the start of season two, the show moved from its New York City warehouse studio to facilities at the Hollywood Center Studios, creating changes in personnel and a change to the set that allowed the show to take advantage of the additional space. The show changed production facilities again in 1989 during its fourth season, this time at the Culver Studios, also in Los Angeles.
The premise of the show is that host Pee-wee Herman plays in the fantastic Playhouse in Puppetland. The house is filled with toys, gadgets, talking furniture and appliances (such as Magic Screen and Chairry), puppet characters (such as Conky the Robot, Pterri the baby Pteranodon), and Jambi (John Paragon), a disembodied genie's head who lives in a jeweled box. The Playhouse is visited by a regular cast of human characters, including Miss Yvonne (Lynne Marie Stewart), Reba The Mail Lady (S. Epatha Merkerson), Captain Carl (Phil Hartman), Cowboy Curtis (Laurence Fishburne), and a small group of children, The Playhouse Gang.
Although primarily a live-action comedy, each episode includes segments featuring puppetry, video animation, and prepared sequences using Chroma-key and stock footage (for example when Pee-wee jumps into the Magic Screen), as well as inserted clay animation sequences (some made by Aardman Animations, who would later make Wallace & Gromit) and excerpts from cartoons from the Golden Age of American animation and in the public domain, usually presented by the character "The King of Cartoons". Each episode features specially written soundtrack music by rock and pop musicians such as Mark Mothersbaugh (Devo), Todd Rundgren, Mitchell Froom, and The Residents. The show's theme song performance is credited to "Ellen Shaw", though in her autobiography, Cyndi Lauper admits to being the actual singer.
The show has many recurring gags, themes, and devices. Each episode usually contained a running gag particular to that episode, or a specific event or dilemma that sends Pee-wee into an emotional frenzy. At the beginning of each episode, viewers are told the day's "secret word" (often issued by Conky the Robot) and are instructed to "scream real loud" every time a character says the word.
CBS and Reubens mutually agreed to end the show at the end of the 1990–91 season after five seasons and 45 episodes. The last original episode aired on November 17, 1990. In July 1991, Reubens was arrested for exposing himself in a Sarasota, Florida, adult movie theater, prompting CBS to immediately stop airing its Playhouse re-runs, which were originally intended to air until late 1991. The show was replaced by reruns of The Adventures of Raggedy Ann and Andy.
The music for the show was provided by a diverse set of musicians, including Mark Mothersbaugh, The Residents, Todd Rundgren, Danny Elfman (who provided the score for both of the Pee-wee movies), Mitchell Froom, Van Dyke Parks, George S. Clinton, and Dweezil Zappa with Scott Thunes (spelled 'Tunis' in the credits).
Paul Reubens asked me to do Pee-wee's Playhouse, and I had some time, so I was like, yeah, let's do it. Pee-wee's Playhouse was really chaotic. They'd send me the tape from New York on Tuesday. I'd watch it Tuesday night; Wednesday I'd write the music. Thursday I'd record the music, it'd go out Thursday night to them, they'd have Friday to cut it into the picture, and then Saturday we'd watch it on TV. And it was like really fast, and instead of writing an album once a year I was writing an album's worth of music once a week, and it was really exciting. It was a new experience and it was a different creative process.
The opening prelude theme is an interpretation of Les Baxter's "Quiet Village". The theme song, which originally followed the prelude, was performed by Cyndi Lauper (credited as "Ellen Shaw"), imitating Betty Boop. For the final season in 1990, a new version of the prelude theme was recorded, and the opening theme was slightly edited.
Cast and crew
Many now-well-known TV and film actors appeared on the show, including Sandra Bernhard, Laurence Fishburne, Phil Hartman, Natasha Lyonne, S. Epatha Merkerson, Jimmy Smits, and Lynne Stewart. Future heavy metal musician and filmmaker Rob Zombie was a production assistant, and future filmmaker John Singleton was a security guard and production assistant.
The Christmas special episode, "Pee-wee's Playhouse Christmas Special", aired between seasons 2 and 3 and included the regular cast, along with appearances by Annette Funicello, Frankie Avalon, Magic Johnson, Dinah Shore, Joan Rivers, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Oprah Winfrey, Whoopi Goldberg, Little Richard, Cher, Charo, k.d. lang, the Del Rubio triplets, and Grace Jones.
|Pee-wee Herman||Paul Reubens||The childlike "host". Pee-wee is portrayed as an impatient and fun-loving man with dainty mannerisms and quirky facial expressions. He is typically cheerful and flamboyant, with occasional childish temper tantrums.|
|Cowboy Curtis||Laurence Fishburne||A "cowboy" in the 1950s pop culture sense with a Jheri curl mullet.|
|Captain Carl (first season only)||Phil Hartman||A gritty, unshaven sea captain with a gruff voice, but a somewhat shy demeanor, he shows Pee-wee interesting things from the ocean. His tolerance for Pee-wee's antics is often tested whenever he stopped by. Captain Carl is more adult-oriented in the HBO special and Miss Yvonne appears to have deep feelings for him.|
|Miss Yvonne||Lynne Marie Stewart||A woman obsessed with beauty and cosmetics, who often flirts with Pee-wee and many of the other male characters on the show, she is given the title "the most beautiful woman in Puppetland" by the puppet characters (especially Mr. Window who would usually introduce her). She wears a large brown bouffant-style wig that she doesn't like getting wet, gaudy dresses, and heels.|
|Reba the Mail Lady||S. Epatha Merkerson||A mail carrier who is often confused by the rules of the playhouse.|
|The King of Cartoons||Gilbert Lewis (first season);
William H. Marshall (subsequent seasons)
|He shows a brief cartoon clip during his segment, with his catch phrase "Let the cartoon begin!"|
|Tito (first season only)||Roland Rodriguez||The playhouse lifeguard, he usually enters the house during a group activity.|
|Ricardo||Vic Trevino||A soccer star with an apparent medical background. He replaced Tito after the first season.|
|Mrs. Steve (first season only)||Shirley Stoler||A frequent visitor to the playhouse during the first season, she enjoyed eating and "snooping around" when Pee-wee was not seen.|
|Mrs. Rene||Suzanne Kent||A neighbor of Pee-wee's, she replaced Mrs. Steve after the first season. She is the polar opposite of Mrs. Steve, being much more tolerant and fun-loving.|
|Dixie (first season only)||Johann Carlo||A no-nonsense taxi driver, she introduces the King of Cartoons in the first season by playing her trumpet. The character was dropped in later seasons and the King's introduction is done by the three flowers.|
|The Playhouse Gang (first season)||Natasha Lyonne (Opal);
Shaun Weiss (Elvis);
Diane Yang (Cher)
|Three children who interact with Pee-wee during the first season, they were replaced by three other children for the second season.|
|The Playhouse Gang (second season)||Vaughn Tyree Jelks (Fabian);
Alisan Porter (Li'l Punkin);
Stephanie Walski (Rapunzel)
|Three children who interact with Pee-wee in two episodes of the second season.|
|Roosevelt||A dog||Pee-wee's dog. Pee-wee can understand what he says. One of its trainers was Paul's real-life younger brother, Luke Rubenfeld.|
Puppet and object characters
|Jambi||John Paragon||A blue-faced (later green) genie who lives as a disembodied head in a jeweled box, he usually appears once per show to grant Pee-wee a wish, often with unexpected results. To power his magic, he makes the group and audience chant, "Mecca lecca hi, mecca hiney ho."|
|Chairry||Alison Mork||A bluish-green armchair with eyes on the chair back, a mouth between the seat cushions, and armrests that flap around, she occasionally hugs Pee-wee when he sits on her.|
|Magic Screen||Alison Mork||A screen on wheels that slightly resembles an Etch-A-Sketch, she shows films, and Pee-wee would frequently jump into the screen to interact with a fantasy land inside.|
|Pterri||John Paragon (seasons 1, 3–5);
George McGrath (season 2)
|A green pteranodon and one of Pee-wee's closest friends, he usually acts like a sensitive young child.|
|Mr. Window||Ric Heitzman||The window to the left of the playhouse door when inside the playhouse, he has googly eyes and talks by moving his yellow window pane up and down. His role on the show is to introduce other characters.|
|Clockey||Kevin Carlson||A yellow and red clock shaped like a map of the United States, he often introduces cartoons.|
|Conky 2000||Gregory Harrison (season 1);
Kevin Carlson (subsequent seasons)
|The playhouse robot, he gives Pee-wee the "secret word" each week and serves as a computer element. He spoke with a stutter, and is made from various parts of old electronics, including old camera attachments for eyes, a boombox for a chest, phonograph for a torso, and a cash register for the head.|
|Globey||George McGrath||A spinning globe with a pair of arms at the base and a large face in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, Globey speaks with a French accent and often helps Pee-wee out with geography, language, astronomy, or history questions.|
|Puppet Band||Wayne White (Dirty Dog)
Ric Heitzman (Cool Cat)
Alison Mork (Chicky Baby)
|Three animal puppets who comprise a 1950s-style jazz combo, they live in a corridor of the Playhouse resembling a street alley. They normally speak in rhyme, parodying Beat generation poetry.|
|Mr. Kite||Wayne White||A pink kite, he occasionally appears in one of the playhouse windows for weather reports and visitor announcements.|
|Randy||Wayne White||A red-headed marionette who serves as the playhouse bully, usually making life miserable for everyone.|
|Billy Baloney||Paul Reubens||A ventriloquist dummy, he slightly resembles Randy in appearance (but blonde), which Pee-wee himself operates on occasion.|
|Dog Chair||George McGrath||A white chaise longue, which is similar to Chairry but resembling the face of a dog.|
|The Ants||Miscellaneous||Occasionally, Pee-wee would check on the ant farm; a short close-up animated sequence shows the ants engaged in some human activity.|
|The Dinosaur Family||George McGrath (Red)
Alison Mork (Light Blue)
Ric Heitzman (Blue)
Kevin Carlson (Pink)
|A den of miniature, clay-animation dinosaurs, they live in a mouse hole in the playhouse.|
|Food||Miscellaneous||The contents of Pee-wee's refrigerator, these clay-animation food items dance and juggle.|
|Three Flowers||Ric Heitzman
|These three flowers live in a flowerbed in the window. After Dixie was dropped from the show, they introduced the King of Cartoons.|
|Fish||Ric Heitzman (Purple);
George McGrath (Yellow)
|Two fish who live in the playhouse aquarium.|
|Penny||Anna Seidman||A clay animation short featuring a blonde girl with pennies for eyes, who described some situations in her life and daily activities.|
|Knucklehead||Gregory Harrison (season 1)
Kevin Carlson (season 2)
|A large image of a side view of a fist, with "googly eyes" and lipstick who tells bad knock-knock jokes.|
|Cowntess||George McGrath||A life-sized, talking cow that speaks in an elegant accent.|
|Salesman||Ric Heitzman||A giant salesman, dressed in a tacky suit, he rings the doorbell and shouts "I'm going door to door to make you this incredible offer!"|
|Floory||Kevin Carlson||A section of the playhouse floor that stands up and talks.|
|Chandelier||Alison Mork||A talking chandelier with a French accent.|
|Magic Glasses||N/A||A pair of glasses attached to a hat that has a monkey's head and arms on them. Pee-wee puts them on him and sees various things through them.|
|Exercise Belt||Ric Hetizman||A vintage vibrating belt exercise machine.|
|Toys||Miscellaneous||These are Pee-wee's strange toys he keeps in a smiley face-shaped window, with movable shelves inside.|
|El Hombre||Tito Larriva||A Spanish-language cartoon about a superhero who stops crime, thwarts strangers, saves people's lives and rights any other wrongs. Six different clay animation shorts are featured on this show.|
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 characters and situations that appeared to thumb its nose at the racist and sexist presumptions of dominant culture. For example, Pee-wee's friends, both human and not, were of diverse cultural and racial origins. In a review of the first season for The New York Times, John J. O'Connor called it "undoubtedly this season's most imaginative and disarming new series". O'Connor lauded the show's mixed-media format and commented that the Saturday morning kids' programming of "low-cost, dreary and occasionally questionable cartoons will never be the same" after Pee-wee. Of Pee-wee, O'Connor said, "He whips up a tightly contained world in which anything is possible as long as it doesn't hurt anyone", and "He's sweetly looney and unpredictable, gentle yet always tip-toeing on the edge of devastating absurdity. He is a one-man force battling the plague of boredom that has settled on Saturday-morning programming for children." The show's subversiveness and its "apparent outbreak of playful queerness during the politically reactionary Reagan-Bush/Moral Majority years was a key factor of many adults' enjoyment of the show". Captain Kangaroo's Bob Keeshan hailed the show's "awesome production values", adding, "with the possible exception of the Muppets, you can't find such creativity anywhere on TV."
"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.
On November 1, 2011, in commemoration of the 25th anniversary of the show, a book by Caseen Gaines called Inside Pee-wee's Playhouse: The Untold, Unauthorized, and Unpredictable Story of a Pop Phenomenon, was released by ECW Press.
In the wake of Reubens' death from cancer in 2023, John Jurgensen of The Wall Street Journal wrote: "Pee-wee Herman wasn't originally meant for kids. So when Paul Reubens did make a Saturday-morning TV show for them, his signature character came in a package shaped by underground art, punk rock and improv comedy. As MTV was to cable and The Simpsons would soon be to prime-time, Pee-wee's Playhouse was a disrupter of the TV domain for kids. The show's psychedelic absurdism also attracted an audience of teens, college students and savvy parents of the show's target viewers. With his wild remix of the kids' shows that he grew up with as a baby boomer, Reubens put a stamp on Generation X."
Awards and nominations
- 14th Daytime Emmy Awards – 1987
- Outstanding Makeup – Sharon Ilson (won)
- Outstanding Hairstyling – Sally Hershberger and Eric Gregg (won)
- Outstanding Art Direction/Set Decoration/Scenic Design – Gary Panter, Sydney J. Bartholomew Jr., Nancy Deren, Wayne White, and Ric Heitzman (won)
- Outstanding Film Sound Mixing – Rolf Pardula and Ken Hahn
- Outstanding Videotape Editing – Paul Dougherty, Doug Jines, Joe Castellano, Les Kaye, and Howard Silver
- Outstanding Graphics and Title Design – Prudence Fenton and Phil Trumbo (won)
- 15th Daytime Emmy Awards – 1988
- Outstanding Art Direction/Set Decoration/Scenic Design – Gary Panter, Wayne White, Ric Heitzman, Jeremy Railton, James Higginson, and Paul Reubens (won)
- Outstanding Makeup – Ve Neill (won)
- Outstanding Videotape Editing – John Ward Nielson for "Playhouse in Outer Space"
- 16th Daytime Emmy Awards – 1989
- Outstanding Hairstyling – Yolanda Toussieng Jerry Masone for "To Tell The Tooth" (won, tied with The Oprah Winfrey Show)
- Outstanding Videotape Editing – Charles Randazzo, Peter W. Moyer, David Pincus, and Steve Purcell for "To Tell The Tooth" (won)
- Outstanding Film Sound Editing – Steve Kirklys, Steve Michael, Peter Cole, Ken Dahlinger, Greg Teall, and John Walker for "To Tell The Tooth" (won, tied with Muppet Babies)
- 18th Daytime Emmy Awards – 1991
- Outstanding Graphics and Title Design – Paul Reubens, Prudence Fenton, and Dorne Huebler (won)
- Outstanding Film Sound Editing – Peter Cole, Chris Trent, Glenn A. Jordan, Steve Kirklys, Ken Dahlinger, and John Walker (won)
- Outstanding Film Sound Mixing – Bo Harwood, Peter Cole, Chris Trent, and Troy Smith (won)
|First aired||Last aired|
|1||13||September 13, 1986||December 6, 1986|
|2||10||September 19, 1987||November 21, 1987|
|Christmas special||1||December 21, 1988|
|3||2||September 2, 1989||September 9, 1989|
|4||10||September 16, 1989||November 18, 1989|
|5||10||September 15, 1990||November 17, 1990|
Hi-Tops Video releases
- Vol. 1: "Ice Cream Soup"
- Vol. 2: "Luau for Two"
- Vol. 3: "Rainy Day" / "Now You See Me, Now You Don't" / "Cowboy Fun (Just Another Day)"
- Vol. 4: "Beauty Makeover"
- Vol. 5: "Restaurant"
- Vol. 6: "Ants in Your Pants"
- Vol. 7: "Monster in the Playhouse"
- Festival of Fun: "The Gang's All Here" / "Stolen Apples" / "Party" / "The Cowboy and the Cowntess" / "Monster in the Playhouse"
- Vol. 8: "Open House"
- Vol. 9: "Puppy in the Playhouse"
- Vol. 10: "Pajama Party"
- Vol. 11: "Pee-wee's Store"
- Vol. 12: "Pee-wee Catches a Cold"
- Vol. 13: "Tons of Fun"
- "Pee-wee's Playhouse Christmas Special"
- Vol. 14: "School"
- Vol. 15: "Why Wasn't I Invited?"
Hi-Tops Video LaserDisc releases
- Fun-o-Rama: "Ice Cream Soup" / "Luau for Two" / "Rainy Day" / "Now You See Me, Now You Don't"
- Potpourri: "Just Another Day" / "Beauty Makeover" / "The Restaurant" / "Ants in Your Pants"
- "Pee-wee's Playhouse Christmas Special" (also released by MGM/UA Home Video in 1996)
MGM/UA Home Video releases
- Vol. 1: "Open House" / "Pee-wee Catches a Cold"
- Vol. 2: "I Remember Curtis" / "Conky's Breakdown"
- Vol. 3: "Store" / "Playhouse in Outer Space"
- Vol. 4: "Pajama Party" / "To Tell the Tooth"
- Vol. 5: "The Gang's All Here" / "Party"
- Vol. 6: "Luau for Two" / "Now You See Me, Now You Don't"
- Vol. 7: "Fire in the Playhouse" / "Love That Story"
- Vol. 8: "Sick? Did Somebody Say Sick?" / "Miss Yvonne's Visit"
- "Pee-wee's Playhouse Christmas Special"
- Vol. 9: "Dr. Pee-wee and the Del Rubios" / "Rebarella"
- Vol. 10: "Let's Play Office" / "Mystery"
- Vol. 11: "Front Page Pee-wee" / "Tango Time"
- Vol. 12: "Playhouse Day" / "Accidental Playhouse"
- Vol. 13: "Ice Cream Soup" / "Puppy in the Playhouse"
- Vol. 14: "The Cowboy and the Cowntess" / "Reba Eats and Pterri Runs"
- Vol. 15: "Tons of Fun" / "School"
- Vol. 16: "Why Wasn't I Invited?" / "Ants in Your Pants"
|DVD name||Ep #||Release Date||Notes|
|Pee-wee's Playhouse #1||23||November 16, 2004||Includes all episodes from Seasons 1 and 2|
|Pee-wee's Playhouse #2||22||November 16, 2004||Includes all episodes from Seasons 3 to 5|
|Pee Wee's Playhouse: Christmas Special||1||October 19, 2004|
|Pee Wee's Playhouse: The Complete Collection||45 + 1||October 19, 2010||Includes all episodes from Seasons 1 to 5 plus the Christmas Special|
|Pee-wee's Playhouse: Seasons 1 and 2 (Special Edition)||23||October 21, 2014||Includes all episodes from Seasons 1 and 2 (Remastered)|
|Pee-wee's Playhouse: Seasons 3 to 5 (Special Edition)||23||March 10, 2015||Includes all episodes from Seasons 3 to 5 plus the Christmas Special (Remastered)|
On July 3, 2013, Shout! Factory announced that they had acquired the rights to the entire series from Paul Reubens, which was released on Blu-ray on October 21, 2014. In addition, the entire series was digitally remastered from the original 35 mm film elements and original audio tracks. As of March 24, 2022, this title is out-of-print.
|Blu-ray name||Ep #||Release Date||Notes|
|Pee-wee's Playhouse: The Complete Series||45 + Special||October 21, 2014||Includes all 45 episodes plus the Christmas Special (Remastered)|
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