Wednesday, August 25, 1999

'Blue's Clues' host very much alive

Kids show star disproves rumors

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        He walked in the door, and the rumor flew out the window. Steve Burns, host of Nickelodeon's hugely popular Blue's Clues, was not dead. Indeed, he was standing right there in the Ritz-Carlton ballroom.

        According to rumors on the Internet, Steve Burns had been killed in a car wreck or overdosed on drugs. Where did the rumors come from?

        “We have no idea,” says Mr. Burns.

        The 25-year-old actor had come to Pasadena last month to accept a children's TV award from the Television Critics Association. He wore a brown sports coat and a print shirt, not his trademark green striped rugby shirt.

        Nowhere to be seen was that the little dog named Blue, which changed his life.

Acting for kids only
        Since Blue's Clues became TV's top children's show last year, Mr. Burns has given up his adult acting career. He had appeared as a surly teen in a Dunkin Donuts commercial and a homicidal high school geek on NBC's gritty Homicide: Life on the Street.

  What: Blue's Clues
  When: 9:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m.
  Where: Nickelodeon
        Some of his young fans heard about the Homicide. “Why is Steve mean?” they asked.

        “With the tiny little acting roles I've done, I have confused the audience. It's not that big of a deal, I suppose, but when you're dealing with 5-year-olds, I consider it important. So that's why I don't do other things any more,” Mr. Burns says.

        “Kids watch an awful lot of television, and it's increasingly becoming a big influence in their life. I like to say: Kids trust what comes out of their parents' refrigerator. They trust what comes out of their parents' stove. And they also automatically trust what comes out of their television.”

        So he's given up other on-camera work to be a producer and story editor on Blue's Clues, including Blue's Big Pajama Party prime-time special Oct. 10 with Julia Louis-Dreyfus. He's also working on a 90-minute Blue's Big Musical home video due out next fall.

The concept
        You don't have a clue about the show? Preschools “help” Mr. Burns by spotting blue paw prints (clues) on the TV screen.

        Mr. Burns then jots the three clues in his Handy-Dandy Notebook, plops down into the big red Thinking Chair, and figures out what his animated puppy wants. The clever little cartoon teaches preschoolers (ages 2-5) problem-solving skills.

        Kids don't have a clue that Mr. Burns performs his part in an empty studio, in front of a blank blue screen. All of the characters — Mr. Salt, Mrs. Pepper, Shovel, Pail, Mailbox and Tickety Tock the clock — are added later on Nickelodeon's desk-top computers.

        In Blue's Big Musical, unlike the half-hour show, Mr. Burns won't be on screen for the entire program.

        “One thing we're doing, which I'm nervous but excited about, is that for the first time I'm saying to the viewer: "Hey, will you wait here with Side Table Drawer while I go over there for a while?'

        “Our simple little animated characters will tell us how they feel for the first time. We let animation sell the story, and teach the curriculum, which we've never done before.”

        Young viewers will see a different side of Steve. He'll show a little vulnerability.

        “He starts to think: "Well, wait a minute! What if I never find the third clue? I wish I was as good at this as you are. You always find the clues! How come I never find them?'”

        His big hit with little kids has made him a celebrity with their parents, including some very famous parents. Jamie Lee Curtis greeted him once by saying, “You're Mick Jagger in my house!”

        He has met Big Bird and the Muppets on Sesame Street, his favorite childhood show while growing up in Boyertown, Pa.

        “I was a Sesame Street fiend as a child. I literally wanted to be Grover. I related to Burt, and a lot of the self-deprecating humor and the classic clown stuff,” says Mr. Burns, who won a national Irene Ryan acting award at the Kennedy Center while attending Allentown College.

        “I still watch Sesame Street. I still love it. It's still sketch comedy, and that's always been what they've been committed to, and no one does — no one does — multilevel humor better than Sesame Street. No one ever will.”

Mr. Rogers admirer
        Mr,. Burns also believes nobody will ever do what he does — speaking directly to America's youngest viewers — better than PBS' Fred Rogers.

        “The more I watch his show, wow, that's everything I do but better. He's the guru of all time. I never thought I'd be saying that,” he says. “I want to meet Fred Rogers. That's who I want to meet.”

        Who knows, someday he might visit Mister Rogers' Neighborhood. At 25, he should have a long life ahead of him, contrary to those Internet remors that persist, despite his attempts to quash them by appearing on the Rosie O'Donnell Show or with Katie Couric on Today. How does he cope with the frustration?

        “What I like to do is not talk about it,” he told TV critics last month. “As you guys know, any denial of a rumor is just perpetuating the rumor.

        “It's not true, though!”

        John Kiesewetter is Enquirer TV/radio critic. His column appears Monday and Wednesday. Write: 312 Elm St., Cincinnati 45202; fax: 768-8330.

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