Thursday, July 5, 2012

Old School Lane's Nickelodeon Tribute: Eureeka's Castle

Question: When I say the name R.L. Stine, what's immediately pops in your head?

Yup, Goosebumps. In the 90's, those were the most popular books for kids. It told stories of creepy monsters, supernatural events, and mysterious events. I was such a Goosebumps junkie! Everytime there was a Scholastic Book Event at my elementary school, I get all my money and buy the latest Goosebumps books. Today, I own all of them. R.L. Stine was my favorite author and one of my childhood heroes. In fact it's because of Goosebumps that Patricia and I first met and became friends when we were 9-years-old.

Now, what if I told you that R.L. Stine co-created a kids' show for Nick Jr? You're probably are thinking to yourselves, "Kevin, are you out of your fucking mind? I'm not going to show anything scary to my 3-year-old" or "You're joking, right? R.L. Stine did a kids' show? No way!" Well, don't worry, it's not scary and I'm not joking. On September 4, 1989, R.L. Stine alongside Judy Katschke created Eureeka's Castle.

After Pinwheel was off the air after 12 years, Nick Jr. needed a new official program. That's when Eureeka's Castle created. The show was about a giant who would wind a castle music box and it would come to life with the puppets inside it. The puppets consisted of Eureeka, the sorceress in training, Magellan, the lovable dragon with the wagging tale, Batly, the clumsy bat who would crash into walls saying "I meant to do that", Mr. Knack, the man who would sell knick knacks, Bog and Quagmire, the Moat Twins, and more.

In each episode, they would have fun with one another, have cartoons that would show in the middle of the show, and sing lots of silly songs. Every once in a while, they would even have guest bands performing music such as Squeaky Clean and The Usual Suspects.

It's interesting to note that unlike Pinwheel, Eureeka's Castle consisted of puppeteers that had been in Sesame Street and Muppet movies. Also, the show production had a lot more money so it looks better aged than Pinwheel. 

According to R.L. Stine in his autobiography called It Came From Ohio, he wrote an entire chapter about his experiences working on Eureeka's Castle:

"Kit Laybourne, the producer of Eureeka's Castle, called to talk about the show. He and I met and had a nice talk. We hit it off so well, he asked me to be the head writer. Eureeka's Castle was a program for preschoolers that have puppets and animated segments. It was just like Sesame Street, but we didn't teach them anything. As the head writer, I wrote all the segments of the program. Luckily, I had 10 writers to help me out. I never worked on TV before. It's completely different than working at home alone on your keyboard. You're surrounded by writers, actors, producers, and director sitting around and discuss about the scripts. We wrote them and revise them 7 times until the script was done. Then the puppeteers would go out there and do what they wanted. 

I learned about television and puppets. Doing puppet work is not easy. The temperature inside Magellan was so hot that the puppeteer had to wear a small fan around his waist. He also couldn't see so so he had to wear a small TV around his waist. The puppeteer used one hand to use for the mouth while the second hand was used for one of the dragon hands. If he needed to use both of his hands, a second puppeteer had to come and help him out. The puppet Batly was inspired by my son Matt. When he was a boy, he would trip on his feet and say "I meant to do that". So we did that for Batly. Matty outgrew his clumsiness, but the last time I saw Batly, he crashed into a street light. SPLAT!

We received mail from many fans. One was from a mother saying that she loved seeing it with her kids. They never missed it. In the bottom of the letter was a request to come to the studio. When they arrived, her and the children saw the set, the actors with the puppets, and the set. The little girl went up to her father crying and covered her head the rest of the day while the little boy stared with excitement. At the end of the first season, we won the ACE Award for the best kids' program, the highest honor. The writers and I had 100 hours of writing and 4 half-hour specials. What do you do with that amount of episodes? You show it again and again and again. It's been like that ever since.

After we were done with Eureeka's Castle, I returned home to my lonely keyboard. It became so quiet without the writers, the actors, and the producers walking around doing the show. What I didn't realize was that my life was about to begin".

Even the critics took notice. According to Eric Hedegaard in Entertainment Weekly, he interviewed Kit Laybourne on why kids loved Eureeka's Castle.

"We studied up and we think we know what makes kids laugh". 

Laugh Secret No. 1: Wordplay.
Batly crashes into Eureeka's kitchen. Eureeka's horns twitch a few times and she says, ''Hey, why don't you knock before you drop in.'' Batly's comeback: ''I did knock. I knocked my head.''
Or, Batly talking to his pet insects: ''Knock, knock.''
Insects: ''Who's there?''
Batly: ''Don.''
Insects: ''Don who?'' — Batly: ''Don go away, 'cause here's something that'll really make your day.''
'Preschoolers love jokes, including stupid jokes, much more than adults.
Secret No. 2: Sight gags and physical shtick.
Whenever Magellan sneezes, the entire castle shakes. And Batly's entrances are always head-bangers and laugh-producers. ''Big, big yuk getters,'' Laybourne says. ''Can't have enough.''
Of course, that sort of funny business ties the show firmly to a long-established tradition. ''I grew up watching the Three Stooges, Abbott and Costello, and Laurel and Hardy, and they're not on the air now, and I think kids are really missing out,'' says chief puppeteer Jim Kroupa, 32, whose New York City-based company, 3/Design Studio, designed and built the show's puppets.
Secret No. 3.: Running jokes.
Every time Eureeka casts a spell, it goes awry. Whenever Batly loses his glasses, Eureeka tries to divine them out of thin air — and comes up with grass, two basses, and a pair of Lassies, but no glasses. ''Little kids love this kind of stuff,'' Laybourne says, ''because they can see what's coming up and they're in on the joke and they delight in seeing how it gets played out.''

Overall, looking back at this show gives me and Patricia great nostalgic memories and it's still a fun show to watch. Check it out sometime.

Tune in next time as two interviews from the puppeteers at Eureeka's Castle had the time to interview us. Hope to see you around Old School Lane.



  1. Thanks so much for posting this! I loved this show in kindergarten, and I find it quite interesting as an adult. There's very little behind-the-scenes information out there, so this was a treat to read.

    1. We are glad that you liked it! Thanks for the compliment. We really appreciate it!