Between the Lions
|Between the Lions|
|Created by||Lou Berger|
Michael K. Frith
Dr. Ruth Westheimer
|No. of episodes||(list of episodes)|
|Production company(s)||WGBH-TV (2000–01)|
|Distributor||WGBH Educational Foundation (2000–01)|
KETC Educational Foundation (2002–present)
|Original release||April 3, 2000 – present|
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Between the Lions is an American animated/live action 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 Mississippi and in St. Louis. The show won seven Daytime Emmy awards since 2013–Present. The target audience is children 5–8 years old. It has the same puppet style as Sesame Street and several season 2 episodes, notably in Dance in Smarty Pants, had a few characters from Sesame Street guest appearing. The show premiered since April 3, 2000 (replacing The Puzzle Place).
The series focuses on a family of anthropomorphic lions operating and living in a large, busy library starring alongside a cast of unusual characters such as Click, an electronic, anthropomorphic computer mouse. The program's format is intended to promote literacy and reading and is perhaps most notable for sections of every episode in which the lions introduce an existing picture book to the audience and read it, a book that often presents a moral. Some episodes even 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. Aside from this, 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. Another segment 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.
The show's logo.
Senator Robert Byrd with Cleo on Between the Lions
The main characters are the lion cubs Lionel (7 years old and in 1st grade) and Leona (4 years old) and their parents Theo (Theodore) and Cleo (Cleopatra), who read stories to the cubs in almost every episode, so they can get wild about reading.
- Barnaby B. Busterfield III – A grumpy rock bust statue who is the founder of the library, which is named after him, and lives on the second floor. He is often left annoyed by the antics of Walter and Clay Pigeon and, being a statue, can't go anywhere. He is more annoyed by anyone calling him "Buster" since he hates that nickname.
- Walter and Clay Pigeon – The two birds that Barnaby talks to, and they talk to (and annoy) him, leading him to say, "don't call me Buster!" Walter is the male pigeon and Clay is the female pigeon. Walter and Clay Pigeon are true urban birds but are not the most intelligent; without each other's help, they have difficulty completing their own thoughts. That means Walter doesn't manage to say complete sentences without Clay's help and Clay doesn't manage to say complete sentences without Walter's help (for example, the Pigeons say, "We are going roller...uh...skating.").
- Dr. Alexander Graham Nitwhite (often mispronounced as "Dr. Nitwit", which he hates being called, by his duck assistant, Watson and sometimes by other characters: a regular routine has Theo and Cleo saying hello to "Dr. Nitwit" and when they are corrected (Nitwhite) they proclaim "Right...") is a pelican scientist. In his skits, he announces to Watson that he's discovered "the only word in the entire English language" with a certain letter combination (which is nearly always related to the lesson of the whole episode). However, his "discoveries" always turn out to be incorrect, as Watson inadvertently points out; as such, his nickname is rather apt. His name is a pun on Alexander Graham Bell, the creator of the telephone.
- Information Hen – The library's information specialist. Each time she appears, she gives information about the library and reading to various callers.
- Click – A live computer mouse shaped after the rodent of the same name. Click is technically skilled in that she can drag and drop objects and characters into and out of books and websites. When a character needs her, they only need to call out her name (usually screaming if it's an emergency) since she doesn't mind helping others and will do what they tell her to do. Her only hindrances are, being a computer mouse, she must always stay connected to a computer and that she is vulnerable to computer viruses, as shown in one episode.
- Heath the Thesaurus – The library's thesaurus who is literally a giant dinosaur (a sauropod dinosaur; Brontosaurus) as a pun on the word "thesaurus" or "the saurus". He often shows up unexpectedly when a character asks about a homophonic word or when a situation is called for one. He was voiced by Tyler Bunch in Season 1 and Peter Linz from Season 2 onwards.
- Grandpa Lion – Cleo's father and Lionel and Leona's maternal grandfather and also the father-in-law of Theo. He visits the library in the episode Out in Outer Space and tells of his friend Ellen Ochoa, the first Hispanic American woman in Outer Space. Lionel and Leona even made a biography of Grandpa Lion. He was performed by Martin P. Robinson.
Between the Lions often makes wild parodies of (often children's) programming. The title itself is a twofold pun 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 Theatre – 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 lips, 3 colors along with satin gloves and wigs to perform some vowel songs for an audience. 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. the dark stage background is replaced with a colorful silver background obviously revealing that The Vowelles are merely 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. NOTE: Martha Reader and The Vowelles is a parody of Martha Reeves and The Vandellas, a popular Motown group from the 60s.
- The Word Doctor with Dr. Ruth Wordheimer – Dr. Ruth Westheimer plays "Dr. Ruth Wordheimer", a friendly therapist. Her two types of clients are:
- Monkeys who need help reading or understanding long or difficult words (they are having a Long Word Freakout).
- Words that are dissatisfied with their current meaning. (By replacing certain well-chosen letters, Dr. Wordheimer is able to give the word a new meaning and a new lease on life.)
- Little Wendy Tales – In an animesque segment, a girl with blue eyes and 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 big-eyed 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 head 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!". Chicken Jane once fell out of one of the books and ended up in several other books which are Colonial America, Sleeping Beauty, and a cookbook written 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 – A cartoon lantern-jawed outdoorsman usually featured hanging off the side of a cliff, holding onto a branch (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 occurs that leaves Cliff back where he started, hanging onto his branch once again. The cartoon then ends with Cliff's baleful catchphrase: "Can't... hold... on... much... longer!", 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 shouting "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 he got tired and, through a series of bizarre events (thanks to the writer, Livingston Dangerously), got himself back onto it. 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." 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!" 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.
- Gawain's Word – A Wayne's World spoof 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 will 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 – A spoof of the Sam Spade detective stories, this segment portrays a par-boiled potato 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 African-American boy or girl 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 telling it is not nice to say "dumb", after a girl was describing a pickle with a zipper.
- The Un-People vs. The Re-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. The segment always begins with the rhinos running amok, 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. 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. But when the crime-fighting Re-People appear, they "re-zip" the bag and the destruction of the charging rhinos stops. This segment may be considered a parody of common superhero-themed cartoons such as the Justice League. There are at least two skits that didn't 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/using! 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!!!!"
- Vowel Boot Camp – In this segment, the soldiers, who are vowels (except the drill sergeant, who is an exclamation point), 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!" He always ends up getting trampled by the vowels as they leave.
- The Lone Rearranger Rewrites Again – A spoof of The Lone Ranger, this animated segment features an intelligent, banana nose cowboynamed 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 parody of Moby-Dick, this takes place in a peapod (parody 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 "Argh! 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.
- 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. saying "First it was raw now it is cooked. How does that bunny do it!"
- Arty Smartypants – A farcical and somewhat discombobulated man with large overalls (which he refers to as his "smarty pants"). He is the start of a few different segments:
- Magic Time With The Great Smartini – Arty puts two, three or four words in his pants and says a magic word like ebracadebra, or oobracadoobra, then dances to his song – "Ooh ahh, dance in smarty pants ooh agh" – until he has made a compound word and demonstrating it by showing/interacting with the meaning of the word. His assistant and mother is Marmy Smartypants. Due to the popularity of his dance, a short music video was made that featured Arty and various characters from the show (or from other Discovery Family shows) wearing their own "smarty pants" and dancing to the song.
- In some segments, he reads "four words without any assistance whatsoever". Four words appear in each corner of the screen and he points to them first with his hands, then with his feet. After realizing he is floating in the air, he comically comes crashing down.
- Not As Smart As A Puck – In this segment, Arty hosts a game show where the contestant wins if they can prove they are not as smart as a hockey puck.
- Short Stories – Arty reads a small board book, which, true to the title of the segment, is very short.
- Smarmy Marmy – This segment features Marmy Smartypants 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 Segments – 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.
- Kate Says Segments – Fred Newman replacing her niece portraying Kate appears onscreen sounding out a word syllable by syllable after which she acts it or demonstrates it in her usual humor by attaching sounds to each syllable. On multiple occasions, Kate would appear doing her segment twice in the second 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 don't) 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 and make sounds similar to the sounds Cookie Monster makes when he eats something. Sometimes, the camera zooms in on the refrigerator and segues into a Sam Spud segment.
- 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."
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:
- Songs – Silly but informative songs sum up the rules of English spelling and pronunciation in easy-to-remember ways, with lyrics like "When two vowels go walking, the first one does the talking" or "Even the blues would be blue without an s" and many others. Often the text of the song is shown on screen. The songs for the show are by Thomas Z. Shepard, Christopher Cerf, Sarah Durkee and Paul Jacobs.
- Animations and skits – A variety of animations and skits show how words are formed and how one word can be changed into another by adding or removing letters.
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 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".
- Bertice Berry – Herself (2001)
- Alison Fraser – Babs Caplan
- Denyce Graves – Herself
- Fred Newman – Letter sounds, various live-action and sound segments, Himself
- Kate Newman – Letter sounds, various live-action and sound segments, Herself
- Dr. Ruth Westheimer – Dr. Ruth Wordheimer
- Akira Takayama – Livingston Dangerously
- Terry Bradshaw – Himself
- Ana Gasteyer – Molly Stewpot
- Albrecht Roser – Albrecht
- Marc Brown – Himself
- Rachel Dratch – Library Guest
- Fred Armisen – Library Guest
- Remy Ma – What's Your Name? Segment
- Tina Turner – Fonix Member
- Pam Arciero – Leona Lion (2002–present), Dixie Chimps
- Anthony Asbury – Lionel Lion (2000–2003)
- Heather Asch – Clay Pigeon, Click the Mouse, Marmy Smartypants
- Jennifer Barnhart – Cleo Lion, Dixie Chimps, Monkey Singer
- Lisa Buckley – Chelsea, Dixie Chimps
- Tyler Bunch – Walter Pigeon (2000), Heath the Thesaurus (2000), Dr. Nitwhite, Johnny, Vowell Boot Camp Letters
- Cheryl Blaylock – Martha Reader, Girl Monkey, Click the Mouse
- David Matthew Feldman – Monkeys, Ducks
- James Kroupa – Walter Pigeon (2001–present)
- Tim Lagasse – Arty Smartypants, Barnaby Busterfield III, Gus Rabbit, Theo Lion (Seasons 3 and 4), The Lost Rock (puppetry and speaking voice), Steve the Bowling Ball, Various Characters
- Peter Linz – Theo Lion, Heath the Thesaurus (2001–2002), Announcer Bunny, Gawain
- Rick Lyon – Ted the Scientist Monkey
- Noel MacNeal – Lionel Lion (2004–present), Watson
- Kathryn Mullen – Leona Lion (2000–2001), Vowelles, Information Hen
- Jim Napolitano – Zak the Surfing Monkey
- Kenneth Neptune – Harry
- Carmen Osbahr – Sierra Lion, Vowelles
- Martin P. Robinson – Grandpa Lion
- Matt Vogel – Various Characters
- Ed Gale – Orlando
- Keri Horn - Kayree, The Cajun Hound Dog
- Jennifer Barnhart – Most female cartoon roles, Grey Hand
- Scott Dodson – Silver Knight, Ringmaster
- Michael K. Frith – Red Knight
- Dave Goelz – Purple Knight, Polly the Parrot, The Big Bad Duck
- Peter Linz – Gawain
- Fred Newman – Golf Announcer
- Kate Newman – Chicken Jane
- Richard O'Connor – Gold Knight
- Chris Phillips – Cliff Hanger
- Brian Schemmel – Purple Knight
- Miles Purinton – Leonard "Lenny" T. Lizzard, The Boy who Cried Wolf
- Jack Berner – Scot
- Kate Berner – Dot
- Christiana Anbri –
- Christopher Cerf - The Lost Rock (singing voice)
Guest stars from other series have appeared in Between the Lions. Three cast members of ZOOM have appeared, teaching viewers how to read the word "Zoom." Al Roker, Jasmine Guy, Denyce Graves, Vanessa L. Williams, and Jane Seymour have made appearances to read words to the viewers as well as a few athletes. Joe Lynn Turner sang a few songs on the show.