Country of originUnited States No. of seasons10 NetworksPBS, PBS Kids, Sprout
Created byLou BergerChristopher CerfMichael K. FrithKathryn MullenLinda RathNorman Stiles StarringFred NewmanDr. Ruth WestheimerPuppeteers:Pam ArcieroAnthony AsburyHeather AschJennifer BarnhartTyler BunchJames KroupaPeter LinzTim LagasseKathryn Mullen Production company(s)WGBH-TV (2000–09)WGBH Kids (2009–10)Sirius Thinking, Ltd. WritersFred Newman, Christopher Cerf, Sarah Durkee CastRuth Westheimer, Tim Lagasse, Anthony Asbury, Fred Newman, Kathryn Mullen SimilarBear in the Big Blue House, Super Why!, Father of the Pride
Between the Lions is a PBS Kids puppet 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, in Mississippi. The show has won seven Daytime Emmy awards between 2001 and 2007. 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 on April 3, 2000, replacing The Puzzle Place. Between the Lions started its 10th and final season on September 20, 2010, and the series finale aired on November 22 of that same year. It aired on PBS Kids until reruns ceased on August 31, 2011.
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 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, armless, and legless rock statue that 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 being called that for some reason. It is unknown if he knows the main characters or not, but it is possible that he might know them.
Walter and Clay Pigeon – The two birds that Barnaby talks to, and they talk to (and annoy) him. That's why he says, "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 let's just say that they're not the brightest lights in the sky—without each other's help, they might never manage to complete 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 a very high tech mouse in the fact 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 what 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-a 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 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.
Aunt Priscilla and Uncle Otto Lion – Lionel and Leona's aunt and uncle who were told by Leona that they had 3 new cubs in But Mama But in which Leona visited in the episode. It would be that Aunt Priscilla and Uncle Otto would be Cleo's younger sister and brother and would be the maternal aunt and uncle of Lionel and Leona and the sister-in-law and brother-in-law of Theo Lion.
Between the Lions often makes wild parodies of (often children's) programming. The title itself is a twofold pun, first on the phrase "between the lines", the second is that many classic library buildings have two lions separated by the main entrance. Thus in order to enter the library, you 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. In seasons 2–4, 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 Johhny 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 animeclichés) 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, thanks to Leona while trying to grab it from Lionel as a fight, 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 and ignores what Chicken Jane is saying. The book is then swatted at in an attempt for Chicken Jane to escape 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. 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!" Much like Warner Bros./Chuck Jones created Wile E. Coyote and Road Runner, these cartoon clips follow along 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 shouting "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 two episodes Cliff Hanger and the Solid Oil Lamp 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!" 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 bumped into Sir ark, their speech balloons melded together to form the word "shark." Then they took advantage of 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 & Ted from Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure than Wayne & Garth from Wayne's World.
Tiger Words – A parody 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-boiledpotato 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 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! 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 Kity 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 parody 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 Russel, 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 PBS 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.
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 reached down to the last step that 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:
Featured Letters and Sounds: Every episode has a feature letter or sound, such as 'h' or 'the long ee sound'. Throughout the show, the featured letter or sound is heard and seen in a variety of words. In seasons 7 and 8, an ad shows what's coming up next followed by a hand grabbing a letter from the word from usually the first book.
Text on Screen: Frequently, keywords or entire sentences of dialog are shown on screen as the characters talk, with the featured letter or combination highlighted. The gray glove then grabs or puts it back in its place after its segment.
Stories: Every episode contains one or more short stories in the form of books read by the Lion family. These stories tie in thematically with the rest of the episode and also serve as another way to present words with the featured sound in context. Sometimes the stories are real books (like "Sylvester and the Magic Pebble" by William Steig, "Joseph Had a Little Overcoat" by Simms Taback, and "The Carrot Seed" by Ruth Krauss) or well-known tales (like "Rumplestiltskin", "The Little Red Hen", and "The Gingerbread Man"); other times they are books that are made-up to fit the episode (like How Pecos Bill Cleans Up the West, What Instrument does Alvin Play?, and Lionel's favorite book, Nothing but Lug Nuts).
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.
Definitions: Whenever a long or unusual word is used in a dialog or story, a quick definition is given. Usually, it is subtly worked into the conversation, such as when one of the parents responds to a question from the children. Other times it may be provided in a humorous way, such as when Heath Thesaurus pokes his head in to define a word. Occasionally, words may be defined by showing pictures or other artistic methods.
Repeated Vocabulary: Various vocabulary words are introduced in each episode, ranging from simple, everyday concepts like "jump" and "read" to more complex words like "sequel", "dictionary", or "drought". After a word has been introduced, it is usually used a number of times throughout the episode.
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".
Guest stars from other series have appeared in Between the Lions. 3 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 some athletes. Joe Lynn Turner sung the song "Clobbered" in the episode "Giants and Cubs".
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
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)
Cancelled animated spin-off
An animated spin-off was planned to air, produced by CloudKid and consisting of four episodes. The first two would have focus on nursery tales (The Ant and the Grasshopper and The Three Little Pigs), while the other would have focused on seasons and weather (one about wind, the other about snow/winter). However, due to the closure of Cloudkid, the spin-off has been cancelled. Buzzco Associates, an animation studio who worked on Between the Lions uploaded a clip from the spinoff on their Vimeo account.