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January 1995 - 'The Puzzle Place' Added To Children's Programming Lineup

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Puzzle Place Characters Play Basketball
Characters Ben (left) and Julie (right) play a friendly game of basketball with their friend Kyle (center) on 'The Puzzle Place.' | Photo: Ed Krieger

On January 16, 1995, "The Puzzle Place," a new daily series co-produced by KCET, premiered on PBS as part of its children's programming lineup.

In late 1991, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting awarded KCET and New York-based Lancit Media Productions (who produced PBS' wildly popular "Reading Rainbow" series) $4.5 million to produce a new series targeted to children ages 2 to 6 and their parents. Initially called "The Puzzle Factory," the show depicted an all-puppet cast of multi-racial child characters aimed at celebrating diversity, and teaching young children lessons in positive social interaction, elf-esteem, cooperation, and respect for others.

The show required a $7 million commitment before the end of 1992 in order to receive the CPB grant, which was eventually found through the support of utility company Edison International.

The show was also intended to be a truly multi-media project, using computer technology for interactive links to educational resources and video content in preschools and childcare centers.

A deal was made with toy manufacturer Fisher-Price to produce promotional products for the show, which was re-named "The Puzzle Works" to avoid trademark infringement with another toy company. Sony also inked a deal with KCET and Lancit to eventually release the show on home video.

With its $14 million total budget finally raised, the show began production in early 1994 and the pilot episode of "The Puzzle Works" aired on KCET later that year to positive reviews. The show was finally re-named "The Puzzle Place" prior to its nationwide premiere on PBS in early 1995.

The show's puppet characters featured Kiki, a bilingual Mexican American girl from San Antonio, Texas; Leon, an African American boy from New York City; Skye, a Native American boy from the White Mountain Apache Reservation in Arizona; Ben, a white boy from South Dakota of Norwegian and German heritage; Jody, a Jewish American girl from Cincinnati, Ohio; and Julie, a Chinese American girl from San Francisco. Later episodes introduced Kyle, an Irish American boy with disabilities, depicted on a wheelchair. They were joined by puppet characters Nuzzle and Sizzle (a dog and cat, respectively), and The Piece Police, a Keystone cops-like team of adorable, yet clumsy, gibberish-talking characters that provided comic relief. The characters hung out and interacted in a locale known as The Puzzle Place, a magical hangout spot with jigsaw puzzle designs inside. Veteran Muppeteer Kevin Clash, know for his portrayal of Elmo in "Sesame Street," was the show's Senior Creative Consultant.

"The Puzzle Place" was a highly popular show in PBS' children's lineup, which usually aired along with fellow KCET production "Kino's Storytime" and established favorites like "Sesame Street" and "Barney and Friends."

Production of "The Puzzle Place" lasted until 1998, with re-runs airing until 2000.

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