Bonus Interviews

Bonus Interview with Steve Binder

Bonus Interviews

After a critically and commercially successful first season of Pee-wee’s Playhouse, Paul Reubens severed his business relationship with Steve Oakes and Peter Rosenthal of Broadcast Arts, the mixed-media animation studio that co-produced the show’s first season with Reubens. Reubens turned to Steve Binder, a veteran television producer of several Elvis Presley specials, several airings of the Emmy Awards, and one particularly infamous Star Wars holiday special, to produce his second and third Playhouse season, as well as the Pee-wee’s Playhouse Christmas Special. What follows is an excerpt from Caseen Gaines’ interview with Steve Binder for Inside Pee-wee’s Playhouse, a few months before the run of The Pee-wee Herman Show at Club Nokia in 2010.

Caseen Gaines:What was it like co-producing with Paul Reubens?

Steve Binder: Paul is incredibly bright. He’s a real filmmaker.  He wasn’t just a personality exerting his power because he was the star of the show.  He had real insight and in the show’s second year, Paul was regaining a confidence that he could then take control of the Playhouse.  They were constantly in battle in New York, but now he could do everything he wanted on the west coast.  The non-professionals that Paul brought in really made an impact.  They didn’t worry about whether the show would cost too much or whether or not we could pull off a certain effect.  The professionals I brought in were there to say, “okay, if we can’t do it the way you’ve envisioned it, let’s try and find a compromise to make it happen.”

CG: What were your feelings about how the show was received while under your watch?

SB: In one year we got 16 Emmy nominations, which no other children’s show had ever done besides Sesame Street. I went to New York for the Daytime Emmys and sat there as we lost to Sesame Street 16 times. I realized that since the show was being produced on the West Coast we didn’t have a chance.

CG: What led to the severance of your business relationship with Paul Reubens?

SB: He got new management.   When Paul hired him to be his manager, it killed my world.  Evidently, his manager had a friend who was a producer and after the Christmas special, I was notified they weren’t going to bring me back for the following season.  It was a little disappointing to me, especially when you have a major hit show and the ratings are great, but that was their prerogative.

CG: Have you spoken to Paul Reubens since concluding your work on the show?

SB: It may be sour grapes, but I have a contract with Paul that says I would get a certain amount of money when the show went into syndication, and to this day I haven’t gotten a penny.  I take nothing away from Paul creatively.  I think he’s brilliant.  I will tell that to anybody, because I saw his brilliance first person.  However, I do think there were some bad business decisions made on his part.  He had tremendous offers.  He literally was offered millions if he would guarantee that he would do another 65 episodes of the show.  I was in the room at the time when he and his manager turned down the deal because Paul just didn’t want to do Pee-wee anymore.

CG: How do you think the public will respond to this new staging of The Pee-wee Herman Show later this year?

SB: I think that depends on who his target audience will be.  Is it going to appeal to the people who were young while Pee-wee’s Playhouse was on air,  who are even more sophisticated now than they were then, or will it be a children’s show?  If he brings back the Playhouse exactly how it was, he’ll have a hard time capturing a new audience; however, if he brings in new innovative ideas, there is no reason why the show won’t succeed.

You can read more from Steve Binder in Inside Pee-wee’s Playhouse: The Untold, Unauthorized, and Unpredictable Story of a Pop Phenomenon.

Bonus Interview with Steve Oakes

Bonus Interviews

Steve Oakes in 1986In 1986, network executives at CBS’ children’s programming department paired Paul Reubens with Steve Oakes and Peter Rosenthal of Broadcast Arts, a mixed-media animation studio. The team went on to create and co-produce the first season of Pee-wee’s Playhouse. Following the show’s successful first season, Oakes and Rosenthal sued Reubens and his management for back payment and fees associated with the show running over budget. The lawsuit was partially responsible for the show moving from New York to Los Angeles for its consequent seasons, with Oakes and Rosenthal no longer involved. What follows is an excerpt from Caseen Gaines’ interview with Steve Oakes for Inside Pee-wee’s Playhouse.

Caseen Gaines: Is there any sequence from the show’s first season that you’re particularly proud of? What moments stand out for you?

Steve Oakes: The opening titles, which Phil Trumbo directed, is a classic. You don’t get tired of looking at that.  I love all of the little installments of Penny, where we took a couple young kids and asked them a couple of simple questions and  they would start babbling on. Sometimes the cartoon was quite hallucinogenic. We would edit down the audio clips and make these little short stories. None of it was scripted. It was a brilliant stream-of-consciousness illustrated with clay animation. I also love the dinosaur shorts where there was no spoken English. It was all grunts and squeaks and squawks, with the storytelling done entirely with body language. Of course, there’s Jambi the Genie with his “mekka lekka hi mekka hiney ho” stuff, and Phil Hartman with his Captain Carl bits. They’re all little gems.

CG: Did you keep up with the show after the first season?

SO: I kept an eye on it and saw that the format was pretty much the same. They had hired away a lot of the specific artists that did certain pieces, like Penny and the dinosaurs, so that they could maintain the quality. Not to take anything away from the later episodes, but I think the first season set the tone. I don’t think what they did for the later seasons was a big reinvention.

CG: What happened with the original set and the original puppets from the first season?Steve Oakes and the playhouse model

SO: They all went into storage with the assumption that they would be used in the next season. When the relationship between Paul Reubens and Broadcast Arts became litigious, and we were waiting for that to be resolved, Paul just turned around and reproduced the set and puppets when he took the show to Los Angeles.

CG: Do those puppets still exist?

SO: I doubt it.  Broadcast Arts closed in 1992 and those sorts of things are made to survive production. They weren’t museum quality sculptures. Most of the puppets were made up mostly of foam latex, which ends up degenerating in a matter of year or two anyway. You’ve constantly be remaking and touching up that stuff even within one season. I mean, I’m sure there’s some relics here or there, but I don’t know of any hidden treasures anyplace.

You can read about Steve Oakes and the creation of Pee-wee’s Playhouse in Inside Pee-wee’s Playhouse: The Behind-the-Scenes Story of a Pop Phenomenon.

Bonus Interview with Stephanie Walski

Bonus Interviews

In 1987, 8-year-old Stephanie Walski joined the cast of Pee-wee’s Playhouse in the featured role of Rapunzel of the Playhouse Gang.  She currently lives in Calabasas, California.  What follows is an excerpt of her interview for Inside Pee-wee’s Playhouse about her time working on the show.

Caseen Gaines: Were there any particular moments that you remember either with any other cast members or interacting with the puppets?  Is there anything that sticks out from that experience?

Stephanie Walski: I remember that they originally were going to have me wear a wig, but then when they put the wig on me, I looked like E.T.! I ended up having to use my natural hair, which worked out because I had really, really long hair and I was the character of Rapunzel.  Another thing that sticks out in my mind is interacting with Conky the Robot.  In one of the episodes I got the “word of the day” from Conky. I got to pull it out and say it and that was really exciting for me at that time. In one respect, as a child it was a little difficult because I got to see what goes on behind the scenes. That caused a little bit of the magic was taken out of Pee-wee’s Playhouse, but it was still fun nonetheless.  I remember that in one of the episodes we were pretending to be a rock band and that was really fun for me.

CG: Behind the scenes was it more work than play?  Is that what you mean by “behind the scenes?”

SW: No, but on TV you don’t see the people who are doing the voices.  You don’t see the strings of the puppets.  You don’t see the rest of Jambi’s body, you know?  But when you’re on set, obviously it loses some of the magic the show had when I watched it on television during the first season.  For instance, when we jumped into Magic Screen, we had to do the entire thing on a green screen. There’s a big difference between what the audience sees and what we were experiencing.

CG: What did you end up doing after Pee-wee’s Playhouse?

SW: After Pee-wee’s Playhouse I co-starred with Drew Barrymore in a film called Far From Home. I was also in an episode of Cheers and I believe some other commercials and then I got out of the business in my early teens.

CG: When you were working on the show it was in the middle of the Pee-wee’s Playhouse craze. Were you aware as a child as to how big it was to be working on the show?

SW: I knew it was big because my mom bought me a puppy when I got the job, which I named Pee-wee, actually. I knew it was a really big deal because I watched the show a lot as a child, but I remember thinking, “Wow, this must be pretty big if I get a puppy.” However, I don’t really think, when you’re as young as I was, that you quite understand that millions of people are watching your show. I only knew it was a big deal to me because it was a show I used to love and watch in its first season.

You can read more about Stephanie Walski and the creation of Pee-wee’ s Playhouse in Inside Pee-wee’s Playhouse: The Behind-the-Scenes Story of a Pop Phenomenon.