From the moment Marc Brown meets you, he judges you. Just maybe not in the usual way.
“People remind me of animals,” says Brown, the 75-year-old creator of the illustrated character Arthur Read, the 8-year-old bespectacled Aardvark who, since the book “Arthur’s Nose” debuted in 1976, has been helping kids navigate the world around them. away. “If the kid I’m talking to is reading a book and all the characters are animals, they don’t care what skin color they are. They are immediately drawn to the character they identify with and feel an affinity with.”
For more than 25 years, Brown and a team at WGBH, Boston’s PBS affiliate, have been producing the animated adaptation series “Arthur,” in which the Aardvark, his friends and an array of animal host stars tackle difficult topics such as bullying, divorce, and disability. † The series, praised by kids and parents alike for its candor in portraying challenging situations — as well as seven Emmy Awards and the distinction of longest-running children’s animated series on American television — will air its final episodes this week. (All four air Monday afternoons and are streamed for free on PBS Kids.)
“One of the reasons I love ‘Arthur’ is because of the imperfections in our characters,” said Carol Greenwald, who co-created the show with Brown and now serves as an executive producer. “It’s important to show kids that you can really screw it up and that it’s not the end of the world. You can learn from your mistakes and come back a better person.”
Both Brown and Greenwald said that from the outset, the idea was that the series would not only reflect issues relevant to children, but also present a world in which they could see themselves. When they first started, Greenwald said, the WGBH team sent people with cameras to capture neighborhoods around Boston to help animators diversify the homes in Arthur’s world.
“Arthur lived in a beautiful little house with a picket fence,” she said, “but we wanted to diversify the world so that kids living in condominiums or smaller, lower-income neighborhoods would have the feel of that story.”
And Elwood City, Arthur’s fictional home, began to feel like home to many viewers, not just in Boston but around the world. So when one of the show’s writers revealed in July that the show had wrapped up production—and when PBS later announced the series’ final episodes would air this winter—the reaction, at least on social media, was a collective clenched fist (a riff on a popular Arthurian meme).
But for fans who’ve been with Arthur for more than 250 episodes, there’s some consolation: the characters will live on in a new Arthur podcast, games and digital shorts — and the series’ latest episode will flash forward to give viewers a glimpse. giving of what Arthur and his friends become.
“There are certainly some surprises,” Greenwald said.
In a recent video call from his sunny West Village living room, Brown was candid, cheerful and puck-like. His dress and furnishings were immaculately neat, his white hair neatly combed—it was easy to see where Arthur, fond of polo shirts and V-neck sweaters, got his sartorial style. Brown, who is still an executive producer on the show, thought about its longevity and why now was the right time to end it, and talked about some of his new projects, including the long-running Arthurian film. movie that has recently gained new momentum. (He also set the record straight on a few fan theories.) These are edited excerpts from the conversation.
Congratulations on 25 years! Did you ever think you’d be having this conversation when the first episode premiered in October 1996?
Not in my wildest dreams. I thought it would take two years – if I was lucky.
Many authors help create a show and then step back. Why are you still so intensely involved after 25 years?
I still have the same feeling I had when PBS came to me and wanted to put Arthur on television. I had invested in the characters 15 years before that and I got a lot of letters from kids. It felt like a small family and I wanted the characters to stay true to my vision. And so I’ve been a guard in the corner that way.
So many of the stories are inspired by real life experiences you had when your kids — Tolon, Tucker, and Eliza — were little. Now that they are adults, is it harder to come up with fresh ideas?
So many episodes stem from our writing team’s experiences – and it turns out they’re still useful and relevant to kids! There are episodes, like the one about head lice, that every time we run them, because it’s still an ongoing problem for many kids, it gets a lot of positive feedback.
Then why end it now?
Technology has changed in the last 25 years and kids now watch stories on their iPhones, listen to podcasts, play games on their devices — they get information in so many other ways. We look for ways to try new things.
Are you surprised by the response?
It was great to see the reactions. I still get a lot of messages on my Instagram page: “Is Arthur really over?” I love seeing reactions from these young adults who grew up with Arthur, the fact that these characters are still fresh in their minds. It’s great that he has touched so many people so deeply that they want him to continue.
In the first book “Arthur’s noseArthur looked like an aardvark with a long snout, not a mouse with glasses. What happened?
The second book, Arthur’s Eyes, came about when my son Tolon got glasses. He came home and said, “Dad, I thought all my friends looked better.” You’re not making that up! So of course Arthur also had glasses. As the series went on, I just got to know him better, and he got more lovable and more human – and his nose got shorter. It wasn’t meant to be!
Have you ever met an Aardvark?
[Laughs.] I haven’t had any encounters with aardvarks, although I think there may be one who lives in an apartment across the street.
The series stands out for its diverse characters, including those with blindness, dyslexia, autism, and dementia. How did you ensure that those representations were correct?
We work with a range of experts for each episode, like the one we did about Arthur’s grandfather, Dave, who was struggling with Alzheimer’s disease and can’t remember Arthur’s name. Those kinds of things are so important, and so many families have to deal with them. We heard from a father who watched the show about autism and found out through the show that his son was autistic and wrote to thank us. The show helped parents understand their children. Matt Damon’s mom happens to be one of our amazing experts who helped us with many episodes. That’s how we got Matt Damon as a guest star. The poor man didn’t know what hit him!
The show made headlines in 2019 when it turned out that mr. Ratburn, Arthur’s teacher, is gay. The episode also showed his marriage to a man. Were you concerned about how people would react?
We want to represent the world around us. When we wanted to get Arthur’s teacher married, we thought it would be an opportunity for him to marry a same-sex partner – and kudos to PBS, who stood behind us and let us do it, and do it in a way that ‘t was about his sexual orientation. It was about the fact that their teacher, whom they love, found a partner he loved, and they were happy for him.
When DailyExpertNews Talked To You in 1996 – shortly after the first episodes aired – you got 100,000 letters a year from children. How much fan mail do you get these days?
I get letters asking for Francine’s phone number — well, Francine [a monkey character on the show] has no phone number! Years ago, I was really stupid: In the book “Arthur’s Thanksgiving,” I put our home phone number in a small bulletin board illustration that read, “Call Arthur at 749-7978.” Every Thanksgiving, the phone started ringing and ringing and ringing. My wife, Laurie, had the best response. You would hear a little voice say, “Hello? Is Arthur there?” And she’d say, “No, he’s in the library.” That was when we lived outside of Boston; it went on for a few years!
What’s next for you?
I’ve been working on a new animation show for kindergarten called ‘Hop’ for three years now. It is a small frog, and one of its legs is slightly shorter than the other. It is a performance about the power of friendship, solving problems together and kindness.
And my dream for an Arthurian feature film, which I decided would never come to pass, could happen in a way that I could be proud of. When that idea was hatched 15 years ago, I was spending way too much time in Los Angeles talking to people who didn’t make a lot of sense — in my mind. But now I think I’ve found the right people.
Can we do a quick lap? There are several fan theories that you would be happy to confirm or deny.
Let’s start with the most plausible: Arthur lives in Pennsylvania.
I grew up in Erie, Penn. Lakewood Elementary School was where I went to elementary school. I can still see my third grade class and all my friends, many of whom turned into characters in Arthur’s world. But I also lived in Massachusetts for many years and I used a lot of elements of that – the movie theater in “Arthur’s Valentine” was the movie theater down the street where we lived. When Carol and I were trying to come up with a name for Arthur’s hometown, she suggested Elwood City, also in Pennsylvania, near a place she lived as a child. That’s how it went, folks!
Arthur is getting married.
I will not tell you! You will have to tune in and discover.
Arthur takes place in a multiverse†
Arthur is a reality series directed by Matt Damon†
I hadn’t heard that one. That is interesting.
The whole show is played by aliens†
Well, we did something similar a few years ago with Buster and his fascination with aliens, so…
That’s not no?
I couldn’t be happier to inspire people’s imaginations. That’s a good thing!