Pinwheel (partially found Nickelodeon puppet series; 1977-1990)
Pinwheel was an American television series for preschoolers. It was the first series to air on the Nickelodeon cable network, as well as the first to appear on Nickelodeon's Nick Jr. block. With 260 episodes, it remains Nickelodeon's longest-running series in episodes and hours on air to date. It aired from 1977 to 1990.
The show's first season was shown exclusively on QUBE, an experimental cable system in Columbus, Ohio. The show was carried on a channel slot labeled C-3, which was dedicated entirely to Pinwheel. In 1979, Channel C-3 expanded into a national network called Nickelodeon. Pinwheel remained on the network, and an additional two seasons were made.
The show is set in Pinwheel House, a large boarding house that is powered by a spinning pinwheel. The house's residents are a mix of live-action humans and puppets, who band together to solve problems, sing songs, and play games relevant to preschoolers. In the first season, each episode featured long storytelling segments, narrated and illustrated by Franci Anderson. Anderson did not return for the second and third seasons, so the storytelling segments were replaced with foreign animations acquired from outside companies. Acquiring these animations also decreased the show's workload, allowing for higher production values for the main human/puppet segments.
The first season of Pinwheel aired locally in Columbus, Ohio, as part of an experimental cable system called QUBE. QUBE was the first two-way major market interactive cable system and introduced many concepts that are still used today in modern cable, such as pay-per-view and special interest networks. Pinwheel was carried on a channel slot labeled C-3. This channel slot, in particular, was a "community" channel (hence the "C" in "C-3"), meaning that it was provided to QUBE subscribers at no additional cost. Pinwheel would air exclusively from 7:00 AM to 9:00 PM EST. Because Pinwheel was the only show on Channel C-3, some viewers mistakenly assumed that Pinwheel was the name of the network, when it was just the name of the series.
The series was created by Dr. Vivian Horner, an educator who had previously worked at the Children's Television Workshop. She notably served as the director of research on the Workshop's series The Electric Company. In the very early stages of Pinwheel's development, the cast and crew members (consisting of Dr Vivian Horner, Sandy Kavanaugh, Andrea Cvirko, Gabi Lopez, Brad Williams and George James) would meet at the Warner Communications offices four times a week to share ideas. These meetings resulted in the first season of Pinwheel episodes, produced in Columbus in 1977.
Initially, Pinwheel was considered a loss leader for Warner Cable against rival companies such as HBO, due to the fact that HBO had no network specifically for children at this point in time. Warner eventually purchased the communications satellite RCA Satcom-1 from televangelists Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker. This allowed them to expand Channel C-3 into a national network, which was renamed Nickelodeon. The satellite went into orbit on March 26, 1979, and on April 1, Nickelodeon was officially launched in Buffalo, New York. Pinwheel remained one of the most popular series on the network, not only spanning 260 episodes but also spawning a live show. Pinwheel remained in production until about 1984, and it aired reruns until 1990.
On January 4th, 1988, Nickelodeon launched the Nick Jr. block, a weekday morning block for preschoolers. Pinwheel was the first series to air during the block, and for the next three years, Pinwheel was Nick Jr.'s flagship show. Since 1988, Pinwheel has been exclusively part of the Nick Jr. brand. When Nickelodeon makes reference to the show, they categorize it as a Nick Jr. series, and the social media pages for Nick Jr. feature images from Pinwheel on occasion.
Despite airing for thirteen years, episodes have been proven difficult to find. Pinwheel last aired in 1990, and in the 30 years it has been absent from television, only about 10 hours of footage have been recovered. This includes the segments featured in the show's only home media release, The Pinwheel Songbook. Much of the found footage was originally on a bootleg compilation DVD available through a Freewebs site called "Stuff I Like".
Nickelodeon still owns the rights to the Pinwheel characters, and they have been featured on Nick Jr.'s official social media pages as recently as 2020. However, the show itself has never been aired or released since 1990. Chances of Pinwheel ever airing again are extremely slim.
- O parádivé Sally aka "Clock Man" - An animated short that was allegedly featured on Pinwheel between the show's usual puppet/human segments.
- Scan of "Direct Marketing" interview about QUBE and Pinwheel. Retrieved 1 Jan '21
- Schedule for the Nick Jr. block's launch date (4 Jan 1988) from the Reno Gazette-Journal. Retrieved 1 Jan '21
- Interview with Pinwheel cast member George James. Retrieved 26 Jul '15
- Post from @NickJr on Twitter, featuring the Pinwheel cast. Retrieved 1 Jan '21
- The DVD set from "Stuff I Like". Retrieved 27 Jul '15