Speaking as a kid who grew up without cable in the '90s, PBS is underrated. Obviously, everyone loves Sesame Street, Reading Rainbow and Mister Rogers' Neighborhood. And the Internet (and cosplayers) will never let anyone forget about The Magic School Bus, Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego?, The Big Comfy Couch or Bill Nye the Science Guy. You can't bring up classic '90s PBS without talking about Wishbone or Lamb Chop's Play-Along, nor should you. Still-thriving Arthur remains underpraised, despite being the longest-running children's animated series in the U.S. (and the second longest-running American animated series behind The Simpsons)... and I have more than once on TWoP snuck in the fact that I am basically committed to watching Marc Brown's aardvark-helmed series through to its bitter end. But, in my humble opinion, the two most overlooked series of all time are The Puzzle Place -- a show that I was up until recently convinced only existed in my head, because to this day I cannot find a fellow fan in the flesh (even its forum hasn't been touched in years) -- and the one I'm writing about today in the spirit of Halloween: Ghostwriter.
Although this three-season show is a homophone with Ghost Rider, the series was in no way Satanic, evil or ever likely to have a Nicolas Cage film based on it. Instead Ghostwriter, which launched on PBS in 1992, was about a group of friends living in Brooklyn who solved neighborhood crimes and mysteries with the aid of an invisible ghost. To quote the cast in the opening credits: "We don't know where he came from. He just showed up one night. (What is that thing?) He's not an alien. (What is he?) We think he might be a ghost. (Be serious.) He wants to be friends with us. He can't hear us and he can't talk. He can read anything. He takes letters and he writes with them. We're the only ones who can see him... He's a ghost and he writes to us: Ghostwriter." Ghostwriter taught reading and writing skills and convincingly cooked up some fairly enthralling mysteries spanning around four or five episodes each. The most heart-wrenching thing about the series' cancellation is that it had nothing to do with popularity -- it was aired in over 24 countries and declared a hit. According to PBS, Ghostwriter was shut down due to a lack of funding after its third season. Let that sink in for a moment.
In its short time on the air, the series was rich with guest stars, including Samuel L. Jackson, Spike Lee, Judge Reinhold, Bo Jackson and Julia Stiles (in her acting debut) just to name a few. Ghostwriter's child actors have mostly remained on the down low, but you may be familiar with William Hernandez since he was later on Real World: Philadelphia, Blaze Berdahl who previously starred as Ellie Creed in Pet Sematary and though you're probably not familiar with Ghostwriter team leader Jamal, you should be, because the actor who played him is Sheldon Turnipseed... He's not famous outside of the show or anything (despite his excellent use of "Boom shaka laka BOOM!"), but isn't his name kind of amazing?
I'm happy to report that Season 1 actually came out on DVD, and that the series still holds up to this day. Not surprisingly, it serves as a rich time capsule for early '90s fashion, jargon and technology, as well as an accurate portrayal of New York City back then, which makes sense since Ghostwriter was filmed on-location in Fort Greene, Brooklyn. The mysteries are genuinely still fun and I imagine that kids would still enjoy watching our young gumshoes. Best all of, scaredy cats like me can enjoy the child-friendly tension and creepiness nightmare-free. For further research, I suggest checking out our Ghostwriter forum, because the content (and confessions about how dreamy Alex was) are absolutely hilarious. Word!
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