Pee-wee’s Playhouse interior. 1987
Pee-wee’s Playhouse, the children’s television show broadcast on CBS from 1986 to 1991, was modern and spectacular in every way. This quirky and ambitious Saturday-morning program was the only one of its time to incorporate live action with animation and puppetry. It was celebrated by critics and the popular press for its design elements (art direction, set design, costume design, graphics, and title design) as well as its original writing, music, and performances. The show’s dense and lively format was complemented by flat, high-key lighting and the set itself, which was primarily the work of production designer Gary Panter with Wayne White and Ric Heitzman. The playhouse, like the narrative structure it housed, is best characterized as pastiche, and a cast of regular characters was created from everyday objects. Through its unique environment and rich episode content, the show enraptured young viewers while shaking up conventional ideas about domesticity, consumerism, friendship, and imagination. Paul Reubens (Pee-wee) intended it to be educational, entertaining, and artistic. “I’m just trying to illustrate that it’s okay to be different,” he explained. “Not that it’s good, not that it’s bad, but that it’s all right. Tell kids to have a good time … be creative … question things.”
Learn more at MoMA.org/centuryofthechild

Pee-wee’s Playhouse interior. 1987

Pee-wee’s Playhouse, the children’s television show broadcast on CBS from 1986 to 1991, was modern and spectacular in every way. This quirky and ambitious Saturday-morning program was the only one of its time to incorporate live action with animation and puppetry. It was celebrated by critics and the popular press for its design elements (art direction, set design, costume design, graphics, and title design) as well as its original writing, music, and performances. The show’s dense and lively format was complemented by flat, high-key lighting and the set itself, which was primarily the work of production designer Gary Panter with Wayne White and Ric Heitzman. The playhouse, like the narrative structure it housed, is best characterized as pastiche, and a cast of regular characters was created from everyday objects. Through its unique environment and rich episode content, the show enraptured young viewers while shaking up conventional ideas about domesticity, consumerism, friendship, and imagination. Paul Reubens (Pee-wee) intended it to be educational, entertaining, and artistic. “I’m just trying to illustrate that it’s okay to be different,” he explained. “Not that it’s good, not that it’s bad, but that it’s all right. Tell kids to have a good time … be creative … question things.”

Learn more at MoMA.org/centuryofthechild

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Get your daily dose of design from the MoMA exhibition Century of the Child: Growing by Design, 1900–2000. During each of the 100 days of the exhibition we will showcase an object featured in the show.

To find out more about Century of the Child visit MoMA.org/centuryofthechild.

Purchase the exhibition catalogue on MoMAStore.org or get the digital edition for the iPad on iTunes.

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