Series: Wishbone

What's the story, Wishbone?

PBS series in which Wishbone, a well-read Jack Russell Terrier, would dream and imagine himself as the hero of various stories and novels.

Wishbone was a real dog whose thoughts were expressed as a running voice-over. All of the other characters in the stories being dramatized are humans. For instance, kids would get to see an otherwise dead-serious dramatization of Pride and Prejudice in which Mr. Darcy is a cute little dog in a suit. And everyone else is human. And everyone acts as if the fact that Mr. Darcy is a talking dog is absolutely nothing at all out of the ordinary. Then again said dog is the one re-telling the stories and placing himself as certain characters.

In between the story-telling, there was typically a scenario in the real world that would mirror the events of the story, usually involving Wishbone's owner Joe and his friends David and Samantha. Sometimes, Joe's mother Ellen and their next-door neighbor/gardener/historical society member Wanda get involved, as well as other residents of their generic suburban settlement of Oakdale, Texas. Whether it is supposed to be the real Oakdale is unknown.

In 1998, the TV movie, 'Wishbone's Dog Days of the West' was released.

Several book tie-in series were made, including The Adventures of Wishbone (a series in the parallel-plots style of the show), Wishbone Classics, which omitted the Joe et. al. plots in favor of less compressed adaptations. This was the first of the tie-in novels series to be released, noticeably due to not being under the "Big Red Chair Books" label, Wishbone Mysteries, which were mysteries involving Wishbone, Joe, and his friends, removing the classic story, and Wishbone: The Early Years, which was a Spin-Off Babies series about Wishbone as a puppy, in smaller stories such as Hansel and Gretel, Jack and the Beanstalk, etc., and were for younger readers.

Tropes in this series include:

  • Academic Alpha Bitch: Sam's rival Amanda. She spends most of one episode gloating over how her team is going to win the class spelling bee.
  • Academic Athlete: Samantha “Sam” Kepler participates in every sport her male friends do and is picked for her class team captain spelling bee because she's always reading.
  • Adult Fear: Let's see. There's the confrontation with that grave digger, the time the main trio got locked in that condemned barn, the incident with the new kid falling in with a local thief and nearly dragging Joe along for the ride, the incidents involving David in the mystery books mentioned below under Nightmare Fuel...Wow; even in the 90s, PBS was kinda scary.
  • Aliens Steal Cable: Invoked in a Wishbone Mysteries book involving a UFO sighting in Oakdale. Trying to unmask a hoaxer pretending to be an alien over IRC, David asks him what his favorite human TV show was in an attempt to catch him violating the speed of light. The hoaxer doesn't fall for it; he responds with I Love Lucy.
  • All Girls Like Ponies: Sam Kepler loves horses. One episode centers on her finding an alleged lucky horseshoe in an abandoned barn. She also has a treasured glass unicorn.
  • Annoying Younger Sibling: David's little sister Emily. In some episodes, she has a partner-in-crime named Tina.
  • Black Best Friend: David.
  • Bowdlerize: Generally averted- with the exception of Don Quixote, the show was pretty good about keeping sad endings in books that had them. There were exceptions, though:
    • The show's ending to Cyrano de Bergerac was significantly more cheerful than in the original work.
    • They sometimes made endings seem nicer by omission — that is, ending it at the point of the Snicket Warning Label. For example, their version of Frankenstein ends with Dr. Frankenstein ill in bed and the monster promising to go away and never hurt anyone. What they leave out is the part following this in which Frankenstein does indeed die as well as the fact that the monster was planning to kill himself when he went away.
    • They didn't show the beheadings in A Tale of Two Cities, but they did show a cabbage being cut in half by the guillotine, with several of the characters in the background staring at it in horror.
    • In the Tom Sawyer episode, the character Injun Joe is given the less offensive name "Crazy Joe."
    • In the Time Machine episode, Weena is explicitly Spared by the Adaptation. But hey, every movie adaptation of the novel does the same anyway. And the Wishbone version may be the only screen version in which she doesn't get Promoted to Love Interest (Weena used to the Trope Namer for that, actually).
    • For The Count of Monte Cristo, Fernand isn't Driven to Suicide by his reputation being slandered.
    • In the Journey to the West episode, Sun Wukong leaves a paw-print on the Buddha's finger instead of urinating on his finger, as he did in the original story.
    • The Aeneid episode omits Dido's suicide, only showing Aeneas leaving her behind in Carthage.
    • In The Odyssey, Odysseus and his son expel the suitors with a slapstick fight rather than killing them.
  • Catch Phrase: "Hellooo!" and "Whoocha!"
  • Character Title
  • Clip Show: Wanda brings over a dog to keep Wishbone company, and Wishbone recounts to the dog all his previous imaginary adventures.
  • Compressed Adaptation: Obviously, Door Stoppers are brought down to be half of a thirty-minute show. As such, they are usually reduced to their Signature Scenes. However, the fact that they do not add anything, just compress the original plot, hilariously makes the Wishbone adaptations some of the most faithful ones ever. This review of the The Phantom of the Opera episode, by The Phantom Reviewer, is mostly negative, but the reviewer can't help but be amazed that it's probably more faithful to the original novel than any other screen version of the story.
    • The Oliver Twist episode is perhaps the most compressed as a lot more time was spent on the contemporary story than usual. The Artful Dodger becomes a Composite Character of every underworld character in the novel. Nope, not even Fagin gets mentioned. It ends with Mr. Brownlow taking in Oliver, with this portrayed as Happily Ever After.
    • The episode about The Count of Monte Cristo spends a bit too much time on the story's setup, forcing Danglars and Caderrouse to become a case of What Happened to the Mouse? as Dantes' revenge is directed entirely against Fernand. This is even after removing Villefort entirely.
    • The Odyssey is reduced to just three events: Odysseus leaving Calypso's island, the storm sent by Poseidon, and the battle with the suitors. At the end, Odysseus does refer to the cyclops as one of the dangers he faced, but that's just a brief in-passing reference.
    • The Hercules episode only covers one of the twelve labors, the one with the golden apples. King Eurystheus makes a passing reference to the previous labor (the one with Geryon's cattle), but we see nothing of it.
  • Darker and Edgier: Believe it or not, the series sendoff 'Dogs Days of the Wild West' reveals some pretty seedy parts of Oakdale's past, namely how Wanda Gilmore inherited parts of Oakdale through back alley deals and horsetrading. And also features a decent shootout, despite the dog not being able to hold a gun.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Wishbone, though none of the humans can understand him. Kind of like Garfield.
  • Demythtification: The Joan of Arc episode pretty much drops the religious aspect entirely in favor of focusing on her desire to bring freedom to France. It does include the scene where she picks the dauphin (referred to in the episode as "the king") out of a crowd, but the episode only vaguely hints at a supernatural explanation for it.
  • Detective Animal: Wishbone has played the role of Sherlock Holmes in "The Hound of the Baskervilles" and "Scandal in Bohemia", and C. Auguste Dupin in "The Purloined Letter".
  • Disappeared Dad: Joe's father is dead.
    • Missing Mom: Sam's parents are divorced, and she lives with her father. It's mentioned she visits her mother, but she's never shown. David's the only one of the main kids with an intact family.
      • And despite this near perfect set up, Joe's mother and Sam's father never actually hook up.
      • Possibly because the writers wanted to throw in some hints that Joe and Sam may like each other, and wanted to avoid the setup so it wouldn't become incest(?).
  • Disneyfication: Noticeably averted for the most part, though most of the stories are shortened at times, usually only to fit the 30-minute time frame.
  • Earworm: What's the story, Wishbone? What's this you're dreaming of~?
  • Everyone Went to School Together: In the last episode, Joe's Mom, David's parents and Wanda reminisce about their high school years. They mention that Damont's Dad went to high school with them too.
  • Fade to Black: Usually in the middle of an episode, unusual for a PBS series as they don't have commercials in between episodes and the show didn't have any short that aired in between like Arthur or Clifford the Big Red Dog. This could have been made if the show was considered for syndication, which never occurred (or for international broadcasts)
  • Flyover Country: Averted. The series takes place in Texas, several of the lead characters have noticeable East Texas accents, and there's a gratifying lack of goofy stereotypes.
  • Foe Romance Subtext: Sam and Damont have some of this.
  • For Want of a Nail: In one of the mystery books, Joe and Sam become worried when David doesn't turn up for a study group and leaves no message as to why he isn't coming. After they find David (he was locked in a equipment shed near town; long story), they ask why he didn't leave a message and he very confusedly responds that he did. The humans dismiss it as a coincidence but Wishbone realizes that earlier he had knocked over the answering machine at the Talbots' and erased the message by accident. Wishbone at first considers admitting this and apologizing but then realizes that if the message HADN'T been erased, David would have been trapped even longer than he was. And since the story was set as fall changes into winter...
  • Half-Dressed Cartoon Animal: Not a cartoon, but only Wishbone's top half is dressed when he appears costumed.
    • Averted in "A Tale in Twain" where Wishbone is fully dressed in Tom's clothes and there are probably other examples.
  • Headless Horseman: "Halloween Hound: The Legend of Creepy Collars" (later renamed simply as, "Wishbone in: The Legend of Sleepy Hollow"
  • Her Code Name Was Mary Sue: Wishbone narrating the week's story tends to refer to the character he plays as "dashingly handsome" and such. It helps that he usually plays The Hero.
  • Heroic Dog
  • Incredibly Lame Pun: The theme song includes the lyric "Let's wag another tale."
  • It's All My Fault: Sam's thoughts on getting herself, Joe and David trapped in a condemned barn. She makes up for it by getting them all out during a fire with minimal injury (apparently only smoke inhalation since they're all fine in the next scene which is implied to be the next day).
  • Jerk Jock: Damont Jones.
    • Though averted with Joe who's a jock too (they seem to have a similar amount of talent) but nice.
  • Leaning on the Fourth Wall: In the Halloween episode, Sam asks where Wishbone's costume is. "A dog, wear a silly costume? I think not."
    • When Amanda gives the Wham Line mentioned below, Wishbone remarks "How's that for a Plot Twist?"
  • Lost in Imitation: Mostly averted. For example, the Wishbone version of Frankenstein follows the novel in portraying Frankenstein as a naive young student rather than a Mad Scientist and the monster does not have green skin, bolts in his neck, etc. Wishbone as Frankenstein still brings the creature to life by running electricity into a corpse, however.
  • Mood Whiplash: In "A Tail in Twain Part 1", the episode ends with Wishbone being discovered by a potentially dangerous man and Joe jumping out while yelling "Don't hurt my dog!"...and then comes the Earworm of closing credits. The next episode "A Tail in Twain Part 2" inverts this with the theme cutting to Wishbone and the kids running in fright from said potentially dangerous man.
  • Moral Guardians: They were even on this show's case. According to IMDB, the episode 'The Canine Cure' was banned from some syndication because it somehow encouraged the Aesop that kids should challenge authority figures, apparently ignoring the fact that the overprotectiveness of some parents that was portrayed in this episode is, in fact, Truth in Television.
  • The Movie: 'Wishbone's Dog Days of the West', the Grand Finale to the series when PBS didn't renew for another season.
  • Mr. Fanservice: A good amount of the female fanbase thought of Joe as this in season two.
    • Some would say that David counts as well in the same season.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Interestingly there is an episode where this trope is both played straight and averted. Basically Sam insists on going into a condemned barn to look for a special horseshoe and the trio gets trapped inside. That would be the playing it straight. Later the barn catches on fire and Sam manages to get herself and the boys out with minimal injuries. She then proceeds to apologize to which the boys respond by pointing out that she saved their lives.
  • Nice Kids: The main trio. In fact, if any of them (usually Joe) avert this trope as part of a plot, it will always lead to a My God, What Have I Done? moment in the later half.
  • One of the Boys: Sam, natch.
  • Ooh, Me Accent's Slipping: Often in earlier episodes.
    • Occasionally done deliberately, as Wishbone will drop whatever accent he's adopted for his character to make a snarky comment.
  • Outdoorsy Gal: Sam once persuades the boys to help her look for "Blackbeard's Horseshoe" inside a condemned barn.
  • Passionate Sports Girl: Sam participates in every sport her male friends do and would much rather be taking karate lessons than dance lessons.
  • Reading Is Cool Aesop: Pretty much the point of the show was to get kids to read these classics.
  • Reality Ensues: In the "Treasure Island" episode, the main trio becomes trapped in a condemned barn. Partway through, David and Joe charge the door with intent to break it down...and bounce off with groans that are equal parts pain and frustration while the door remains unbudged.
  • Real Women Don't Wear Dresses: A mild case with Sam who seems to have this attitude about the ballroom dance lessons that led to the She Cleans Up Nicely moment below and the moment itself.
  • The Rival: Damont for Joe, particularly in basketball. One episode indicates that he's jealous of David too (for the attention he gets for his scentific accomplishments).
  • Running Gag: Wishbone really wants to get on that chair.
  • Satan: He's depicted in the Faust episode, and yes, they did one. He's mostly referred to as "Mephisto", but the Inadvertent Entrance Cue for his first appearance clearly identifies him as the Devil. Mephisto is portrayed as a man who dresses in Renaissance clothing (contemporary to Faust's time), speaks in a modulated voice, and controls fire.
  • The Smart Guy: David
  • She Cleans Up Nicely: Sam gets a bit of this in the contemporary story to the "Oliver Twist" episode. She comes over to David's house after ballroom dance lessons dressed neatly in a white dress, short gloves and with her hair down. The boys are momentarily stunned and Joe tries to compliment her, but she quickly cuts him off.
  • Shout-Out: The Time Machine episode has a rather neat nod to the book crumbling scene from the 1960 film. Wishbone as the Time Traveler comes across The Collected Works of William Shakespeare (making this double as a Shout-Out to Shakespeare) and reads the famous "Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow" monologue from Macbeth, ending with the line "the way to dusty death." Then he touches the book and it collapses to dust.
  • Sitcom Arch-Nemesis: Wishbone tended to regard Wanda this way. Wanda was actually pretty friendly though and was just annoyed by having her neighbor's dog constantly wrecking her yard. Wishbone and Wanda came to terms somewhat in an episode where he actually ended up inside her house, but subsequent episodes followed this up with Aesop Amnesia since Status Quo Is God.
  • Sleeves Are for Wimps: One episode has Joe cutting all the sleeves off his shirts in an ill-considered attempt to join a group of "cool" kids. Wishbone asks "So, why don't we like sleeves anymore?"
  • Spit Take: Sam does a rather spectacular one in "Furst Impressions" after it is pointed out to Joe that his dress shirt is both on inside out and on backwards. Wishbone even comments "EW! It went up her nose!"
  • ˇThree Amigos!: Joe and his two best friends.
  • Title Sequence Replacement: In the third season, even though the theme song is kept.
  • Token Trio: Joe and his two best friends (again).
  • Tomboyish Name: Sam
  • Travel Montage: In "Frankenbone", the Monster's rampage through Europe and into the Arctic includes shots of the camera panning across a map of eighteenth-century Europe.
  • The Trojan War: Two separate episodes have a story based around the Trojan War. One is the episode on The Odyssey and the other an episode on The Aeneid.
  • Two For One Show
  • Wham Line: In "A Doggoned Expose", when the trio confronts Amanda about the smear campaign against Sam, her response is one of these: (while handing Sam a smear flyer against her: Why would I do this to myself?)
  • What the Hell, Hero?: In the episode where the trio gets trapped in a condemned barn that catches fire, Sam gives herself one of these speeches because it was her fault for getting them in there in the first place. Joe and David's opinions on the other hand...
    Joe: (incredulous) Sorry? Sam, you rescued us!
    David: Yeah, you saved our lives in there!
  • Whole Plot Reference: The modern-day portions are this to the story portions. Wishbone almost always manages to pick out the book real-life events will be mirroring before there are sufficient clues.
  • Wrong Insult Offence: The Cyrano de Bergerac episode (in keeping with its source material).
  • You Look Familiar: Local stage actors played the roles in the "fantasy" portions of the show. Several were reused many times.
  • You No Take Candle: Weena talks this way in the Time Machine episode: "Morlocks no like light."