Pinwheel is an educational preschool series. It was the first show on Nickelodeon, as well as the first show to air during the network's Nick Jr. block. The show aired from 1977 to 1984, with reruns until 1990.
The show is set in Pinwheel House, a boarding house powered by a spinning pinwheel on the roof. The boarding house is inhabited by a cast of humans and puppets. Together, the house residents solve problems and play games relevant to preschoolers. Each episode is divided into short segments including skits, songs, photo montages, and animations.
The show's first season premiered in 1977. At the time, Pinwheel 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 to this one show.note In 1979, the C-3 channel expanded into a national network called Nickelodeon. Pinwheel remained on the network, now joined by a roster of other shows.
In 1988, Nickelodeon launched Nick Jr., its weekday morning block for preschoolers. Reruns of Pinwheel were the first show to air during the block, and for a time, Pinwheel was Nick Jr.'s flagship show. Since 1988, Pinwheel has been exclusively part of the Nick Jr. brand. Whenever the show is acknowledged by Nickelodeon, they categorize it as a Nick Jr. series, and the social media pages for Nick Jr. feature Pinwheel every once in a while.
The show's crew members were hired for their previous experience in preschool television, with many of them coming from Sesame Street's production company, the Children's Television Workshop. The show's creator Vivian Horner had previously worked as director of research for The Electric Company, one of Sesame Street's sister programs.
This series provides examples of:
- Anime Hair: On some of the puppets.
- Cloud Cuckoo Lander: Minus.
- Cute Mute: Coco the Mime.
- The Dog Walks You: One of Coco's mime acts involve her being dragged around by a presumably large dog.
- Early Installment Weirdness:
- In the show's first season (filmed in Ohio from 1977-79), there were several main characters who didn't return for the later seasons. They were all played by Franci Anderson: the human storyteller Franci, a group of alien marionettes called the Wonkles, and a spider marionette named Spiderbelle. When filming moved from Ohio to New York for the show's second season, Franci decided to stay in Ohio, so her characters were retired.
- The first season also featured long storytelling sequences, narrated by Franci and featuring her original artwork. For seasons two and three, these sequences were replaced with animated inserts acquired from outside companies.
- The human and puppet casts were also much smaller in season one. The human cast only featured Franci, Coco, and Jake. The puppet cast featured only Aurelia, Ebenezer, Luigi O'Brien and his vegetables, Plus, Minus, the Wonkles, and Spiderbelle.
- Embarrassing Nickname: Whenever Ebenezer is on the phone with his mother, she keeps calling him "Little Ebby" even though he keeps asking her not to.
- Expy: One could consider Ebenezer an expy of Oscar the Grouch from Sesame Street, though Ebenezer explicitly calls himself "the villain" of Pinwheel House whereas Oscar is just a grumpy character. Plus and Minus could be seen as expies of Ernie and Bert, since they are both duos of male puppets, but while Ernie and Bert are adult characters, Plus and Minus are immature children whose segments center on childhood experiences.
- Irony: Minus is the more cheerful and energetic one, while Plus is the more thoughtful and serious (relatively speaking) one.
- Interspecies Adoption: Aurelia (a puppet) has a niece who is a human (Kim).
- Lethal Chef: During a cooking competition, Ebenezer tries to enter in one of his pancakes, but it's so tough that Coco (who's serving as the judge) can't even chew it. Needless to say, Ebenezer doesn't win, but it isn't a total loss; the Hobo Bugs end up using the pancake as a trampoline.
- Meaningful Name: Visually, Minus is a photo negative of Plus; where Plus has orange skin, black hair, and a red nose, Minus has purple skin, white hair, and a green nose.
- Missed Him by That Much: Smitty is always trying to get a picture of the elusive Admiral Bird. The other characters, including Smitty's wife Sal, often see and interact with the Admiral Bird. Smitty, on the other hand, never manages to snap a picture of him. The Admiral Bird enjoys teasing Smitty by being right behind him, playing various pranks, and leaving whenever he turns around.
- Parental Substitute: Aurelia's relationship to Plus and Minus is somewhat vague (though she is explicitly stated to be Kim's aunt), but she functions as their mother figure in the series by generally looking after them.
- Running Gag:
- In the "Plus Goes to the Moon" sketches, Plus would try taking a rocket to the moon, but he would get distracted easily, leaving the rocket to blast off without him.note
- Smitty is always looking for the Admiral Bird and always misses his chance to take a picture of him.
- Shout-Out: The Admiral Bird's name is a reference to Rear Admiral Richard E. Byrd, an American naval officer, aviator, and explorer who reached both the North and South Poles by flying.