Breaking the Barrier Between Entertainment and Education: Fetch! with Ruff Ruffman (TV Showcase #8)

This was probably the last kid’s show I watched as it aired before I decided I was too old for kids’ shows. I was watching it at the same time as “The Beverly Hillbillies” and “I Love Lucy”, and I knew I was too old for “Fetch”, but there was something about it that I couldn’t manage to pull myself away from. What is it, you ask? Well, let’s talk about it.

“Fetch! with Ruff Ruffman” (Fetch for short) began in 2006 and ran for 100 episodes over five seasons, ending in 2010. The show was about Ruff Ruffman, and from season two on, his feline assistant, Blossom. Ruff was a cartoon dog who under the nose of his owner ran a gameshow, in which six real-life kids would compete for the twenty-episode season. Each episode, Ruff would give groups of two or three kids challenges to do, some of which required flying to different parts of America, or meeting famous people, and the kids would do their best to complete the challenges while learning something new. The points would tally up throughout the season, and there would always be a huge season finale in which the winner of the season would be decided. The real question is, being a show that aired in the age of rising technology, how did middle-school-age kids find such interest in watching real kids, not outlandish characters, do something educational? I mean, a show doesn’t run for five years just because it feels like it. What did “Fetch” have that made it so unique?

“Fetch” resurrected some of the same elements of shows that had gone before it, like “Zoom!”, “Between the Lions”, and “Zoboomafoo”. All of these shows featured real people, including children, doing cool stuff. But it seemed, at least to me, that “Zoom” was kind of the end of that age as kids’ interests changed and technology became more a part of our lives. But then “Fetch” came along and did almost the same thing. The difference was that “Fetch” didn’t exclusively use the methods that had been the cause of popularity for “Zoom” and other shows like it. “Fetch” did much more than that.

“Fetch” was also a game show, and it assumed that the kid audience had the mental capacity to grasp not only the point system, but also to keep track of who was ahead. This is something done by “The Amazing Race” to keep adult audiences watching, but here was “Fetch” doing it for a kid audience. Additionally, almost always, someone would be left behind in the studio to answer questions and earn points of their own in what was called “The Halftime Quiz Show”, which was a brilliant way to interact with the actual audience and to make the educational facts stick in their head. I still know what “scuba” stands for because of the Halftime Quiz Show. Just sayin.

Lastly, there was the cartoon who was Ruff Ruffman. And Ruff had many relatives that made appearances on the show, all voiced by Jim Conrad (who was also Kenny the Shark in the series of the same name). So Ruff had his own adventures (there was even a season premiere that was exclusively about Ruff and was all cartoon), but he still interacted via television with the contestants. So when the audience started to get bored with seeing real kids doing realistic stuff, the show would switch to Ruff and Blossom, who would do some funny gag, and then back to the kids.

“Fetch! with Ruff Ruffman” ended when I was fourteen years old, and I did rewatch most of it in subsequent years. But was I really too old for it? I’d say that that could only be said if judging by the age of the contestants. Because the adventures, the challenges, the gags, and the real-life competition gave the show thought and creativity in ways that other educational kids’ shows just didn’t. What do you think?

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