March 20, 1996

Nickelodeon Gives Kids Their Own Whodunit Series

Catherine Hinman Orlando Sentinel
 

It doesn’t take a Jessica Fletcher to figure out why Nickelodeon is about to debut its first mystery series.

Just look at the clues: “Murder, She Wrote” has had a 12-year run on CBS.

Lt. Columbo schlepped around TV off and on for 22 years.

And the big one: The “Nancy Drew” mystery book series has sold more than 80 million copies and been translated into 20 languages since 1930.

With mysteries such a proven success, a whodunit for the kids cable channel seems as natural a pairing as Sherlock Holmes and Scotland Yard.

“There really hasn’t been a really good kids mystery (on TV) ever,” says executive producer Alan Goodman, who devoured “Hardy Boys” and “Nancy Drew” mysteries as a child. “I went to Nickelodeon, and I pitched them an idea, and they said, ‘Isn’t that interesting? Whenever we research ideas for shows, a mystery always comes up very high on the list.”’

What River Heights was to Nancy Drew, Cocoa Beach, Fla., is to Nickelodeon’s newest teen heroine, Shelby Woo.

The half-hour show “The Mystery Files of Shelby Woo” debuted Sunday at 6 p.m.

Six episodes of the series were produced at Universal Studios Florida and on location in Brevard County, Fla., in December and January. It stars Irene Ng (“The Joy Luck Club”) as an intrepid 16-year-old investigator, and veteran TV and film actor Pat Morita (“The Karate Kid” and TV’s “Happy Days”) as her grandfather. (Ng is pronounced “Ung”).

“Shelby Woo” is part of Nickelodeon’s new, more-ambitious programming. Just a few years ago it mainly produced inexpensive programs, such as its slime-drenched kids game show. Then came “Clarissa Explains It All,” an early Nick sitcom also produced by Goodman in Orlando.

The show tells the story of Shelby, a teenager who has come from China to live with her grandfather and pursue an American education. Insatiably curious, she revels in her job as an errand girl at the local police station. Naturally, her instincts take her further than the detectives would wish.

Morita’s character, Mike Woo, is a retired criminologist who runs a bed-and-breakfast on the Space Coast and provides a voice of reason for Shelby, not to mention some seasoned comic timing for the show. Goodman confesses he was stunned when Morita expressed interest in doing the show.

“It’s like working with royalty, almost,” Goodman says. “This is the first time Nickelodeon has had a real, live movie star as a regular cast member.”

Morita says he likes the show’s concept and the energy being spent to give it broad appeal.

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