Terry Bryant knows the repercussions of changes to the preschooler television lineup.
As PBS station WETA’s senior vice president of broadcasting, she’s heard the young cries in the background when parents call to complain. And she remembers the withdrawal pains and the outpouring of devotion - and the bundles of mail containing scribbled pictures of trains - the first time the broadcast rights to “Shining Time Station” expired.
Bryant also knows that “you can’t tell a 2-year-old the complexity of a broadcast rights schedule.”
So, to put it simply: Thomas the Tank Engine has come to the end of the line. The friendly faced little engine that could - and did, for nine years - will run no longer, at least on PBS.
The Emmy Award-winning “Shining Time Station” appealed to a wide age group. Younger viewers were drawn to the animated train stories narrated by the magical, 18-inch-tall Mr. Conductor (Ringo Starr and, later, George Carlin).
Meanwhile, school-age children related to the live-action segments featuring Didi Conn, Brian O’Connor, Tom Jackson and a handful of plucky kids.
PBS’ broadcast rights of “Shining Time Station” and the later “Mr. Conductor’s Thomas Tales” expires in stages - 20 episodes on Dec. 31, 25 episodes on March 21, and 26 episodes on June 11. But with Thomas beginning to run out of steam - surpassed in popularity by fresh entries such as “Arthur” and “Wimzie’s House” - many PBS stations detrained even before the December pledge drives (not wanting to solicit money to support a show being taken off the air.)
Besides, a new Shari Lewis series, “The Charlie Horse Music Pizza,” is ready to air in January.
The next stop for Thomas the Tank Engine & Friends is unknown. But it’s already been quite a ride.