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‘Shining Time Station’ Chugs Into Prime Time

Jerry Schwartz Associated Press

Let us now sing the praises of Thomas and Edward, Duck and Diesel, Bertie and Toby. Let us applaud a show that does not prompt pre-schoolers to attack one another with lethal kicks and cries of “Hi-YAH!”

All hail “Shining Time Station.”

Perhaps you’ve never heard of “Shining Time Station.” It is not as hyped as “Mighty Morphin Power Rangers,” mostly because parents have not been forced to listen to police scanners to locate the latest Thomas the Tank Engine action figure.

“Shining Time Station” is on public television, nestled in the “Sesame Street” morning ghetto. But Wednesday, you’ll have an opportunity to see it at a more grown-up hour, as PBS airs the first of at least four “Shining Time Station” prime-time specials (locally, at 7 p.m. on Channels 7, 12 and 26).

What you will see is fairly representative of “STS,” with a few concessions to prime time.

The special is an hour long, twice the usual length; it features a name guest star, Ed Begley Jr.; the camera actually goes outside the mythical Indian Valley Railroad station.

But some things remain the same: the magical and miniature Mr. Conductor, played by George Carlin; the crowd-pleasing buffoonery of the arcade owner, Schemer (Brian O’Connor); the warmth of station master Stacy Jones (Didi Conn); the plot, which offers the usual magic and lifelessons.

And most importantly, Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends.

Some children live for the Thomas sequences, in which model trains on the imaginary island of Sodor act out stories narrated by Mr. Conductor.

Each train has its own personality - Thomas, a cheeky little engine; Diesel, insincere and manipulative; Gordon, powerful and selfimportant, and so on - and they all roll their eyes and make funny faces and get into all kinds of trouble.

You can, of course, buy Thomas and Gordon and all the rest (warning to parents - the special introduces two more engines, Rusty and Stepny). There are also Thomas sheets and games and books and pajamas and slippers and, well, let’s just say that thar’s gold in them thar little trains.

But let us also say that few parents begrudge the makers of “Shining Time Station” the right to make a buck.

Britt Allcroft, co-producer of the show - she first created the Thomas sequences in 1984 for a British show, “Thomas the Tank Engine & Friends” - calls it “storybook television,” and it’s just that.

Children take a cue from “Shining Time Station,” and they make up their own stories about the engines. This is a show that stokes the imagination.

It’s all done without the violence of a bunch of costumed teenagers thwapping bad guys with zords and thunder kicks, and without the saccharine megadose of group hugs orchestrated by a purple T-rex.

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