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Saturday, November 19, 2011

Saturday Morning: Ghostwriter

DISCLAIMER:  I am well aware that this show did NOT air on Saturdays...but there was a remake of the show that DID.  And, besides, it's educational, so go with it.  :)

One question that someone once asked me is how I became interested in writing. I have always wondered how I could answer this question, because the truth is, I don't really have one definitive answer.

I guess the obvious answer that I could give for this question is that I always did well in school subjects that involved some usage of the English language. It could have been language arts. It could have been history. It could have even been spelling, grammar, and punctuation lessons. If it involved writing notes, essays, book reports, and written presentations, I was all over it. This could explain why my average in school was usually in the high 70s or low 80s. I usually ended up in the 90s for English related assignments, but bottomed out around the low 60s for math and science classes.

Darn you, algebraic equations and periodic table of elements! Darn you to heck!

However, I think the meaning behind why I enjoy writing goes a little bit deeper than the fact that I only liked it because I got good grades from teachers in it. It goes much deeper than that.

The real reason? Writing allows me to be myself in the best possible way that I can be.

I'll lay it on the line right here. I am definitely not the best oral communicator. For one, I tend to stumble and stutter somewhat when trying to have spoken word conversations with people. The less I know a person, the worse communicator I am. I suppose part of it could stem from a case of nervousness, as being a bit timid when meeting someone for the first time is part and parcel.  And maybe it's all in my head, and I actually communicate with people a lot better than even I'm aware of. But for some reason, I've always felt more comfortable expressing myself through written methods.

Plus I feel as though I have the world's most geekiest, unmanliest voice in the world. But again, that's a matter of perspective, and some may find my voice sexy. I've never HEARD that compliment, but again, perspective.

So I've readily admitted that I sometimes struggle to keep a conversation going through spoken word. Either I forget the point I'm trying to make midway through the conversation, I stumble when I try to think of the right word to say, or I get so tongue-tied that I may end up speaking a completely different nonsensical language altogether.

But when I have the chance to write it out instead of talk it out, I find that I can get ideas out a lot better. I have the chance to read and re-read what I write and can change, add, or erase words at my leisure to ensure that the point I want to make gets out the way I meant. I guess what I'm saying is that when I have the choice between communicating through written means or verbally, I would undoubtedly choose written communication, because it's much easier for me to feel at ease.

Of course, there are some situations where I don't have the luxury to use written communication. Certainly if I'm calling an order in at work where I am using the telephone, I pretty much have to suck it up and speak. And I'm trying to improve my oral communication skills each day, and am trying to gain more confidence in the art of public speaking. But I will also say that I think part of the reasons why I have been turned down for job applications is because I bombed the interview portion of the application, which again stems from my lack of confidence in public speaking.

Sigh...if only I could be more like the subject of today's blog post for today. Of course, in order for me to be more like the subject of the blog, I would have to be dead...and that wouldn't be very much fun.

Those of you who are my age or younger might recognize the above symbol. But, for those of you who don't, I'll introduce you. This little guy is named Ghostwriter. In literary terms, a ghostwriter is a professional writer who is paid to write books, articles, or stories that are credited to another person, and this Ghostwriter sort of does this as well. He can fly around a room, borrow letters, numbers, and punctuation symbols from various sources and put them together to form a word or a sentence.

Oh, and only people who Ghostwriter has revealed himself to can read the messages that he spells out.

That was the basic premise behind the popular PBS show, Ghostwriter, which premiered in October 1992 and ran until early 1995 (A Saturday morning revival of the show in 1997 on CBS failed miserably). The show focused on a group of middle school students who all ended up meeting Ghostwriter when he happened to fly out of a book that had fallen down while one of the kids was helping clean out the basement of his home. By using letters from posters, books, and magazines, as well as being able to communicate through computer monitors and those really retro looking computer modems, Ghostwriter could help the gang solve mysteries ranging from sabotaging school elections to foiling an illegal chemical dumping operation.

You know, I'm going to actually post an episode for you to watch before I go on.  This one just happens to be one of my favourite episodes, and it'll really get an idea as to how Ghostwriter worked, as well as will provide all of you with some humourous perspective behind how computers looked 20 years ago.

I'll post the first episode to the story arc, “Who Is Max Mouse” now, and during the course of the episode, I will add the other three episodes as we proceed. So, for episode one, follow the links HERE, HERE, and oh, yeah, HERE.

When the show first began, we only got to see the first four members of the team. By the show's conclusion, we would be introduced to at least three more permanent members, plus members in Australia, the UK, and three from the year 1928. (And, yes, as I go on, this will make sense)

Okay, so the first member to meet Ghostwriter is Jamal Jenkins. It was in Jamal's basement that Ghostwriter resided in for presumably years. He lives with his parents, and his grandmother (Marcella Lowery), and while he is a good student with English, his real interest is science, and he has dreams of attending the High School of Science after graduating from Zora Neale Hurston Middle School in Brooklyn, New York. Here's a scene of Jamal first encountering Ghostwriter.

He may be freaked out by him at first, but as the show progresses, we find that Jamal probably had the closest relationship with Ghostwriter, and perhaps with good reason too. Although we never really find out who Ghostwriter is during the show's three year run, it was originally intended for Ghostwriter to be one of Jamal's ancestors, perhaps one that escaped a life of slavery and educated himself and learned the value of reading. Jamal's story arcs seem to confirm this. He is the first one who can see Ghostwriter. Ghostwriter helps Jamal's friends clear his name when he's accused of torching a video store owned by Mr. Brinker. Ghostwriter even ends up going back in time to 1928 to help three children solve a mystery of their own...which turns out to help Jamal out as one of the kids that Ghostwriter helped in 1928 grew up to be the doctor that saved his father's life before Jamal was even born!

Oh, and Ghostwriter also helped Jamal clear his name when a computer hacker named Max Mouse threatened to destroy him. A perfect opportunity to showcase episode two of that story arc HERE, HERE, and HERE.

The second person Ghostwriter showed himself to was Lenni Frazier. Lenni was in the same grade as Jamal, and before Ghostwriter revealed himself to Jamal, was more of an acquaintance to Jamal. Lenni lived in a loft with her widowed father, and thanks to her father's love of music, Lenni also had the dream to become a singer and songwriter. Back in 1992, female rappers were starting to grow in popularity, and Lenni was destined to become the next Salt 'n' Pepa. And Ghostwriter helped Lenni make that dream come true. Lenni's biggest story arc in the series was the one entitled 'Don't Stop The Music', where a record executive hears Lenni's demo tape and wants to make a music video of her song. But when someone on the video crew goes out of their way to sabotage the video, Ghostwriter helps the team put the pieces together to save the shoot. The end result is this video...a video that even Ghostwriter managed to be a part of!

There were other arcs that Lenni ended up being a part of. She comes up with the idea for the team to enter a contest to be drawn into a comic book (with help from Ghostwriter), and she almost ends up losing a friendship with the guy down below after the musical instruments of Lenni's dad were accidentally destroyed in a car accident caused by this boy's dad.

Alejandro “Alex” Fernandez was the third person to see Ghostwriter. He's also in the same grade as Jamal and Lenni, and his parents own a bodega (in which the Frazier family live upstairs from). A first generation Salvadorian American, Ghostwriter becomes fluent in both English and Spanish thanks to Alex. His abilities in writing are made evident through the dozens of pen pals he has located all over the world (one of which betrayed Alex by selling his secrets to his opponent in the sixth grade school elections), and while Alex can develop a hot temper at times, he is probably the most headstrong (and in my opinion, the most developed) character of the whole series. One of Alex's story arcs was banned on the children's network “Noggin” because of the subject matter, which was Alex being offered drugs by a friend of his who later gets caught up in a robbery scheme. Alex later ends up falling for a future member of the Ghostwriter team, but we'll get to that later on. Most of Alex's story arcs tend to be shared with this person.

Like most shows, there has to be a brother and sister combo present somewhere. In this case, it's in the form of Alex's younger sister by two years, Gabriela “Gaby” Fernandez...the only character to be recast during the show's run. 

The fourth person to see Ghostwriter, Gaby is talkative, inquisitive, and sensitive. While Ghostwriter seemed to be closest to Jamal, Gaby was probably the one who cared about Ghostwriter the most, and even makes a word bed for him to sleep in during the Who Is Max Mouse story arc (Watch Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 of Episode 3 inside this bracket).

Gaby's story arcs are well-defined. She gets sick due to chemical poisoning in a community garden prompting the team to investigate what made her sick. She ends up stealing money from her family's store to buy a Galaxy Girl costume, which ends up being the catalyst for another mystery at the school. Towards the end of the series, she ends up finding a rare cockatoo, which unbeknownst to her was owned by a couple of crooks.

Gaby's best friend in the series is Tina Nguyen, a Vietnamese-American who makes her first appearance in the first story arc. However, it's not until the Who Burned Mr. Brinker's Store arc that she actually sees Ghostwriter for the first time, and is officially the fifth member of the team. An aspiring filmmaker, Tina's video camera has been very effective in assisting the team with cases. Tina's story arcs are not as huge as some of the other members of the team. She does end up working for a legendary film actress who is the subject of a slew of hate mail (in which Ghostwriter helps them find out who sent it), as well as befriending an exchange student from Africa and using Ghostwriter to help find her when she runs away from home. She also develops a mild romance with Alex, and they end up sharing their first kiss while investigating the illegal chemical dumping case.

Rob Baker becomes the next person to see Ghostwriter. Initially he is accused of smearing Alex's election campaign, but when Ghostwriter actually appears to Rob, and the rest of the team realizes this, he becomes a huge help to the team. An aspiring author (hmmm...kind of like me), Rob's gift with words has helped the team out in many ways. When Rob ends up getting trapped in a subway tunnel in an effort to help reunite a homeless Vietnam war veteran with his daughter, Ghostwriter is there to help the team locate and rescue the two. Unfortunately, with Rob being in a military family, he is forced to leave New York after his family is forced to move to Australia. But before he leaves, the gang send him off with a bunch of new writing notebooks, telling him that they'll never forget him.

Taking Rob's place is Hector Carrero (and yes, you are correct in realizing that the actor playing Hector was once in a season of MTV's The Real World). Alex becomes Hector's 'Big Brother' when he signs up to volunteer for the program. When we meet Hector, he's fluent in Spanish, but sometimes has difficulty reading and writing English. Through Alex's help, as well as some help from Ghostwriter, Hector learns to grasp the language better. Hector even ends up standing up against a bully in the fourth and final part of Who Is Max Mouse (which is posted HERE, HERE, HERE).

Another minor character is Jamal's cousin, Casey Austin. A practical joker who first appeared during the story arc for Lenni's music video shoot, the gang initially thought that Casey was responsible for the pranks. But when Casey was feeling sad because she missed her mother (who was in rehab for alcohol addiction), Ghostwriter wrote to her to make her feel better, and by the last season, Casey was a full-fledged member of the team. Casey was also the star of the last story arc, which was an arc about how the team helped her write a short story for a contest.

There were other minor characters who could see Ghostwriter. A kid named Craig (played by Growing Pains star Jeremy Miller) could see Ghostwriter during the Who Burned Mr. Brinker's Store arc, and when Jamal went on vacation in England, his two British friends, Becky and Sam could see him. And, of course, the three kids who Ghostwriter helped back in 1928.

If you're keeping track, that makes fourteen people in total who knew of Ghostwriter's existence.

And how did the team meet up for cases and meetings? All they had to do was write down the word RALLY plus the first letter of the person's name calling the rally. For instance, if Lenni called the rally, it would be RALLY L, or if Tina called it, it would be RALLY T and so on.

It was a really great show, and honestly if it wasn't for the fact that the show ran out of funds to produce the program (it did air on PBS after all), it might have lasted longer than three years. But in a time in which shows seem less and less educational these days, Ghostwriter is sorely missed. I probably was a little too old to watch it when it originally aired, but I just found it fascinating. Maybe because it dealt with words and language and spelling and other things that I was good at. Or maybe because the show was really well written for a children's show. I don't know.

Or maybe it was because I could identify with Ghostwriter because like me, Ghostwriter didn't really need to say a word to get his message out. All he needed was enough letters to form sentences and that was enough. Maybe it took time for the kids to figure it out, but eventually they did.

And maybe it might take me time to get what I want to say out at times, but eventually, I know that day will come for me too.


  1. One of my all time favorite series! What I liked about this show was the diversity of the cast & the subversive nature of the show(what other children's show had a character with a Malcom x poster!) Looking back on the show now it's such a time capsule of the early 90s(love the music ) especially with the fashion.There were so many layers to this show,they made tough subject matter like gang violence & drugs palpable to young viewers. I admit I was past the demo when it originally aired(16) but this show just appealed to me! Ps shout factory has season 1 on DVD but unfortunately they haven't released 2 & 3 : (. Good article.

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