Fans of "The Berenstain Bears" books will notice right away that Mama Bear doesn't have her signature polka-dot dress in PBS's new animated television series.
"That's because of limitations in animation," explained Stan Berenstain, who with his wife, Jan, has written and illustrated Berenstain Bears stories for 40 years. "It's also hard to render the plaids that other bears are known to wear."
But the Berenstains, as executive producers, watch out for other details--such as the Bears' never wearing shoes--as well as the stories, with their focus on family issues and values.
"The Berenstain Bears" will premiere on WETA at 9 a.m. Sunday. The show's regular airtime is weekdays at 9 a.m., repeating at 3:30 p.m., on WETA. It also will air at 9 a.m. on MPT. The 15-minute "Bears" segments will be paired with new episodes of "The Seven Little Monsters," based on the work of author-illustrator Maurice Sendak, to form half-hour blocks.
The 80 episodes in the animated series are taken from more than 230 "Berenstain Bears" books.
"Each of the stories is adapted from one of the books," said Shalom Fisch, an educational consultant who has worked on the animated series. "Kids already know and like the characters. The situations that the Bears find themselves in are situations that young children find themselves in. The stories provide children with knowledge and skills they need to work out these sorts of situations on their own."
Stan and Jan Berenstain, both 79, said the subjects of their books have been based on their experiences as parents or grandparents. "It began with the simple idea of arming kids with information," Stan said, "such as what to expect when going to the doctor's or dentist's office."
Stan and Jan had been "very avid kid artists," Stan said. They met as first-year students in 1941 in a drawing class at the Philadelphia School of Industrial Art and noticed each other's work before they noticed each other. They were separated in World War II-- Stan became a medical artist in the Army and Jan worked as a riveter. They were married shortly after his discharge in 1946.
Of their 56-year marriage, Stan said: "I wish I knew the secret. We don't have any real conflicts about [important] values and we were raised in the Depression. Jan is very easy to put up with," he said. "And she's still pretty gorgeous."
Stan "is fine to work with," said Jan. "We can fill in where the other needs help. This is what we're used to, what we have always done."
Their work has included covers and cartoons for major magazines as well as several books besides the many "Bears" titles. They had a series of "Bears" television specials starting in 1979, and a children's Saturday morning series on CBS in the mid-'80s. They recently published an autobiography,, "Down a Sunny Dirt Road."
The Berenstains developed the "Bears" series in the 1960s with author-editor Theodor Seuss Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss. Seuss also shortened their byline from "Stanley and Janice" to "Stan and Jan."
They have two adult sons, Leo and Michael, who have joined the family business, and four grandchildren who have come up with story ideas and keep them in touch with the kids of today, said Jan.
The theme song for the PBS series, sung by Lee Ann Womack, reflects the essence of the Bears, Stan said: "They're kind of furry around the torso; they're a lot like people, only more so."
Also New For Kids . . .
Max & Ruby
Mondays at 9 a.m. on Nickelodeon
Debuts Monday (Jan. 6)
This new animated series--based on the books by Rosemary Wells--presents the adventures of Max, an enthusiastic preschool bunny, and his big sister Ruby, 7. Each half-hour show with three stories focuses on sibling relationships.
That's So Raven
Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays at 7 p.m. on the Disney Channel
Debuts Friday, Jan. 17
Raven, who was Olivia on "The Cosby Show," plays a teenager who sees quick flashes of the future--and often tries to change the outcome. The premiere will present four back-to-back episodes of the situation comedy.
* George Shrinks, about the challenges of a boy three inches tall, begins a new season on PBS. WETA will launch the show at 8 a.m. Sunday, with regular airtime weekdays at 8:30 a.m. and 3 p.m. MPT will air new episodes weekdays at 8:30 a.m. starting Monday.
* Static Shock starts its third season on Saturday, Jan. 25, at 10:30 a.m. on WBDC. The series features teenage superhero Virgil Hawkins, who has electromagnetic powers.