It's a road tour in which the star doesn't sing, doesn't dance, doesn't even speak. All he does is blow kisses, give hugs and prance about in a giddy, goofy way. And yet he's drawing hundreds of thousands of screaming young children to shopping malls across the country.
He's Barney, the 6-foot-4, purple and green dinosaur from the PBS television show "Barney & Friends," who yesterday had thousands of Washington area youngsters in a frenzy during appearances at two shopping malls in Fairfax County and at the Washington Holiday Parade, for which he was grand marshal.
At Fair Oaks Mall early yesterday, it was stroller gridlock as the Barney bandwagon rolled in for a two-hour appearance that promoters said attracted about 25,000 children, parents and grandparents.
"I love you," Jason Knoster, 4, told his towering pal. Jason and his sister, Katie, 2, had persuaded their mother, Sherry, to bring them to Fair Oaks from Loudoun County to see Barney.
"I snuggled Barney!" said Kate Yanchulis, 3, of Herndon.
Barney's "a cult hero," said Gil Brooker, the mall's general manager.
Barney drew about 20,000 people in Gaithersburg and another 40,000 in Laurel on Friday, and another huge throng last night at the Springfield Mall.
On the upper level of Fair Oaks Mall yesterday morning, children were lined up three-quarters of a mile. There were children standing, children in backpacks, children on parents' shoulders, children laughing, children reaching and, mostly, children yelling: "Barney! Barney! Barney!"
Seven months after his network premiere, Barney is the hottest new act on children's television, appealing mostly to youngsters ages 2 to 5.
He has been on the road since early October, making appearances for JCPenney, which sells Barney clothing, books, videos, dolls, even Barney bed sheets.
In person, Barney looks the same as on TV: a two-legged, roly-poly dinosaur who waves his tiny paws as he lumbers to and fro. But because of the crowds, Barney doesn't have time to sing, dance, tell stories or do other Barney-type activities. Children seem satisfied just having him around, telling him they watch him and inviting him to more than a few birthday parties.
Promoters say that Washington area crowds have been the largest in a tour that earlier packed malls in Dallas, St. Louis, New Jersey, Denver, Los Angeles and New Orleans. Barney will be in Waldorf today.
For his appearances, Barney has required rock star-type security. At Fair Oaks yesterday, the word went out on security guards' walkie-talkies about 7:45 a.m.: "Barney is in the building," the voice said, putting more than 25 security officers, store clerks and other handlers in the purple-shirted "Barney Patrol" on notice.
Some parents were as excited as their children.
"I got some great video!" one father boasted.
"Barney & Friends" has a daily audience of more than 2 million households, PBS officials said.
Locally, it is broadcast on three PBS channels, making it possible to tune in as many as five times nearly every day.
Only 30 half-hour episodes have been taped, but they are shown over and over again. In them, Barney kindly cavorts with several youngsters, teaching them good manners and the importance of sharing and singing songs such as his signature tune, "I Love You."
Some parents said they find Barney too syrupy, but admit they've become fans with their children.
The character was created in 1988 by the Lyons Group, a Texas-based company that until this year marketed Barney mainly through videotapes.
"We've probably seen all 30 episodes at least 10 times each, and we have all the videos," said Sterling resident Janet Weber, part of the Fair Oaks crowd with her sons, Branden, 2, and Lee, 9 months, and her husband, Ed. She said Barney's show "can be really obnoxious, but my kid drinks milk because of it now."
"This is the best thing in the world for parents," said Linette Goodman, of Fairfax County, whose son, Michael Jr., 3, claimed to know every Barney song. "He's learned a lot. He looks forward to brushing his teeth now."
Barney doesn't do interviews. In fact, he doesn't talk on the road. He spends his time hugging and patting as many children as dinosaurly possible, and when it's nearly time for him to leave, he races past those still in line with a friendly wave.
"I've been in retail 26 years and I've never seen a phenomenon like this," said Mike Wilder, manager of the JCPenney at Lakeforest Mall in Gaithersburg.
Debbie Ries, sales director for the Lyons Group, said 20 new Barney episodes are in the works, along with plans for a movie and other adventures.
But Barney probably won't do mall gigs after this tour ends Dec. 20.
"It's really kind of unmanageable. Barney has really grown too big to make those appearances," Ries said. "Maybe he'll go out on concert."