|Created by||Liz Nealon|
|Starring|| Todd Alexander (1992–1993)|
Mayteana Morales (1992–1994)
William Hernandez (1993–1995)
Melissa Gonzales (1994–1995)
Lateaka Vinson (1994–1995)
Candace Hallinan (1994)
|Country of origin||United States|
|No. of episodes|| 74|
The New Ghostwriter Mysteries
|Original channel|| PBS: 1992-1995|
|Original run||October 4, 1992 – February 13, 1995|
|TV.com summary||TV.com summary|
Ghostwriter is a television series co-produced by the Sesame Children's Television Workshop (now known as Sesame Workshop) and the BBC, originally aired on Public Broadcasting Service in the United States from October 1992 to February 1995. The series features a group of New York City teenagers who solve mysteries with the help of an invisible ghost, who can communicate with the kids only by manipulating whatever text and letters he can find and using them to form words and sentences. The series was shot in Brooklyn.
The series was designed to teach reading and writing skills to elementary and middle school children. Each mystery was presented as a story arc, covering four or five thirty-minute episodes; children were encouraged to follow each mystery, and use the reading and writing clues given to attempt to solve them just as the Ghostwriter team does in the show.
Ghostwriter was critically acclaimed and honored for presenting a realistic, racially diverse world in its two-hour mystery stories. By the end of its third season, Ghostwriter ranked in the top five of all children's shows on American television. The program was cancelled after the third season, not because of a lack of popularity, but because of a lack of funding. Ghostwriter has been broadcast in 24 countries worldwide, and generated a number of foreign-language adaptations, including a dubbed-over version on Discovery Kids Latin America marketed as Fantasma Escritor. The show was originally funded by Nike, Sega, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Pew Charitable Trusts, the U.S. Department of Education, the Arthur Vining Davis Foundations, the National Endowment for Children's Educational Television, and PBS viewers.
The titular character of the series is an enigmatic figure. The mystery of Ghostwriter's true identity is never fully answered, although several clues are given during the course of the series in several of the mystery arcs (The following facts are from "Ghost Story", the Pilot episode, unless otherwise stated):
- He was a man when he was alive, but is now a ghost.
- He wanted to protect "the children."
- He can only be seen by those to whom he reveals himself.
- He can read and feel emotions. He cannot hear.
- He communicates by writing. He cannot talk.
- He was alive before the F.B.I. was formed (1908). ("Who Burned Mr. Brinker's Store?")
- He was alive before Walt Disney became famous. ("To Catch a Creep")
- He was alive before Elvis. ("Into the Comics")
- He cannot see pictures. ("Into the Comics")
- He can travel through time. ("Just in Time")
- He can travel across the Internet. ("Who is Max Mouse?")
- At one point, he remembers he was chased by dogs. ("A Crime of Two Cities")
The producers' intent was to reveal Ghostwriter to be "a famous 15th- to 16th-century writer, but not Shakespeare" at the end of the first season, although this eventually never happened. D.J. MacHale, who wrote series' pilot, stated: "If memory serves, Ghostwriter was supposed to be an ancestor of Jamal's, who was an escaped slave from the south who educated himself and learned the value of reading."
The Ghostwriter team
When the show began, it was based around four main characters, all students at Zora Neale Hurston Middle School and Washington Elementary School in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, New York. The "team" later expanded to include six (later seven) active members, one MIA member, one member in Australia, two members in England, and three members in 1928.
To become a member of the team, a kid would have to be able to read the words that Ghostwriter manipulates. There was normally an induction ceremony for each new member that joined the team. At this ceremony, they would be given a special pen with a string to be placed around the neck so the members could write to Ghostwriter no matter where they happened to be. When a team meeting was required, one of the members would use Ghostwriter to send out the message "rally", followed by the first initial of the member that was hosting the meeting.
Jamal (portrayed by Sheldon Turnipseed) is level-headed and intelligent; the first person Ghostwriter reveals himself to and the de facto leader of the Ghostwriter team. In the first episode of the series, "Ghost Story, Part 1", seventh grader Jamal is cleaning out the basement of his family's brownstone, when a spirit emerges from a book that has fallen on the ground and begins communicating with Jamal through words.
Lenni (portrayed by Blaze Berdahl) is the second person to "see" Ghostwriter. A headstrong young woman, Lenni is an aspiring singer, rapper, and songwriter. Lenni lives with her widowed father (portrayed by Richard Cox during the first season, and Keith Langsdale afterwards), in a loft above the Fernandezes' bodega. Lenni's father is a musician. Her mother died when Lenni was a young child. Midway through the series, Lenni's father begins to date a British woman named Sally. Though Lenni likes Sally very much (she was the one who introduced them), she has trouble coping with her father's new relationship.
Alejandro "Alex" Fernández (portrayed by David López) is the third person to be introduced to Ghostwriter. A first generation El Salvado American, Alex is an aspiring detective and skilled basketball player. Alex and his younger sister Gaby live with their parents in the back of the family store (or bodega), which is located under Lenni's apartment. Alex is prone to a hot temper at times, but also displays a notable amount of courage and determination. Alex has several female penpals all over the world.
Gabriela "Gaby" Fernández (portrayed by Mayteana Morales (Season 1 & 2) and in "A Crime of Two Cities"; and by Melissa Gonzales (Season 3) in "Four Days of the Cockatoo" and "Attack of the Slime Monster") is the fourth person to "see" Ghostwriter. She is Alex's younger sister, goes to Washington Elementary, and is best friends with her teammate Tina. She is 9 years old in "Am I Blue?". She is known for being quite talkative. However, she has a good sense of humor which usually manifests when she is teasing her brother, Alex. Of all the team members, Gaby is the one who appears closest to Ghostwriter on a personal level. Twice, she shows belated concern for Ghostwriter's safety ("Just in Time" and "Who is Max Mouse?"), she creates a word "bed" for him ("Who is Max Mouse?"), and she is shown playing a word game with Ghostwriter in "Lost in Brooklyn".
Although Tina (portrayed by Tram-Anh Tran) is a Vietnamese American girl present in the first mystery arc of the series, she does not "see" Ghostwriter until the second arc, "Who Burned Mr. Brinker's Store?" She wants to be a filmmaker, and is often seen with a camcorder in her hand, which comes in handy during several cases. She attends acting classes, and lives with her parents and her brother Tuan and sister Linda in a traditionalist Vietnamese household. Tina is the first person in her family to be born in the United States. Her parents own a tailor shop which she helps run. Her best friend is Gaby, and she has a romantic relationship with Gaby's brother Alex.
Rob (portrayed by Todd Alexander) is a shy transfer student from a military family. He wants to be an author, and thus writes many different short stories and poems. Rob is aloof and is reluctant to join the Ghostwriter team at first. Rob is often impulsive and frequently gets himself in dangerous situations. He gets himself trapped in an abandoned subway tunnel, tied up by a maniacal stunt actress, and is nearly assaulted by a street gang when he enters their headquarters. Rob has a strained relationship with his father, who wishes Rob played more sports instead of writing. Rob's family decides to move to Australia during the "Lost in Brooklyn" story arc, and Rob's place in the team is assumed by Héctor.
Hector (portrayed by William Hernandez) joins the cast mid-way through season two. He meets Alex through the Big Brothers mentoring program. He was born in New York, but grew up in Puerto Rico. He can't read and write English very well. Hector particularly enjoys playing American handball.
Casey (portrayed by Lateaka Vinson) joins the cast mid-way through season two. She is Jamal's younger cousin who lives in Detroit, but comes to live with the Jenkins while her mother Emmeline (Jamal's father's sister), is in the hospital being treated for alcoholism. Casey is a practical joker with a fondness for peanut butter.
Craig Mitchell (portrayed by Jeremy Miller) is an electronics expert, and only appears in the original Pilot Episode "Who Burned Mr. Brinker's Store?". After "Who Burned Mr. Brinker's Store?" Craig isn't seen or mentioned again.
Frank, Catherine, and Lucy
Frank, Catherine, and Lucy lived in Jamal's house in 1928. After the team helped prove his innocence, Frank became a doctor and performed heart sugery on Reggie Jenkins(Jamal's father) when Reggie was still an infant. This was pivotal to the formation of the Ghostwriter Team because if Frank hadn't operated on Reggie, Reggie would have died as a infant. As a result, Jamal would have never been born and Ghostwriter would never have met Jamal. This meant the other team members would never have met Ghostwriter and the team would never have been formed. Frank, Catherine, and Lucy only appear in the arc "Just in Time". After "Just in Time" they are not seen or mentioned again.
Sam and Becky
Sam and Becky (portrayed by ????? & Candace Hallinan) live in the UK. Their parents own a bed and breakfast. They met Jamal and Ghostwriter while Jamal's family was vacationing in London. They only appear in the arc "A Crime of Two Cities". After "A Crime of Two Cities" they are not seen or mentioned again.
Other cast members
Other cast members include Lt. Isaiah McQuade (Mike Hodge), and the team's enemies: Calvin Ferguson (Wil Horneff in "Ghost Story", Joey Shea thereafter) and Jeffrey Baxter (Jon Hershfield). The show's numerous guest stars included Samuel L. Jackson as Jamal's father, Mark Linn-Baker, Julia Stiles, Max Wright, Spike Lee, Daisy Fuentes, Orlagh Cassidy, Judge Reinhold, Melinda Mullins, Annabelle Gurwitch, Robin Leach, Salt-N-Pepa, Madhur Jaffrey, Harry Connick, Jr., CeCe Peniston, David Patrick Kelly and Bo Jackson.
Season one (1992–1993)
Highlights from the first season, which premiered in October 1992, include:
Jamal releases Ghostwriter while cleaning the basement. Jamal, Alex, Lenni, and Gaby come together through the bond of Ghostwriter's mysterious messages to them all, and they all come together to solve a rash of mysterious backpack thefts and their connection to a group of gamers calling themselves the THABTOs. Samuel L. Jackson as Jamal's dad and Mark Linn-Baker as the policeman have cameos. This and 'To The Light' are the only stories to arc five episodes. The rest all conclude in four. This story arc is not the original pilot. The next arc, 'Who Burned Mr. Brinker's Store?', was produced first and was intended to be the pilot for the series.
Who Burned Mr. Brinker's Store?
Jamal is angered when Mr. Brinker, owner of the local electronics store, yells at him. But that night, when Brinker's burns down, the shopkeeper accuses Jamal of arson to cover up his own involvement in the fire. Ghostwriter reveals himself to both Craig and Tina. Guest-stars Max Wright as Brinker and Jeremy Miller as Craig. Craig does not appear again in the series and is never referred to again. This arc was the original pilot. Wanting a better introduction to the series, the producers decided to add 'Ghost Story' at the last minute. This is evident from the fact that this story arc seems to have been filmed inside actual buildings and houses, instead of on a soundstage like the rest of the series.
To Catch a Creep
Alex has aspirations to become class president, but one of his competitors starts a smear campaign, putting up fliers with embarrassing personal secrets. One of the initial suspects is new transfer student Rob, but that status changes once Ghostwriter reveals himself to him. Dulé Hill appears as a basketball player during two episodes. Rob joins the cast in this story arc. The actor portraying Calvin Ferguson is replaced beginning with this story arc.
Into the Comics
The team enters a scavenger hunt-style contest in order to win the chance to be drawn into an issue of Hoodman. Their efforts are hindered by an embittered comic book artist trying to win the contest on his own as his character, Stoop Dude. Meanwhile, Rob continues to be distant from the team, but makes friends with an eccentric homeless poet. David Patrick Kelly makes his first appearance as Double-T and Spike Lee cameos as Special Agent Pete in this arc.
To The Light
Rob takes Jamal to meet Double-T, but they find his usual spot trashed and the poet missing. After tracking down Double-T's daughter, she and Rob trace his usual hangouts, but wind up trapped in a subway cave-in. Rob relies on his wits and Ghostwriter to try to get help and continue the hunt for Double-T. David Patrick Kelly returns as Double-T; Kristy Graves guest stars as Lisa. This and 'Ghost Story' are the only stories to arc five episodes. The rest all conclude in four.
Tina is excited when she lands a job answering fan mail to her favorite actress, Lana Barnes. However, when she starts reading threatening and disturbing notes, she begins to worry. Lana waves off her fears as just letters from a very devoted fan, until she narrowly avoids suffocating in a locked garage. The Ghostwriter Team begin a search for Lana's stalker before her acceptance of an award. Shawn Elliott as Mr. Fernandez, Gretchen Krich as Janine, and Patricia Barry as Lana Barnes guest star.
Over a Barrel
The team is hard at work at the community garden center when a series of health problems arise: Gaby passes out, several other kids and adults get sick, and even some rabbits die. It's soon learned that a highly toxic chemical, tetrachloroethylene, has been illegally dumped in the ground under the garden and is to blame. The team sets off to find the person responsible for such a dirty act. Caroline Lagerfelt as Sally Lewis, Orlagh Cassidy as Officer Cole, Melinda Mullins as Fannie Mae Banner, and Madhur Jaffrey as Dr. Singhla guest star.
Plans for the school's talent show are threatened when a gang moves into the neighborhood. Kids start coming to school with black eyes and bandages, and then the school's hallway gets tagged by graffiti artists. Rob's new friend, a former member of the gang, appears to be the prime suspect. Victor Sierra as Victor, Eugene Byrd as Walter, and Afi McClendon as Jasmine guest star.
Season two (1993–1994)
Am I Blue?
Galaxy Girl, Gaby's favorite action hero, is coming to town, and Gaby 'borrows' some money from her parents' bodega to buy a costume. When she learns she can't return it, she realizes she must fess up. She gets into more hot water when a valuable model spaceship from the show is stolen and winds up in her room. Someone is framing Gaby, but who? And why? Eddie T. Robinson as Jamal's bully, Judge Reinhold as Brad Pierce, and Daisy Fuentes as Galaxy Girl guest star. Gaby has a dream where she hugs Ghostwriter in this arc, and he appears only as a hooded, shadowy figure.
Get the Message
The Ghostwriter team begins to fall apart when arguments and misunderstandings stemming from a car accident between Mr. Fernandez and Mr. Frazier start to form between the team members. The rift between them starts to make Ghostwriter fade away, and the situation is not helped when Calvin Ferguson tries to investigate who 'GW' is (he caught Rob talking to 'GW' in school). Rob and Jamal get the team back together in time to solve the mystery of an art thief. The arc ends with an unknown hand writing a distress call, causing Ghostwriter to abruptly leave the team. Joey Shea as Calvin and Bo Jackson as the security guard guest star. This is the only story arc to end with a cliffhanger into the next arc.
Just in Time
The hand writing the distress call to Ghostwriter belongs to Frank Flynn, a boy who lived in Jamal's house in 1928. Ghostwriter's strength is pushed to its limits when he has to time travel from Frank and his best friend Catherine in 1928, to Jamal and the team in 1993, and back, in order to help Frank clear his name in the theft of a priceless tea set. Meanwhile, Jamal learns his dad is getting very sick. Louis Tadaro as Frank, Grace Johnston as 1928 Catherine Canellan, Cynthia Crumlish as Mrs. O'Boyle, Thomas Schall as Dr. Canellan, and Stephi Lineburg as Lucy Canellan guest star. Ghostwriter reveals himself to Frank, Catherine, and Lucy in this arc. Grown-up Catherine is the only adult to ever see Ghostwriter during the series.
Lost in Brooklyn
Tina befriends a foreign exchange student, Safira, from Mozambique, whose father is an important ambassador. Their family has had a serious rift, and her brother fled to America after an argument with their dad. Safira intends to find her brother, having written letters to each other since he fled. Meanwhile, Rob learns he has to move to Australia. Cathy Rigby as Mrs. Dozier, K. Todd Freeman as Malenga, and Madala Hilaire as Safira guest star. Ghostwriter reveals himself to Hector. Rob leaves the series and Hector joins the cast in this story arc.
Who is Max Mouse?
A hacker invades Hurston School's computer mainframe, causing frequent fire drills, threatening messages, and altering the grades of Jamal and Lenni. The team gets a 'crash' course in the Internet in its cruder and more basic form, including chat rooms and bulletin boards, sending Ghostwriter through the computer and phone lines in an attempt to catch Max Mouse and stop his reign of mischief. Ellen Foley as Ms. Kelly, Greg Lee as Mr. Aucoin, and Julia Stiles as Erica Dansby guest star.
Don't Stop the Music
Lenni gets the chance of a lifetime when a hip music producer wants to sign her to the Smash Records label and produce a music video for MTV. Lenni struggles to come up with an original song, but then nails one out of the park with a song called 'You Gotta Believe.' Lenni and the entire Ghostwriter Team get to go on-set for the filming of the video, but a series of strange accidents happen. Turns out the target isn't Lenni, but Jade, her producer. The team wrestles with the mystery of the accidents, as well as trying to babysit Jamal's cousin Casey. Robin Leach as Marlon, Annabelle Gurwitch as Jade, and Mia Korf as Sonia guest star, as well as cameos from hip-hop artists Salt-n-Pepa and MTV VJs Doctor Dré and Ed Lover. Victor Sierra also reprises his role as Victor Torres, and Dennis Starolselsky as Kevin and Oren Sofer as Spencer make cameos to foreshadow the next arc: What's Up With Alex? MTV is featured prominently in name and in logo during this arc. Ghostwriter reveals himself to Casey and she joins the cast in this story arc.
What's Up With Alex?
Alex becomes detached and moody with Gaby and the Team, and a series of drug-related locker break-ins make them worry Alex may be involved with drugs. This story arc aired both on PBS and in broadcast syndication with a preface read out by the actors portraying Gaby and Mr. Fernandez before each part. Victor Sierra reprises his role as Victor Torres. Dennis Starolselsky as Kevin, Oren Sofer as Spencer, Elan Rivera as Maria, Julia Jordan as Delilah, Jesse Moore as Mr. Johnson, Patricia Maurceri as Mrs. Michaels, Mike Starr as Big Ralph, Kelly Kristjanson as Mary Jo, Jesse Tendler as Arnie, Z. Wright as Jason, and Damien Leake as Mr. Oliver guest star. This arc never aired in repeats on Noggin due to its drug content.
Season three (1994–1995)
Ghostwriter 3-peat Special
Katie Couric visits the set and interviews Lenni and Jamal during breaks of the re-run of the entire 'Am I Blue?' story arc. Most PBS stations aired the special the week before or the week of pledge drive time, when the stations normally pre-empted Ghostwriter for two weeks.
A Crime of Two Cities
Jamal is vacationing in London with his parents and they are staying in the bed and breakfast owned by the Wentwood family. While there, Jamal befriends the Wentwoods' children, Sam and Becky. Using Ghostwriter to send messages back and forth across the Atlantic Ocean, they work together with the rest of the team to uncover a plot to kidnap the son of a famous author. Ghostwriter reveals himself to Sam and Becky. Julia Stiles appears once again in this arc. This is Mayteana Morales' last arc playing Gaby. Sam and Becky (portrayed by ????? & Candace Hallinan)
Four Days of the Cockatoo
Gaby discovers a rare bird not realizing that it is sought by a smuggler determined to claim the bird as his latest taxidermy prize. Melissa Gonzales portrays Gaby beginning with this story arc.
Attack of the Slime Monster
No mystery to solve in this arc, but the final story finds the Team trying to help Casey write her own story for a contest. (Note: The Case is in 'Casey' story & Jamal is the one solve the case at the end)
Created as an integrated, branded, multi-media project, the Ghostwriter brand included magazines and teacher's guides, software (Microsoft), home video, games/licensed product, and other outreach materials that reached over a million children each month. There were many Ghostwriter books released, both novelizations of the TV episodes and new stories. They were released by Bantam Books.
During the mid-1990s Ghostwriter was released on VHS by two different companies, GPN and Republic Pictures. GPN is the company authorized by PBS to release all its shows on video. They have the entire series except for the last two story arcs. These videos are in the original format with each story arc divided into four or five episodes. Republic Pictures released only three story arcs (all from the first season) : "Ghost Story", "Who Burned Mr. Brinker's Store?" and "Into the Comics." In Republic Pictures' version, the four or five episodes for each arc were edited together into a feature length movie. The Republic Pictures version is no longer available in the market, but can still be found in some libraries (US and Canada only). The GPN version was available to the general public for purchase through their website until 2007. Starting mid-2007, GPN is selling only to schools and libraries due to a change in licensing terms. However, the GPN version is still available in some libraries.
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In February 2010, it was announced that Season 1 of Ghostwriter would be released on DVD by Shout! Factory. The 5-disc set running 870 minutes long was released on June 8, 2010 and costs $34.95 MSRP. Special features are a trivia game and a casebook .
Awards and nominations
- Writers Guild of America, USA, 1995
- Won, WGA Award (TV) for Children's Script — Carin Greenberg Baker, for "Can't Stop The Music".
- Young Artist Award's, 1993
- Nominated, Outstanding Performers in a Children's Program: Todd Alexander, Blaze Berdahl, David López, Mayteana Morales, Tram-Anh Tran, Sheldon Turnipseed
After cancellation and The New Ghostwriter Mysteries
The show halted production in February 1995 due to a lack of funding. In 1997, CBS aired a new version of the show, The New Ghostwriter Mysteries, but it was cancelled after one season due to low ratings. The new show had little in common with the original, changing Ghostwriter's on-screen appearance, introducing entirely new characters, and getting rid of the serial format of the original series.
The original series was rerun from 1995 to 1999 on Public Broadcasting Service. The UPN Kids block on UPN also ran re-runs for a short time in 1997. Then, in 1999, it was syndicated on American Broadcasting Company for a short time. Later that year it moved to the cable/satellite network Noggin, and subsequently on The N when The N became a part time channel/programming block on Noggin. Ghostwriter aired on The N until 2003.
In Summer of 2006, BBC School Radio produced a radio series of Ghostwriter for primary school students. Character names from the TV show were retained, though voiced by new children. Music and the theme song were also kept, and a new musical jingle for children to recognize Ghostwriter's appearances was created by Sesame Workshop.