Pee-Wee's Playhouse premiered on CBS 31 years ago today and you can celebrate right now by watching all 45 episodes on Netflix. The show originally aired on Saturday mornings on CBS from 1986 to 1991 and won 15 Emmys over the course of 4 seasons. Pee-wee's Playhouse was developed by Paul Reubens based on his popular stage show and HBO special entitled the Pee Wee Herman Show, which was very similar to the way that the children's show ended up, but with far less adult humor.
The announcement of the 31st anniversary of the hit show comes to us courtesy of the official Pee-Wee Herman Twitter account and to celebrate, we're going to reveal some little-known facts about the show and character. Paul Reubens developed the Pee-Wee Herman character at the Groundlings when the improv class gave an assignment to come up with a character that you would run into at a comedy club. Reubens has said that Pee-Wee's first stage appearance was in 1977. When it came time to choose a name for the character, Reubens decided on Pee-Wee after an old harmonica that he had and settled on the last name Herman because the pairing seemed so odd. Reubens explains.
"Pee-wee Herman sounds like a name that is so odd, how would you make that up? If you were going to make up a name, you'd make up a better name. It seemed real to me; it was a nickname with a last name that's also a first name... And it went hand-in-hand with what I wanted to do, which was to make people think this was a real person, not an actor."
Pee-Wee's Playhouse was originally intended to be a cartoon series because that's what CBS wanted. Paul Reubens fought against the idea and pushed for a live-action children's show in the vein of Howdy-Doody. The comedian told Rolling Stone he was a "Howdy-Doody freak" and that he wanted something that was closer to his stage show. As far as influences are concerned, the voice of Pee-Wee is based off of another skit that Reubens did mixed with the live-action of Howdy-Doody and Captain Kangaroo. As it turns out, Captain Kangaroo was a big fan of Pee-Wee's Playhouse and praised the creativity of Reubens.
In a move that was pretty rare at the time, Paul Reubens was given full creative control of the show throughout all five seasons. Reubens recalled to the AV Club that there were only a handful of instances where he was asked to change something. He had this to say.
"There was a fire in the playhouse, and a firefighter showed up and he and Miss Yvonne were flirting, and he said, 'You have to have a smoke detector,' and she said, 'I have one in my bedroom, above the bed.' They asked us to change that for subsequent airings of the show."
In another instance, Reubens was asked to take a scene out of the sound of Pee-Wee urinating and another for stabbing a potato.
In addition to the animated pre-theme song that was composed by DEVO's Mark Mothersbaugh, the main theme song was sung by Cyndi Lauper and the show introduced many actors who went on to have pretty large careers. Phil Hartman was on Pee-Wee's Playhouse for one season and later left to join the cast of Saturday Night Live. Laurence Fishburn, S. Epatha Merkerson, and Jimmy Smits were also on the show. But the soon-to-be stars weren't just in front of the camera; Rob Zombie and John Singleton were both production assistants. Go see if you can spot some of the famous faces of Pee-Wee's Playhouse on Netflix since they are streaming every episode right now.