Penelope “Punky” Brewster (Soleil Moon Frye) was a unique young girl whose father walked out on her and mother abandoned her. She took residence in an empty apartment with her dog, Brandon, where she was eventually discovered by the building manager, photographer and curmudgeon Henry Warnimont (George Gaynes). Despite some personality conflicts and the best efforts of social services to put her in a “better” environment, she ended up becoming Henry’s adopted daughter. Punky’s friends included neighbor Cherie Johnson (niece of the series creator who used her own name) and her grandmother, Betty (Susie Garrett, who was actually her grandmother), geeky Allen Anderson (Casey Ellison), and stuck-up rich girl Margaux Kramer (Ami Foster).
Punky Brewster was created by David W. Duclon with input from NBC’s programming chief Brandon Tartikoff (for whom the dog was named). Tartikoff’s involvement was what led to the lead character’s unique name: taken from a childhood crush named Peyton “Punky” Brewster. NBC secured the rights to use her name for the show and even hired her to do a cameo in an episode (credited as Peyton B. Rutledge, her married name). It was one of the first primetime shows geared towards children, an intended audience that Tartikoff hoped would allow them to compete against CBS’ 60 Minutes on Sunday nights, and one of the few featuring a female lead. It would tackle the world from a kid’s perspective, dealing with issues real kids would face in their everyday lives.
|Punky with Cherie, Allen, Glomer, Brandon and Margaux.|
The show ran for two seasons on NBC between 1984 and 1986 and seemed to be a hit with kids; with the production receiving up to 10,000 pieces of fan mail a week and a high demand for merchandise. Unfortunately, it didn’t perform as Tartikoff had hoped in the ratings and was cancelled by the end of the second season. The show was quickly revived for syndication by Columbia Pictures Television through their Coca-Cola Telecommunications division and the third season went into production; although it wasn’t broadcast until 1987. The series came to a final end in 1988, just in time for the Writers Guild of America strike. While NBC still had the rights, they sought to spin Punky off into two programs. The first was Fenster Hall, named after the foster home where Punky was placed at the end of the first season, which never took off. The second was It’s Punky Brewster (“It’s” was never seen in the actual title), an animated spin-off airing on Saturday mornings.
|Poor Henry was kept in the dark.|
It’s Punky Brewster featured the entire Punky cast reprising their roles with the exception of Garrett and T.K. Carter as Mike Fulton, a resident-turned-administrator at Fenster Hall (and would-be star of the unproduced series). They were joined by a new character: Glomer (Frank Welker). Glomer was a magical being from Chaundoon, a city at the end of the rainbow. Glomer used his powers to transport the kids to various places, gave Brandon the ability to talk (courtesy of Welker), transformed the kids into statues or shrank them, and sometimes just caused general chaos that he’d have to straighten out. Glomer was added as a way to keep kids interested in the show, as well as have the characters perpetually thrown in adventures befitting Saturday mornings.
It’s Punky Brewster debuted on NBC on September 14, 1985 and was produced by Ruby-Spears Productions. Each episode was comprised of two 11-minute segments, and featured music by Haim Saban and Shuki Levy. The cartoon was picked up for a second season, but only the first three episodes contained two original segments. For the rest of the show’s run, a new segment was paired up with a rerun from the previous season. The series was written by Cliff Roberts, Sheryl Scarborough, Gary Greenfield, Diane Dixon, Kayte Kuch, Michael Chain, Jack Enyart, Elana Lesser, Cliff Ruby, Gene Ayres, Ted Field, Matt Uitz, Barbara Chain, Janis Diamond, Herb Engelhardt and Reed Robbins, with Lesser, Kuch, Ruby and Scarborough serving as story editors.
|Punky: the doll!|
After NBC cancelled the show, it was used later in 1987 to replace their cancelled pre-teen show, 2 Hip 4 TV. In 1989, the series was included as a rotating feature along with DiC Entertainment’s Beverly Hills Teens to pad out DiC’s Maxie’s World syndication package. Among the collectibles made available for the show was a lunchbox by Thermos, a series of coloring books and a paper doll book by Golden Books, and a read-along book by Tele-Story.
|Punky on VHS.|
In 1985, various episodes were released on several VHS tapes by Celebrity Home Entertainment. Between 2004 and 2008, Shout! Factory released all four seasons of the live show. Included as special features were episodes of the animated series split between them. “The Shoe Must Go On” was the only episode missing as Shout! ran into rights issues with the licensed song “Axel F” by Harold Faltermeyer. However, in 2021 they released the complete series with the indication that it included all episodes of the cartoon. Cartoon Network’s Robot Chicken parodied the cartoon in two episodes with Frye returning to voice her character. Seth Green took over as Henry while Tom Kane filled in as Glomer.
In the wake of many pop-culture nostalgic revivals, NBCUniversal revisited the idea of Punky Brewster by greenlighting production on a new series in 2019 developed by Steve and Jim Armogida. Rather than a reboot, it was a continuation of the original focusing on an adult Punky (still Frye) who was now a divorced mother of two, Diego (Noah Cottrell) and Daniel (Oliver De Los Santos), working as a photographer (like Henry), and living once again in her childhood apartment, and still marching to the beat of her own drum. Cherie was still her best friend and now working at Fenster. Punky would also take in another abandoned resident of Fenster, Izzy (Quinn Copeland). Foster also reprised her role as Margaux for an episode. The series dropped all 10 episodes on February 25, 2021 on the streaming service Peacock. Unfortunately, the series failed to garner much in the way of ratings or attention compared to other Peacock offerings and was cancelled just a few months later.