September 17, 2022


(PBS, September 10, 1994-December 6, 1997)
South Carolina ETV, Nelvana, Scholastic Productions



Lily TomlinMiss Frizzle
Amos CrawleyArnold Perlstein (season 1), Harry Arm
Danny Tamberelli – Arnold Perlstein (season 2-4), Howard (special)
Daniel DeSantoCarlos Ramรณn
Tara MeyerDorothy Ann Hudson
Erica LuttrellKeesha Franklin
Maia FilarPhoebe Terese
Stuart StoneRalphie Tennelli
Max Beckford (season 1) & Andre Ottley-Lorant (season 2-4) – Tim Wright
Lisa YamanakaWanda Li
            In the 1980s at the height of picture book sales, Scholastic was getting a lot of requests from teachers who wanted to see more books based on science. Then-vice president and senior editorial director Craig Walker conceived of a concept that would combine science with fictional stories by combining his love of field trips with memories of an eccentric second grade teacher he had. He decided that a wacky teacher would take her class to places they ordinarily couldn’t go in real life, opening the door for those kids and the reader to learn about science in the process. He approached writer Joanna Cole and artist Bruce Degen about bringing the series to life.

The world's introduction to Miss Frizzle.

            They accepted the task. However, at first Cole found herself struggling to find a way to make the book funny yet informative while boiling down complicated ideas into terms kids could understand without becoming boring. She also didn’t know what the wild teacher, Miss Fizzle, would be like, until she finally wrote down the first paragraph of the first book where an unnamed student of the class (the perspective taken by all the books) conveyed her strangeness to the reader. From there, she was able to flesh the character and her adventures out. Degen designed the students of Frizzle’s class by thumbing through his children’s elementary school picture books, finding a student whose look he liked, and turning them into a caricature. From the outset, it was decided to make the class as realistically diverse as possible; something rarely done in children’s books at the time.

The original edition of the first book.

            The first book, The Magic School Bus at the Waterworks, was published in 1986 by Scholastic. The book was a hit with both readers and educators, often attributed to the way information was delivered through ideas and questions rather than straightforward facts. Scholastic quickly ordered the next book in the series based on that reaction. Each book took about a year to make, between Cole’s research and writing and Degen’s drawing. They followed the exploits of Miss Frizzle as she taught her class of 20 students by taking them and their class pet lizard, Liz Ard, on field trips via a magic school bus. The Bus in question was high-tech, sentient, and anthropomorphic, and could traverse to places like space or inside the human body, change shape and size, or become other types of vehicles. However, it did tend to malfunction at the worst possible moments (usually leading to a good opportunity for the students to use what they’ve learned to get them through). 12 books in total were published in the main series up to 2010, , with revised editions appearing frequently and a 13th being released in 2021 after Cole passed away. Additionally, 20 chapter books, 33 Reader Level 2 books, and several spin-off books were produced. The Magic School Bus was Scholastic’s best-selling franchise, selling over 93 million copies worldwide, until it was surpassed by Harry Potter.

Miss Frizzle, Liz and the Bus with their class: Keesha, Dorothy Ann, Arnold, Wanda, Tim, Ralphie, Carlos and Phoebe.

            With a successful book series, it was only logical to take the next step and bring the adventures to television. The Magic School Bus was developed by Kristin Laskas Martin, Alison Blank and Jane Startz and produced by Scholastic Productions along with Nelvana and South Carolina ETV. The producers sat down with Cole and Degen to get their input on what made the books work in an attempt to emulate that for the series. The character designs were lifted directly from Degen’s artwork while being simplified for animation purposes. Additionally, the class size was reduced from 20 to 8 children to reduce the number of characters that would need to be animated and allow greater focus on the children.

Character model sheet.

            Joining the eccentric and unusual Miss Fizzle (Lily Tomlin) and Liz were Arnold Perlstein (Amos Crawley, replaced by Danny Tamberelli when his voice changed), a seemingly cowardly and brilliant boy who typically hated the field trips but enjoyed having Miss Frizzle as a teacher; Timothy Wright (Max Beckford, also replaced by Andre Ottley-Lorant), the most observant and artistic in the class that usually served as the class’s unofficial documenter; Carlos Ramon (Daniel DeSanto), the class clown who preferred to learn by doing and loved inventing unique devices; Dorothy Ann Hudson (Tara Meyer), the class bookworm whose bag was usually filled with a book on just about any topic; Keesha Franklin (Erica Luttrell), the most level-headed and realistic of the class who often dealt in sarcasm; Ralphie Tennelli (Stuart Stone), the class athlete whose tendency to get lost in his daydreams often put him at odds with Keesha; Wanda Li (Lisa Yamanaka), a tomboy with an adventurous spirit who loved to face her problems head-on; and Phoebe Terese (Maia Filar), a transfer student that often spoke about her old school, gentle, kind and a little bit shy. Occasionally the class was joined by Arnold’s know-it-all, conceited cousin Janet (Renessa Blitz), who enjoyed being cruel to others and acting in her own self-interests. Like the books, the series was set in the fictional city of Walkerville (named after Walker) at Walkerville Elementary School.

Just a little field trip through the blood stream. No big.

            The series attracted a number of notable guest stars, including Tyne Daly as Ralphie’s mother; Ed Begley Jr. as Logaway Larry, the proprietor of a dial-up sanitation service; Carol Channing as Professor Cornelia C. Contralto II, curator of the sound museum; Dom DeLuise as a baker; Tony Randall as mechanic Radius Ulna “R.U.” Humerus; Rita Moreno as paleontologist Dr. Carmina Skeledon; Dana Elcar as Pheobe’s father; Elliott Gould as Arnold’s father; Eartha Kitt as Keesha’s mother; Swoosie Kurtz as Dorothy Ann’s mother; Edward James Olmos as Carlos’ father; Sherman Hemsley as vehicle maintenance inspector Mr. Junkett; Michael York as Harry Herpst, the proprietor of a reptile spa; Cindy Williams as unscrupulous reporter Gerri Poveri; Ed Asner as black and white movie character General Araneus; Rosalind Chao as Wanda’s mother; Alex Trebek as a sportscaster; Paul Winfield as principal Mr. Ruhle; Dan Marino as impossibly buff gym teacher Mr. Sinew; Matt Frewer as impeccably tidy Rainforest Inspector 22 (promoted from 47); Jessica Walter as Ashley Walker, the great-granddaughter of the town’s founder; Wynonna Judd as famous singer Molly Cule; Bebe Neuwrith as smell expert Flora Whiff; Malcolm McDowell as school janitor Mr. McClean; and Tomlin’s 9 to 5 co-stars Dolly Parton as Miss Frizzle’s cousin Katrina Eloise “Murph” Murphy and Dabney Coleman as star salesman Horace Scope.

In space, no one can hear you learn.

            The Magic School Bus debuted on September 10, 1994 on PBS, the network’s first fully-animated series. As it was on PBS, it received funding from a variety of sources including the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Microsoft (publisher of the games for the franchise), the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Department of Energy. The series was written by Martin, Blank, Jocelyn Stevenson, George Arthur Bloom, Brian Meehl, John May, Ronnie Krauss, Robert Schechter, Libby Hinson, Sean Kelly, Ellen Schecter, Kermit Frazier, Douglas Booth and Noel MacNeal, with Stevenson and Bloom serving as head writers. As there weren’t enough books published by the time the cartoon entered production, only a few episodes borrowed plots from them. Otherwise, they were largely original stories that strove to maintain what the books had established. Keeping things factual were science content director Michael Templeton, science content coordinator Bryan Bleil and science research coordinator Norman Kagan, along with a national advisory board comprised of Joel Bloom, Phyllis Katz, PhD., Susan Carey, Ph.D, Dr. Norma Neely, Milton Chen, Ph.D, Stephen H. Schneider, Ph.D, Edward Chittenden, Robert J. Semper, Ph.D, Richard Clark, Bonnie Smith, Hubert Dyasi, Ph.D, Dorothy Strickland, Ph.D, Jane Butler Kahle, Ph.D and Ellen Ann Wartella, PhD. Additional support was given by Bernice Hauser of the Horace Mann School in Riverdale, New York and Dennis Schatz of the Pacific Science Center in Seattle, Washington. Additional animation was provided by Hanho Heung Up Co., Ltd. Peter Lurye composed the series’ music, as well as the theme performed by Little Richard.

The Producer happily answering all the viewers' questions.

            During their original airings, each episode featured a short segment at the end officially called “Producer Says”, but also known as “Is This the Magic School Bus?” after the phrase typically asked first by kids who “call in” with questions about the episode. The segment was named for the character who appeared to host the segment the most often: a man identified only as The Producer (Malcolm Jamal-Warner). However, other characters made appearances; including a female producer (voice director Susan Blu) during the first season, Phoebe one time, and several guest characters such as the baker, R.U. Humerus, Dr. Skeledon, Gerri Poveri, Mr. Sinew and Murph. Liz also appeared in these segments. The host would then inform the “caller” about what was scientific fact and what was creative license. This was based on the comedic disclaimer pages that appeared at the end of the books. Blu was also one of the callers, along with Crawley, Ashley Taylor, Ashley Brown, Kevin Zegers, Ruby Smith-Merovitz, Bryon Abalos, Chantellese Kent, Asia Vieira, Lance Paton, Melissa Bathory, Shannon Duff, Dov Tiefenbach, Jacelyn Holmes, Annick Obonsawin, Kate Rodriguez, Noah Reid, Blake McGrath, Tyrone Savage, Nick Bujnak, Britt McKillip, Dominic Zamprogna, Benjamin Plener, Jonathan Schwartz, Robin Weekes, Katie Coristine, Stacey Wheal, Natasha Greenblatt, John White, Daniel Stemer, Jane Luk, Neil Crone, Michael Barry, Jamie Leigh Rainey, Alissa Berg, Michael Caloz, Sarena Paton, Christopher Bell, Leah Renee and Cody Jones.

Miss Frizzle in live-action and disguise to deliver a frightful Halloween lesson.

            The series ran for four seasons and one Halloween special, which repackaged the episodes “In the Haunted House” and “Going Batty” between new live-action material featuring Tomlin and Tamberelli. During its run, it was nominated for several awards including multiple Daytime Emmys, of which Tomlin won one; two Environmental Media Awards, winning both; a NCLR Bravo Award; and a Television Critics Association Award. Despite this, high ratings and the continued popularity of the franchise, PBS ultimately decided not to continue the show and instead shift their focus towards programming for a younger demographic.

            The Magic School Bus became a tool to allow networks to fulfill their educational requirements. Shortly after ending its run, it was acquired by FOX to air as part of the weekday Fox Kids block until its end in 2002. Afterwards, it aired on TLC and Discovery Kids from 2003-09. In 2010, it was picked up by Qubo until 2011. In a lot of these airings, the “Producer Says” segment was cut out to make room for more commercials. The series became available to stream on Netflix from 2013 until 2021; with season 1 returning in 2022. It’s was also available to stream on Hoopla and for purchase on Amazon Prime, Google Play and Vudu.

One of the books adapted from the series.

            From 1996-99, Scholastic published a series of books adapted from episodes of the show. Additionally, they also made four “Fun Kits”, which were activity books accompanied by cassettes featuring episode audio tracks and narration by Tony Sperry. As mentioned earlier, Microsoft published a number of games based on a combination of the books and show through their Microsoft Home brand from 1994-99; developed initially by Music Pen and later KnowWonder. While Tina Marie Goff voiced Miss Frizzle in the games, the cast from the show was retained for the students through 1997’s Explores the Rainforest. Between 1995-2002, numerous episodes were released onto VHS by KidVision and later Warner Home Video. Warner would then release DVD collections containing 3 episodes each from 2002-05, with Scholastic releasing two of their own in 2006. New Video Group began re-releasing all of those DVDs with bonus episodes in 2012, with some getting a bonus book included, as well as new collections and the complete series. In 2017, a new collection called Greatest Original Episodes was released containing 7 episodes.

            In 2017, a sequel series debuted called The Magic School Bus Rides Again. It was produced by 9 Story Media Group and aired on Netflix, with Lin-Manuel Miranda singing the theme. The series saw Miss Frizzle (full name revealed to be Valerie Felicity Frizzle), again voiced by Tomlin, get her Ph.D and retire from teaching. In doing so, she handed over her class, comprised of mostly the same kids with new actors (Phoebe was said to have gone back to her old school and she was replaced with a new character), and the Bus’s keys to her younger sister, Miss Fiona Felicity Frizzle (Kate McKinnon). The younger Frizzle continued her sister’s eccentric means of teaching the class via fanciful field trips courtesy of the Bus. Stuart Stone returned to the series as a producer and provided additional voices, as did Yamanaka and Crawley. Like the original series, it was a dual United States/Canadian production and original voice director Blu also returned to handle the Los Angeles-based talent while Alyson Court handled the ones in Toronto. The series ran for two seasons and three specials. As of 2020, a live-action film adaptation has been announced with Elizabeth Banks set to star and produce.

Season 1:
“Gets Lost in Space” (9/10/94) – When the planetarium is closed, Miss Frizzle takes the class to space where she ends up separated from them and they end up lost.
“For Lunch” (9/17/94) – Arnold gets left behind from the class field trip in order to break a school record, unaware that the field trip is into his digestive system.
“Inside Ralphie” (9/24/94) – With Ralphie home sick and unable to deliver his idea for Broadcast Day, Miss Fizzle decides they should take a trip inside him to see his immune system at work.
“Gets Eaten” (10/1/94) – Arnold and Keesha forget to bring the items they needed for their assignment and scramble to find whatever’s available.
“Hops Home” (10/8/94) – The class helps Bella try to find the pet frog she brought in for pet day.
“Meets the Rot Squad” (10/15/94) – The class is shrunken down to study the effects of rotting on a log up close.
“All Dried Up” (10/22/94) – Phoebe decides to head to the desert to ensure all the animals living there will survive.
“In the Haunted House” (10/29/94) – When the bus breaks down the class is forced to spend the night in the creepy old sound museum.
“Gets Ready, Set, Dough” (11/5/94) – The class wants to throw Miss Frizzle a surprise birthday party, but the bus malfunctions and shrinks them on the way to the bakery for a cake.
“Plays Ball” (11/12/94) – Miss Frizzle backtracks to retrieve Dorothy Ann’s physics book that was used for home plate and the class ends up trapped on a frictionless field within it.
“Goes to Seed” (11/19/94) – The class heads to Phoebe’s old school to pick up her plant there, but she’s worried that Miss Frizzle will embarrass her and her old teacher.
“Gets Ants in its Pants” (11/26/94) – Keesha is directing the class movie about ants but ends up frustrated when she can’t find one to be the movie’s star.
“Kicks Up a Storm” (12/3/94) – When Keesha refuses to acknowledge Ralphie as Weatherman, in his anger he creates a thunderstorm that goes out of control.
Season 2:
“Blows Its Top” (9/9/95) – Carlos and Dorothy Ann have conflicting notions about naming a new island that Miss Frizzle claims has yet to be discovered.
“Flexes its Muscles” (9/16/95) – When Miss Frizzle takes the bus to a body shop for some work, the class decides to use items they find their to build their own robot.
“The Busasaurus” (9/23/95) – Arnold ends up taking a fossilized egg he was shown at an archaeological dig back in time with the class and its stolen by an Ornithomimus.
“Going Batty” (9/30/95) – Ralphie is convinced Miss Frizzle is a vampire and plans to do something terrible to their parents when she takes them on a field trip.
“Butterfly and the Bog Beast” (10/7/95) – The class decides they need a new soccer mascot which prompts a trip to the swamp to investigate a proposed “Bog Beast”.
“Wet All Over” (10/14/95) – When Arnold leaves the bus’ key and Liz in a bathroom he forgets to turn the water off in, Miss Fizzle’s spare key turns the bus and the class into water.
“In a Pickle” (10/21/95) – Miss Fizzle is put on trial for allowing Keesha’s prize cucumber to be replaced by a pickle, but Miss Fizzle takes them on a trip to prove it was really a group of microbes.
“Revving Up” (10/28/95) – The class heads inside the bus’s engine after a vehicle maintenance inspector decides it needs to be destroyed.
“Taking Flight” (11/4/95) – Tim, Phoebe and Liz are left to control the model airplane the class shrinks to ride inside, but end up accidentally destroying its remote.
“Getting Energized” (11/11/95) – The class is in charge of running the Ferris wheel at a carnival, but need to find a way to run it without electricity.
“Out of this World” (11/18/95) – The class sets out to stop a meteor that Dorothy Ann has discovered heading for Earth in order to prevent her nightmare of it destroying the school.
“Cold Feet” (11/25/95) – The class goes out in search of a missing Liz and discover Liz has ended up at a spa for reptiles.
“Ups and Downs” (12/2/95) – The class investigates reports of a monster in the lake when the bus’s sink and float function is acting up.
Season 3:
“In a Beehive” (9/14/96) – A series of mishaps causes Wanda and Tim to ruin a honey delivery from Tim’s grandfather’s farm and lead a bear to the beehives.
“In the Arctic” (9/21/96) – Miss Frizzle takes the class on a trip to the arctic where the bus’s engine freezes and it gets trapped on a flow with Phoebe, Ralphie and Liz.
“Spins a Web” (9/28/96) – Miss Frizzle taking the class into a movie results in the main character stealing the bus, kicking them all out and using Liz as bait for a monster.
“Under Construction” (10/5/96) – When the class helps Wanda watch her little brother, he accidentally shrinks them and the bus and locks them in the bathroom.
“Gets a Bright Idea” (10/12/96) – Janet would rather go to a magic show than the light show, but she decides to have a ghostly good time regardless.
“Shows and Tells” (10/19/96) – Arnold brings a strange object to the international Show and Tell show that nobody can identify.
“Makes a Rainbow” (10/26/96) – Miss Frizzle and Liz invent a magical pinball machine that uses light and the class goes inside it to help ensure she wins the game and gets to keep the machine.
“Goes Upstream” (11/2/96) – The class goes on a field trip to investigate the disappearance of the salmon, but when they change their minds they’re unable to keep the bus from migrating.
“Works Out” (11/9/96) – At the annual Teacherathalon, Miss Fizzle is up against the impossibly buff gym teacher, Mr. Sinew.
“Gets Planted” (11/16/96) – Phoebe volunteers to make the props for the class play of Jack and the Beanstalk but is unable to get a good beanstalk going.
“In the Rainforest” (11/23/96) – The class heads to the Amazon Rainforest to find out why the cocoa bean tree they got for Miss Fizzle hasn’t produced any beans.
“Rocks and Rolls” (11/30/96) – The class is sculpting the statute of their city’s founder via instructions he left in poem form.
“Holiday Special” (12/25/96) – When Arnold accidentally recycles Wanda’s toy soldier, she angrily wishes recycling was never invented and Miss Fizzle decides to grant that wish.
Season 4:
“Meets Molly Cule” (9/13/97) – The class gets to wash the car of Wanda’s favorite singer however Wanda accidentally destroys the hood ornament which was made of sugar.
“Cracks a Yolk” (9/20/97) – The class is tasked with watching Mr. Ruhle’s pet chicken, but when he escapes they plan to replace him with a new one by hatching one from an egg.
“Goes to Mussel Beach” (9/27/97) – The class is upset with Ralphie’s choice of spot at the beach, which seems to be in the middle of the most crowded area.
“Goes on Air” (10/4/97) – The class is upset when Keesha brings a “jar of air” for the space capsule, but then need to use air to escape it when Miss Fizzle gets them trapped inside.
“Gets Swamped” (10/11/97) – The class finds itself taking the side of defending the swamplands from a building development.
“Goes Cellular” (10/18/97) – After exclusively eating seaweed for a month, Arnold’s skin has turned orange just as he’s set to receive a major award.
“Sees Stars” (10/25/97) – Dorothy Ann is stuck home sick on her birthday and the class plans to get her a star, but Keesha is highly suspect of the company selling them.
“Gains Weight” (11/1/97) – Miss Frizzle turns the bus into a planet with adjustable gravity so Phoebe can practice slam dunking, but the lever ends up getting stuck on heavy gravity.
“Makes a Stink” (11/8/97) – Janet is determined to win the First Annual Smell Search and sabotages the unique smell the class developed.
“Gets Charged” (11/15/97) – The class overhears Miss Frizzle reading a love letter and decide to fix her doorbell before her beau comes by.
“Gets Programmed” (11/22/97) – Carlos’ little brother sets up the new computer that will run the school, but he accidentally sets it to perform the school’s tasks every minute instead of every day.
“Takes a Dive” (11/29/97) – Miss Frizzle’s story about a pirate relative has Keesha eager to explore the coral reef where he may have left his treasure.
“In the City” (12/6/97) – Miss Frizzle turns the class into animals on a trip to the zoo, but the bus runs off thinking it’s actually a bear.
“A Magic School Bus Halloween” (10/31/95) – Three students left alone in a museum get a lesson in fear from a sarcophagus-dwelling man named Dauntless.

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