October 08, 2022


(CBS, September 14-December 7, 1997)
Decode Entertainment, Inc., Children’s Television Workshop


Erica Luttrell – Emilie Robeson
Charlotte Sullivan – Camilla Gorik
Kristian Ayre – Henry “Strick” Strickland



Ghostwriter is an educational media franchise created by Liz Nealon. It all began with the first Ghostwriter show produced through a partnership by Children’s Television Workshop (now Sesame Workshop) and BBC Television. The show centered on a group of kids from the Fort Greene neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York who solved local mysteries with the help of a ghost. This ghost, appearing as a circle with two curved lines, could only be seen by whoever he chooses to see him and was only able to communicate through the written word, leading the kids to name him “Ghostwriter”. On a computer he could write fluently and clearly (as well as travel through the internet), but offline he was limited to borrowing letters from his environment (although this was inconsistently portrayed), which sometimes necessitated the kids filling in some blanks in his messages or deciphering them when they appeared cryptic. The goal of the series was to get kids excited about reading, writing and problem solving.

Ghostwriter as he appeared on the show.

Ghostwriter’s true identity was never revealed on the series; his stating early on that he couldn’t remember who he was. In a 2010 article about the first season’s release on DVD, writer Kermit Frazier stated that the plan was for Ghostwriter to have been the ghost of a runaway slave during the Civil War that taught other slaves how to read (although, it was originally planned to make him a famous 15th or 16th century writer). This fit in with the history of the neighborhood as the Lafayette Avenue Presbyterian Church was a stop on the Underground Railroad.

Jamal, Alex, Lenni and Gabby watch Ghostwriter quickly read through a stack of books.

The Ghostwriter Team, as they called themselves, primarily consisted originally of Jamal Jenkins (Sheldon Turnipseed), an aspiring scientist who accidentally freed Ghostwriter (possibly his ancestor) from a book in his basement; siblings Alex Fernández (David López), an aspiring detective, and Gabby Fernández (Mayteana Morales, later Melissa González), an aspiring newscaster; Lenni Frazier (Blaze Berdahl), an aspiring singer/songwriter; and Tina Nguyen (Tram-Anh Tran), an aspiring filmmaker never without her camcorder. Other kids would eventually join the team, expanding the roster to ultimately seven active members. Each member would receive a pen with a string through its cap that they could wear around their neck to always have handy. They would also keep two casebooks: one to keep track of the active case’s suspects, clues and evidence, and one to help Ghostwriter determine his identity. To initiate a gathering of the team, they would broadcast a message through Ghostwriter—who was always present with all of them—tagged with “Rally” and the first initial of their name to indicate who was calling them together.

Ghostwriter aired on PBS and BBC Two for three seasons beginning on October 4, 1992. Each mystery was split across multiple episodes; typically four, with a couple running five. Spinning out of the show were magazines, teacher’s guides, computer software, new and adapted novels, games, home videos and various outreach materials. Despite the show winning a WGA Award and being nominated for a Young Artist Award, and its continuing popularity, it was abruptly cancelled in 1995 due to lack of funding when the BBC pulled out of co-producing. Reruns aired on PBS until 1999, and then aired on Noggin, the cable network founded by CTW and Nickelodeon.

The new cast (and Ghostwriter) in front of a faux subway entrance.

As 1997 was rolling around, the FCC had put stricter regulations into the Children’s Television Act requiring television stations to broadcast shows designed to educate and inform viewers 16 and under at least three hours a week, identifying these programs on air, and stringent reporting requirements on their complicity. To comply with these regulations, CBS launched a new Saturday morning programming block called Think CBS Kids and featured an all live-action line-up designed to be educational and informational. Part of that programming was a revival of Ghostwriter with Decode Entertainment (now WildBrain producing alongside CTW.

Meet the new crew: Emilie, Strick and Camilla.

Still set in Fort Greene (although shot in Toronto, Ontario, Canada), The New Ghostwriter Mysteries centered on an all-new Ghostwriter Team attending Jesse Owens Junior High School. They were intrepid reporter Emilie Robeson (Erica Luttrell), popular athlete Camilla Gorik (Charlotte Sullivan), and comic-loving former juvenile delinquent Henry “Strick” Strickland (Kristian Ayre). When not hanging out at Fort Greene Pizza or the office of the school paper, The Rattler, they could be found in Strick’s basement hideaway he called his “Batcave”. Together they solved local mysteries with the aid of Ghostwriter, who took on a more computer-generated appearance thanks to advancing visual effects technology. He did, however, lose his vibrant color palette as he only appeared in silver and gold.

Ghostwriter reads Emilie's headline in the school paper.

Unlike the original series, the kids didn’t interact with Ghostwriter as much on a personal level; utilizing him mostly as a tool to get around roadblocks in their cases or to speed an informational search along (moments of his personality would come through with little asides of his). In fact, it's never explained exactly how they met him in the first place. They were also less “official” detectives as they didn’t keep any kind of casebook or record of their cases beyond whichever Emilie could use in the paper. In lieu of a “Rally” code, the kids used Ghostwriter to locate each other by having him read nearby landmarks like street signs, or just sent a general message through him. Emilie also possessed a small portable computer for communication with Ghostwriter on the fly.

Pizza solves everything.

The New Ghostwriter Mysteries debuted on CBS on September 13, 1997. The series was written by Kelli Roberts, Anne Kenney, Susan Snooks, Simon Munter, Mark Askew, Gail Glaze, Alice Eve Cohen and Alan Kingsberg. The Ghostwriter graphics and animation were done by Todd Morgan. Marvin Dolgay and Alex Khaskin composed the theme, as well as did the score in several episodes along with Amin Bhatia and Gaz Mellen. Instead of the multi-part mysteries of its predecessor, each case only encompassed a single episode. As a result, less emphasis was placed on the teachable moments of reading and writing to allow the story room to play out; however, some of that remained, such as characters having to figure out the meaning of a word and how it related to their case. Unfortunately, the revival didn’t prove as popular as its predecessor and it was cancelled at the end of its sole season due to low ratings. Reruns would air on Noggin as part of its nighttime programming blocks The Hubbub and The N. Most of the episodes have been uploaded from recordings to YouTube.

It wouldn’t be until 2019 that another revival would be attempted. Sesame Workshop partnered with Sinking Ship Entertainment to bring Ghostwriter to Apple TV+. However, this time around, the kids weren’t teamed-up with Ghostwriter to solve mysteries, they were attempting to solve the mystery of Ghostwriter as he proceeded to unleash fictional characters upon the world from various works of literature. This version of Ghostwriter, while still restricted to communicating through writing, was more akin to a poltergeist as he was able to manipulate physical objects as well as letters. The premise behind the series was to play upon the notion of being pulled into a story as you read it.
“Losing Bet” (9/14/97) – A classmate is busted for gambling when betting slips are found in his locker during a spot check.
“For Art’s Sake” (9/21/97) – The potential new teen center is defaced by a graffiti artist which puts the neighborhood under the threat of a developer taking over.
“Flagrant Foul” (9/28/97) – Cedric needs to get a good grade on his paper in order to play in an important basketball game, and when he gets an “A” he realizes the graded paper isn’t his.
“Disappearing Act” (10/5/97) – Strick thinks a friend is a thief when he spots him running from the scene of a robbery.
“Moving Parts” (10/12/97) – Strick ends up fitting the description of a car thief and his old parole officer is on the case.
“Past Tense” (10/19/97) – The man Emilie’s father recommended for the job of school janitor ends up being arrested for theft.
“Designer Crime” (10/26/97) – Camilla ends up being framed for shoplifting after catching a shoplifter herself.
“Broken Window” (11/2/97) – The school’s best track athlete ends up in trouble when accused of vandalism.
“Teacher’s Pet” (11/9/97) – While Camilla is dogsitting for Mr. Canin he ends up being dognapped.
“Sweet Revenge” (11/16/97) – Emilie’s racketeering exposé ends up getting her removed from the school paper.
“Treasure Hunt” (11/23/97) – Camilla is convinced that a riddle she found in an old book will lead to a treasure that will help save the librarian’s job from budget cuts.
“The Bad Rap” (11/30/97) – Something fishy is going on when a classmate’s lyrics end up in a rap group’s hit single.
“Future Perfect” (12/7/97) – Henry ends up having to cover the cost of his grandmother’s fraud psychic.

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