The press inevitably compared Dudley the Dragon to another preschool property, Barney the Dinosaur. The purple T-Rex had created a huge sensation in the United States. Toddlers loved him, though his cloying attitude created a huge backlash amongst parents. Nevertheless, Barney & Friends generated more than $500 million in toys and apparel in its first three years, selling 23 million video cassettes and two million records, according to the Financial Post. In 1994 alone, Barney earned $1 billion for its owners, the Lyons Group, according to the Toronto Star.
Then Dudley came on the scene. Headlines proclaimed, “Look Out, Barney, Here Comes Dudley the Dragon” and “Watch Out Barney, There’s a New Reptile in Town,” and “Barney’s New Rival? – WEDU Discovers Dudley the Dragon, A Challenger to the Purple Dinosaur.” It was an easy attention-grabber for the readers.
“From our point of view,” said Breakthrough executive producer Ira Levy, “Barney’s been a great thing because it’s opened up the whole area of children’s programming. It has allowed for much more of the type of programming that Dudley is: non-violent and educational but entertaining programming.”
Peter Williamson pointed out a major difference in the properties. “Barney is aimed at children about 1 to 4,” he told The Press-Enterprise. “Dudley kicks in with kids about 3 to 7. And because we are basically a narrative drama we tend to see things from the kids’ viewpoint.” To the Financial Post he added, “Dudley’s a natural evolution for young children who have outgrown the ‘I love you, you love me’ scene.”
“We use the term ‘parent-friendly’,” Levy said. “When you sit down and watch a program with your kid, they can get a lot more out of it. Therefore you have to make the program so that a parent can watch it, which is why we get a lot of guest stars and get very good actors involved with the series.
“To be honest, kids really don’t know a lot of these different people, but that’s okay. They accept them for what they are, the characters that they play. And that’s rather charming. For adults, it’s fun to watch Graham Greene play a tree.”
Dudley did take playful pokes at his reptilian counterpart. In two episodes, Season One’s “Dudley and the Dodo” and Season Three’s “Dudley’s Amazing Journey,” the dragon finds a purple bone and remarks whether he might be related–while we hear a few notes from Barney’s theme. Also, Dudley regularly ate Dragon Crunchies cereal. On the box is a dragon—colored purple.
Sources: Greg Rothwell, Winnipeg Free Press, October 6, 1993, “Look Out, Barney, Here Comes Dudley the Dragon,” p. D8; Walt Belcher, The Tampa Tribune, June 6, 1994, “Barney’s New Rival? – WEDU discovers Dudley the Dragon, A Challenger to the Purple Dinosaur,” p. E18; Suzanne Gill, Brandon Sun, September 30, 1994, Cover Story, TV Book pp. 1-2; Gayle MacDonald, Financial Post, Toronto, Ontario, December 22, 1994, “Watch Out Barney, There’s a New Reptile in Town,” Sec. 1, p. 5; Bob Sokolsky, The Press-Enterprise, Riverside, CA, June 26, 1995, “Dragon’s Show is Taken Off Endangered List,” p. B5; Dana Flavelle, “Dragon Set to Breathe Fire Into Licensing,” Toronto Star, May 11, 1995, Sec. B. p. 1.