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Local 'Barney' director, producer talks philosophy taught by purple dinosaur

Back when times were simpler and you couldn't access hundreds of shows for your toddler with barely lifting a finger, parents looked to shows broadcasted on PBS or available for rent at the local video store to entertain and teach their children valuable life lessons. Among classics like Sesame Street and Mr. Rogers, one of the most popular shows was Barney (1992-2010). Do you remember Barney? The big purple dinosaur who came from "your imagination."



Well an interesting thing about Barney is one of the show's directors and producers with the show almost since its inception is Jim Rowley, who has lived in none other than Hot Springs Village at intervals* since 2002. Rowley sat down with The Post to dive into his career with Barney, and the philosophy learned from everyone's favorite purple dinosaur.


Rowley in downtown Hot Springs

Rowley got his start in radio at just 18-years old in Okinawa, Japan.** He moved back to the states, working in Texas and Oklahoma. It wasn't long before he found himself working in Dallas for PBS as a booth announcer. This is where he decided he wanted to become a camera operator. But when told he could not do it because he's legally blind in his left eye, his response to an employer when the opportunity arose is what got him the job.


"I looked at him and said, 'I'll be better with one eye than anybody you can hire with two.' And he looked at me and said, 'OK, you're hired.' And that's how I got in TV."


This move is what launched his career in TV as a camera operator, and eventually a director and producer. Filming primarily music videos and live shows, Rowley built a reputation for himself that inevitably led him to Barney.


Barney started out as a home video by a mother looking to entertain her child. Her name was Sheryl Leach. Originally planning to use a teddy bear rather than a purple dinosaur, Leach changed her mind after seeing her son's reaction to a dinosaur exhibit in a Dallas museum. So Barney was born, and Leach recorded six home videos. Stepping it up a notch, Leach wanted to have a Barney Live in concert, and contacted Rowley to help.


"We fell in love with each other and I immediately turned around and did two more home videos for them that summer," Rowley said.

Then comes the story of how Barney "really" got started.


"Up in Connecticut a man takes his daughter into a video store. ... She wound up picking a Barney video for no apparent reason. He was not popular at that point — wasn't even broadcast — I don't know what attracted her to the video, but she picked it (and) took it home.


"This man was fascinated by the fact that she sat and watched this video over and over and over again. Well turns out, he was the Vice President of production or something like that for Connecticut Public Television, So he looked up the people who did the video down there in Dallas, Texas and said, 'I'm really fascinated by all of this, would you be interested in doing a children's series on PBS?'


"I had just done the concert shows and two videos, and (the crew said,) 'Hey Jim, do you want to come along and be a director on this series for PBS?' And I said, 'Ask me again. Of course I would!'"


Rowley was with Barney for 16 years, starting as a director, becoming producer director, then supervising producer.


"Initially for me it was work," he said. "But once I met Sheryl and Dennis Deshazer, I began to understand the whole philosophy of Barney and what it's about, what they were trying to do.


"You've got to realize at that point in time there were no shows for preschool kids. There was Sesame Street, but that was it. There was Mr. Rogers, but there wasn't anything quite like Barney. And we were shooting at an age limit a little lower than Sesame Street, and certainly lower than Mr. Rogers.


"But the whole philosophy of the show — sharing and caring and teamwork and being kind and all of those values — Barney was just a ... lovable guy.

"Always happy and always providing good lessons to young kids about life. And even sad stuff, you know. We got into that too, how you handle those kinds of things. Anyway, all of that attracted me, and I was put in a position where I could control a lot of that.


"As producer, you work with the writers, directors, the people who do the production work. We had educational experts ... So there was a lot of attention paid to what went into the scripts and what they were about and what lesson we were putting forth to kids. There was a lot of care put into that."


Rowley said it was not lost on anyone involved with the show that Barney was influencing millions of children around the world.


"What we were doing wasn't just going to lay there on that piece of tape," he said. "At first thousands and then hundreds of thousands and millions of kids were going to see this. So we just had to be very aware of what we were saying and who we were talking to."


And the lessons Barney taught countless children was also taught to everyone on set, allowing Rowley to see the impact firsthand. Of the child actors who starred on Barney, now-famous Selena Gomez and Demi Lovato were included.


"It's pretty interesting to see how their (Gomez and Lovato) careers have gone," Rowley said. "Of course Selena — well oh my god they're both huge stars. Demi's had her difficulties, well I guess they both have. ... As far as I know all the kids we worked with have come out being super individuals.


"Those two became big stars. I see more of the Barney world in Selena than I do in Demi these days. ... I like staying up with them, as I do a lot of those kids.


"One of them (the show's actors) was a guy named Kurt Dykhuizen. And he came to us, he was born (with a number of medical issues)… But Kurt was the boy of all the boys. They're going to race across the parking lot? Nobody's going to beat Kurt. I mean he was just the most amazing kid. I loved him to death. I would go visit him in the hospital when he had his surgeries and all of that. That guy ... he has become an anesthesiologist — a full-blown doctor.


"... Another one I see all the time, her name is Mera Baker. She's in LA. She's an attorney.


"Michael, who was the first little blonde boy, he's an attorney in Fort Worth.


"They've all gone on to interesting careers and it's grateful to see that and to think that maybe we had some little part in pushing them off in a good direction. You know?"

Submitted photo —On Set (Gomez, Lovato pictured)

Rowley said he is grateful he had the opportunity to be involved with something that had such a positive influence on so many people.


"I mean people in my business, I could have spent my entire life doing commercials," he said. "You know, so what if I sell a bottle of beer or a car? What's that get me? Nothing. OK I get a paycheck, I put it in the bank, but do I really feel great about what I do?


"I just treasure the fact that I was able to be a part of that whole thing. And I should tell you, for the main part, the people who worked on that show, you hear this all the time, 'Oh we were a family.' We were.


"Most people who worked on that show stayed with it for years and years and years and years and they all got into the philosophy of Barney. Very few of them worked there just for the bucks. They all loved the character of what he was about, what the show was about, the messages we were delivering, and they all looked out for the sake of the philosophy. They all helped take care of that."


*Rowley first moved to Hot Springs Village in 2002, staying until 2010. He moved back in 2015, and has been there ever since.

**Originally born in South Dakota, Rowley lived all over the world with his parents who were military.