The case of the vanishing Ghostwriter

Where did the youth sleuths and their ghostly scribe go?

Ghostwriter’s multicultural team of mystery solvers was a huge children’s television hit in the early ’90s.
Ghostwriter’s multicultural team of mystery solvers was a huge children’s television hit in the early ’90s.
Credit: 
Photos courtesy of rickstv.com and birtman.com

Wouldn’t it be cool to see a ghost, daydream about it, or at least watch a TV show about it? This is what the TV series, Ghostwriter, did for me and despite its short life, the show left an indelible mark on my TV-watching experience.

Every weeknight at 7 p.m., I would tune in to TVO to get my daily dose of what I considered the tween drama of the day and in my opinion, no television show has ever matched its perfect blend of thrilling drama and imaginative adventure.

Today’s youth no longer hear echoes of “We don’t know where he came from—he just showed up one night” from the catchy theme song. It disappeared from the station with no explanation of where it went—consistent with the mysterious theme of the show.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with Ghostwriter, it was a children’s mystery series, created by Liz Nealon and co-produced by the Children’s Television Workshop and the British Broadcasting Corporation that originally aired on the Public Broadcasting Corporation (PBS) in the U.S. from October 1992 to February 1995 and also aired on TV Ontario in Canada.

It revolved around the lives of a diverse group of New York City tweens who all had one thing in common—they could see Ghostwriter, a mysterious ghost who could only communicate through the words and text around him. Ghostwriter also had the power of choosing who could see him, and together, the chosen group of kids—known as the Ghostwriter Team—solved mysteries around Brooklyn with the help of their invisible friend.

Jason Pickar, ArtSci ’06, is an avid fan of the show and even started a Facebook group called “Hey, Remember that Show?” about his Ghostwriter memories.

“Part of Facebook is just the fun of starting these completely random things to bring people together and everyone I know that I’ve ever mentioned Ghostwriter to knows it well,” he said.

Mike Succi, CompSci ’07, also has fond memories of the show.

“I think it appealed to so many kids because the characters were all from different cultures. Jamal Jenkins was African-American, Tina Nguyen and her family are Vietnamese-American and this also made the show a cultural learning experience for viewers,” Succi said. “The show’s focus on a group of kids solving mysteries that the police would usually handle was really unique too and the fact that they had a ghost to help them was a really neat angle.”

I still have memories of my own Ghostwriter team, complete with the necklace pen and binder. My friends and I would attempt to re-enact the episodes or try to find our own mysteries to solve at my elementary school. We even went to the lengths of having our own “rallies” like the kids did on the show. We would meet up and chat about the mystery cases and our progression (or lack thereof). It was fun until we realized we were missing the most essential part—Ghostwriter.

Pickar said that he recalls the episodes from the series “Who is Max Mouse?” where the team is introduced to the Internet, complete with old-school modems. Julia Stiles also made a guest appearance in these episodes, long before her days.

Patricia Orser, ArtSci ’08 said that her favourite character was Lenni Frazier, an aspiring actress who lives with her father.

“I was a tomboy as a kid, and she always seemed to go against the mainstream,” she said. “The episode where she gets to make a music video was one of my favourites.”

The show’s popularity among tweens also allowed the show’s commercial ventures to expand into books, magazines, video games, VHS recordings and even a fan club.

Pickar said that he was a member of the Ghostwriter Fan Club.

“I remember liking the show so much that I signed up for the club at the library one day—and I never sign up for anything like that,” he said. “A few months later, I received a membership card and a newsletter in the mail. It was the first and last one.” Like Succi, many kids tuned into the show to test their detective skills and solve the show’s greatest mystery.

“I watched it mostly to find out who Ghostwriter actually was, but it was cancelled before I found out,” he said.

Not too long ago, I was visiting home and found a buried treasure—some old Ghostwriter episodes that I had taped as a keen tween who apparently couldn’t get enough of the show. I re-watched a couple (okay, all of them), and then wondered—where did Ghostwriter go?

Articles on the Internet allude not to a lack of popularity, but a lack of funding. The show officially stopped being produced in February 1995 and a new series, made its debut in 1997, but was cut due to low ratings.

I contacted the PBS television network to get some more clarification about how Ghostwriter fans might be able to get their hands on copies of the show.

Ameila Lopez, from PBS viewer services, informed me via e-mail that little can be done because it’s an expired program.

“PBS usually holds rights to its programming for three years following the original broadcast date,” she said. “After this time, PBS is no longer able to distribute these expired programs to our member stations or sell them to our viewers.” She apologized for the frustration it may have caused me and then directed me to an Amazon link that displayed VHS recordings of Ghostwriter for sale, which included a small selection of episodes.

So, I guess us Ghostwriter junkies will just home to wait until PBS decides to make a DVD box set to satisfy the show’s rabid through of fans. Until then, I guess the Facebook group discussion forum will have to suffice.

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