Bob the Builder bulldozes Barney

Bob the Builder is rivaling Barney as the most popular character among American children, and that can’t hurt future recruiting for the construction industry, according to a spokesman for a national contractors’ association.

With his hardhat and talking construction equipment, Bob the Builder is stealing preschool viewers from the singing, dancing purple dinosaur whose ratings have plummeted in recent years.

Dennis Day, executive director of public affairs for the Associated General Contractors of America, said he’s received phone calls from parents and grandparents telling him about the excitement the British contractor instills in their toddlers.

“It’s a great show for how it’s written,” Day said. “It deals with overcoming challenges and problems that may happen in the construction industry.”

He said it’s too early to tell whether the popularity of the show will affect recruiting when today’s preschoolers are ready to enter the job market, but any positive portrayals of the construction industry are positive reinforcement for the future.

“Our research has shown that kids aren’t choosing careers in the 5th grade,” Day said. “But they are ruling them out. We don’t want kids ruling out construction as a career.”

Bob debuted in the United States on the Nick Jr. network in January 2001. He’s become a successful toy and a popular Halloween costume. He even had a float in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. The computer-animated series is available on television or video in 130 countries.

Barney isn’t alone in being usurped by Bob. The can-do contractor surpassed Thomas the Tank Engine in Great Britain as children’s favorite.

Six years ago, “Barney and Friends” was the top children’s show on public television, with more than 2 million viewers. Now his audience has thinned by half, and he’s dropped to No. 6 on PBS.

Barney promoters say his falling ratings may be partly to blame on the fact he hasn’t filmed a new episode or completed a toy-licensing agreement in about five years.

But the dinosaur’s detractors say there are other reasons kids are changing the channel when Barney appears.

“It’s so nauseatingly sweet, it turned me off right at the beginning,” Peggy Charren, founder of Action for Children’s Television, a group that promotes programming that meets educational needs, told the Associated Press. “There’s something too white bread, too do-goody about it.”

So Barney is getting a makeover. A park scene with $40,000 trees, a pond, gazebo and caboose will soon replace the playground set. The cast of children is new and Barney will have a labtop computer.

Ironically, the same company now owns both Bob and Barney. Bob’s creator, HIT Entertainment of London, bought Barney’s producer, Texas-based Lyrick Studios, last year for $275 million. The deal allowed HIT to introduce Bob to American viewers.

As a parent, Day said Bob the Builder has more to offer preschoolers than just a glimpse into the world of construction.

“Bob the Builder has a great message about helping out and friendship and overcoming fears, which plays well to those age groups,” he said.

ogrider@randallpub.com

Olivia Grider