Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends about TV and whether they are true or false. Click here to view an archive of the TV urban legends featured so far.
TV URBAN LEGEND: The original host of Blue’s Clues left the show because he was going bald.
One of the constants with television fans is that they are obsessed with what happened to actors from their favorite shows when they seemingly “disappear” after leaving said show. This leads to false stories about teen stars going into adult films ((Eddie Haskell from Leave it to Beaver), true stories about teen stars going into adult films (Judy from Family Matters) and far too many “they grew up to become Alice Cooper!” theories to count.
One of the most famous recent examples, though, was what happened to actor Steve Burns when he left the popular children’s programs, Blue’s Clues in 2002.
The show was about a young man (originally Burns) who has a cute, animated puppy named Blue. Blue always wants to do something different each episode and she gives Steve three clues per episode that Steve has to solve and, through the magic of television, the audience plays along with Steve as he figures the clues out. The show was a major hit for Nickelodeon right from its debut in 1996 and it was as critically acclaimed as it was commercially successful (it received nine Emmy nominations during its run). In 2002, Burns left the show as the host and was replaced by actor Donovan Patton as Steve’s younger brother, Joe, with Steve going “off to college.” Patton hosted the show until it ended in 2006. Even before he left the show, Burns was dogged by rumors that he had died (either from a car accident or a heroin overdose). It got to the point where Burns and Blue’s Clues executive producer and co-creator Traci Paige Johnson actually went on to The Rosie O’Donnell Show in 1998 to show everyone that Burns was still alive (Johnson was worried that these rumors were especially difficult for little kids to process). When Burns left the show, seemingly at the height of his success, and seemingly vanished from the public spotlight, then that just made the rumors even more prevalent.
More recently, though, the story has changed, and now the story goes that Burns left the show for a peculiar reason – that he was going bald! Is this the truth or (forgive me) a bald-faced lie? Read on to find out!
The genesis of this legend is a fascinating example of the odd way that the internet works. You see, in 2006, in honor of the 10th anniversary (and, as it turns out, the end of the run) of Blue’s Clues, Nickelodeon did a special prime time special called Behind the Clues, which was a parody of the VH1 program Behind the Music (VH1 and Nickelodeon are both owned by the same company, Viacom). Behind the Music showed the often tawdry behind-the-scenes stories behind the rise and fall of popular music groups. Using this same serious approach for a profile on the origins of Blue’s Clues, therefore, was meant to be a joke. The show then revealed the “real” reason that Burns left the show. He states on the show, “I knew I wasn’t going to be doing children’s television all my life, mostly because I refused to lose my hair on a kid’s TV show. And it was happening … fast.” In the context of the show, it was clearly meant as a joke, a take off on the shocking revelations that you would often find in an episode of Behind the Music. But whatever, Burns made the joke, and that was seemingly that.
But then, in May 2014, Bill Bradley on the Huffington Post unearthed a clip of the then eight-year-old TV special and cited Burns’ bald statement as the truth. Within a month, this Huffington Post piece was then picked up by tons of other online new sources, including Entertainment Weekly, and the story was now solidified as being the truth. But is it the truth?
I mean, I am sure the fact that the guy was balding at least played SOME role in his decision to leave, but it seems pretty clear that it was not nearly the main reason for his departure. Right from the beginning, being the host of a children’s show was not the expected career path for Burns, who came to New York to be an actor and rock musician, landing a role on Law and Order soon after arriving, but then getting Blue’s Clues soon after that.
The show’s co-creator and executive producer, Traci Paige Johnson, spoke about Burns to Spin Magazine in 2004, noting, “he didn’t want to be a children’s host. Of the 100 people we auditioned, he was,by far, the realest. He loved kids, but he didn’t want to make a career out of it.”
Burns left the show to pursue a career as a musician. As he told MTV News in 2002:
I took this about as far as I could, I guess. It was a really difficult decision, too, because on one hand, if I wanted to, I could do this for a really long time. The show is extraordinarily popular in several countries. I could be like Fred Rogers (’Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood’), which I consider a very noble profession. But I thought, ’Well, is this really what I came to New York to do? Why not quit right when I’m at my peak.’ I just don’t think it’s true that people can’t do something else after they’ve done something that seems so permanent. I hope I’ll be remembered for that show for the rest of my life. That will always be a part of my identity, and I’m totally cool with that.
With that in mind, the bald thing is obviously true in the sense that he just didn’t want to keep doing the show forever, so yes, part of that would be not wanting to do the show for so long that he’ll go bald on the show, but that is a side effect of the main reason, which is that he didn’t want to keep doing the show period. The baldness was not the driving factor.
So I’m going with the legend as…
Thanks to my pal Bill Walko for suggesting I feature this one (well, he asked that I look into a bunch of these “real reasons people left TV shows” lists that were going around recently, but still).
Be sure to check out my archive of TV Legends Revealed for more urban legends about the world of television.
Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.