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Wouldn't You Like To Knock The Stuffing Out Of Barney?

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I hate you, you hate me, Two fractured branches on the family tree. With a vicious barb and a thwack from me to you, Won't you say you hate me too.

--I Hate Barney Secret Society theme song

If you're a breathing, sentient human being in America, you've heard of Barney. And if you share living quarters with a preschooler, you've really heard of him--night and day. He's the six-foot-four, purple-and-green tyrannosaur who appears daily in the Public Broadcasting Service television show Barney & Friends. He preaches loving, sharing, and caring, and tykes worship the ground he thumps on.

In just one year, Barneymania among the potty set has helped Barney & Friends pass 24-year-old Sesame Street to become the top-rated PBS children's series. Four-year-old Cheyane Rangel of Mesquite, Tex., for one, says she dotes on Barney because "he sings lots of songs and because he's a dinosaur."

TEDIOUS REX. Grownups, however, don't always look on the friendly critter with such affection. Through a combination of overexposure, mismanagement, and a few grating lyrics, PBS and Barney's other handlers put off folks like Robert Curran, an ad salesman in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., who founded the I Hate Barney Secret Society. Curran's newsletter aims to console parents of Barney groupies. His other concern: weaning his two-year-old daughter Michelle-Christine "from her drug of choice [Barney]...toward Walt Disney products like The Little Mermaid and Fantasia."

For a while, it looked like the Barney backlash among parents like Curran would leave toymakers with a surplus of purple plush and put one large, sappy dinosaur on the dole.

Well, adults are losing the battle: Barney is alive and, in the minds of many parents, all too well. Indeed, he's confirming an age-old lesson of marketing: However undiscriminating or annoying, children's choices greatly influence parents' purchases. "Parents can be as sick as they want to be of Barney. It won't make any difference. It's the kids who dictate what they buy," says Selina Guber, president of Children's Market Research in New York.

If you're a Barney hater, brace yourself. In May, Hasbro Inc. began rolling out a new line of 20 items, among them a talking doll that spouts 572 phrases. The first Barney music album is due Aug. 31, the initial fruit of a multiyear deal with EMI Records Group. On the horizon: a prime-time network special next April, a movie in 1995, and growth into international markets. Meanwhile, the TV show's Nielsen ratings still hover well above 3.0, compared with 2.6 for Sesame Street and rivaling many prime-time programs.

There's no sign that sales of Barney paraphernalia are slacking off. Consumers will snatch up more than $300 million worth of Barney toys this year, says analyst David S. Leibowitz of Republic New York Securities Corp. That's not even counting Barney sleepwear, linen, and lunch boxes. Plush-toy maker Dakin Inc. says it gets 10 Barney doll orders for every one it can make. At Toys `R' Us Inc., Barney remains "very much wanted by children," says Vice-Chairman Michael Goldstein. And Barney commands five slots on Billboard's latest Top 10 kids video sales chart.

PURPLE REIGN. What is it about Barney that gets parents' goats? Part of their complaint is with the TV show itself: There's little in the way of adult-minded entertainment for parents who tune in with their kids. And people, it seems, can take only so much niceness from a supporting cast of bubbly, well-scrubbed kids, all singing, dancing, and hugging.

Missteps by PBS have helped alienate parents. There was last spring's pledge-drive fracas, when many PBS stations featured "Barney-thons" offering Barney merchandise during on-air fund-raisers. Some parents complained the move exploited children's love for Barney by getting them to pressure their parents to contribute.

Then there's the merchandise. Tons of it. The dinosaur's burst to stardom triggered deals with 33 licensees, generating some 200 products. J.C. Penney Co. has opened Barney boutiques in its 1,300 stores nationwide. Things got so bad that Lyons Group, the division of religious and educational publisher RCL Enterprises Inc. responsible for Barney's economic welfare, imposed a moratorium on licensing last December, to help ensure slower, more careful growth.

Moratorium or no, Barney isn't likely to go the way of the dinosaur soon. "We listen far more to what 3-year-olds think than to what 30-year-olds think," says Sheryl Leach, the ex-teacher who created Barney in 1988 and now heads Lyons. That's proved a potent marketing plan. In other words: If you object to Barney, flip back to Masterpiece Theater.Stephanie Anderson Forest in Dallas, with Paul Eng in New York and bureau reports

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