My long overdue tribute to my favorite poltergeist, Ghostwriter.
By Sabrina J. Steyling
One of my favorite TV shows growing up was Ghostwriter, an educational series that aired on PBS from 1992 until 1995. Aimed at teaching reading and writing skills to elementary and middle school kids, Ghostwriter featured a group of teenagers who solved mysteries in their Brooklyn, New York neighborhood with the help of an enigmatic friend who is unable to see, hear, or talk but who can communicate by manipulating letters to make words and sentences - hence the name Ghostwriter. During the three seasons the show was on the air, very few other facts are revealed about the true identity of Ghostwriter, though we still learn some vital information about him: he can only be seen by those to whom he reveals himself; he can read and feel emotions; he cares about children; he was once a man but had somehow become a ghost (and at one point remembers being chased by dogs); he was alive before the F.B.I. came into existence, before Walt Disney became famous, and before Elvis was born; and he can not only travel across the Internet but can also travel through time.
Although at the age of thirteen I was almost too old for the series when it premiered, my passion for writing had already begun to make itself known so it was easy for me to fall in love with what Ghostwriter had to offer. The show aired on Sunday nights at 6 PM on Channel 13, and no matter what was going on you would be sure find me seated in front of the television set in our living room when the opening credits began. Each Ghostwriter mystery - or case, as it was called - was made up of four to five episodes, so being that the show aired weekly, it would take about a month for each case to be solved. But this is where viewers were encouraged to join in and play detective along with the characters: Each mystery was written about in its own official Ghostwriter casebook, where all of the evidence, suspects, and other clues would be recorded. Both during the episode and often afterwards, cast members would demonstrate how to put a casebook together so that kids watching the show could make their own personal casebooks and thus attempt to solve the case on their own before the characters did.
Speaking of characters, the Ghostwriter kids were a diverse bunch, each bringing something different to the mix: There was Jamal Jenkins, an African-American with a talent for karate and science and who was the first person to discover Ghostwriter; Lenni Frazier, a headstrong young woman and equally talented female singer-songwriter who lived with her widowed father; Alex Fernandez, a first generation Salvadorian-American with a penchant for detective novels and had pen pals from around the world; and Gaby Fernandez, Alex's inquisitive and talkative little sister. By the end of the five-episode pilot mystery, aptly titled Ghost Story, these four would come to call themselves the Ghostwriter Team, complete with their own secret handshake and pens on strings that they wore around their necks so they would be able to write to Ghostwriter whenever and wherever they were. By the end of the series, several more members had been inducted into the Ghostwriter Team, including Tina Nguyen, a Vietnamese-American girl who is an aspiring filmmaker as well as Gaby's best friend; Rob Baker, a shy transfer student from a Military family who writes poetry (and eventually has to leave the Team when his father is transferred to Australia); Hector Carrero, a young boy from Puerto Rico whom Alex is mentoring through the Big Brothers program; and Casey Austin, Jamal's little cousin from Detroit who comes to live with his family while her mother is being treated for alcoholism.
During its entire 3 seasons, there were 74 episodes of Ghostwriter that were broken down into 18 separate story lines. From environmentalism, stealing, drug addiction and arson to kidnapping and gang violence, Ghostwriter touched on many different issues. Several of the mysteries even focused on specific Team members, like when Alex finds himself the center of a nasty smear campaign in To Catch a Creep or in Who Burned Mr. Brinker's Store, where Jamal is a potential suspect after a local video store catches on fire. The Team's loyalties to each other are tested in Get the Message, when a disagreement between Mr. Fernandez and Mr. Frazier causes their kids to choose sides. The only mystery that is no mystery is the four-part series finale entitled Attack of the Slime Monster, when the entire Team takes turns helping Casey write a story about Gooey Gus the Slime Monster for a local creative writing contest. The series officially bids farewell when Jamal, who has been accepted to attend the High School of Science and Technology, promises Alex and Lenni that although they won't be attending the same high school, the Ghostwriter team will always have each other.
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