Halloween season is the time when talking dogs come to life in the form of thousands of little kids dressed as their favorite pooches. Any surprise they're dogs who just so happen to talk on screen?
The fascination America's kids have with talking dogs is the subject of the premiere episode of PBS Kids' hit Martha Speaks, which returns to TV on Monday, October 11. Kids home from school for Columbus Day can get a taste along with their pre-school siblings.
The Stir caught up with Martha Speaks' creator Susan Meddaugh on the eve of her appearance at the Library of Congress Book Fest to find out why prattling pooches make kids howl with laughter and few secrets about one of their absolute favorites.
"I like to think that Martha is kind of a special talking dog. Kids have dogs, and there's probably an interest in 'what would my dog say if my dog could talk,'" Meddaugh tells The Stir. "Martha's a little bit unique -- in the cartoon world she's the one who actually lives in a real-life situation. The fact that she can talk is the only unusual trait which makes her a little different from dogs who talk in cartoons.
"I think kids have to fall in love with a character first, then I would say a talking dog would be very popular idea."
So what's the scoop on the Martha they've fallen in love with?
1. She Almost Didn't Get Created. "Martha was our first dog. She was absolutely based on her personality. She was a stray. I just had dinner with a friend of mine named Martha who was the one who said I have this stray dog and I can't keep her, would you come get her," Meddaugh says.
"My husband and I went in and picked up this stray dog and brought her home, and talking with Martha the other day -- the person -- she remembered that day. She'd had Martha in her basement for a couple of days, so when we came and we put Martha in our car, she says she remembered so clearly that day Martha looking back at her and thinking 'I've just let a special dog go.'
"She called me back later and said I want that dog back. We said no! But she did get another dog."
2. She's a Mutt. The real Martha was a mix of pitbull, beagle and dalmation, and Meddaugh wanted to portray her creation as a Heinz 57 to encourage recognition of the beauty of mutts.
3. Skitz is a Real Dog. Martha's tag-along on the show has his own counterpart in life -- and he was just as silly and fun-loving as the TV version. "He was the perfect foil," Meddaugh says of the real-life Skitz. "He's the Gabby Hayes or the Robin to Batman, just total dog."
4. Meddaugh's Son Niko Is Responsible for the Story. She's written a host of books and seen her popular character turned into a TV show, but Meddaugh still gives Niko all the credit for the story.
"It was my son who grew up with Martha who was eating alphabet soup for lunch," Meddaugh recalls. "Martha, having been a stray dog, never really lost her desire to eat everything in sight, and she was right there next to him sucking in her stomach and trying to look lean and hungry. And at that point, he said 'Mom,' and he was joking, 'Mom, if Martha ate alphabet soup would she speak?'
"So basically, I stole the idea," Meddaugh says with a laugh. "I'd been actually looking for a story for Martha. I'd put her in the background in a frame or a portrait, but I didn't have a real good story for Martha and when he said that it immediately fell in place."
Are your kids talking dog fans?
Images via WGBH