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Brown johnson is tickled blue about the success of Nickelodeon's mostly animated educational show for preschoolers, "Blues Clues."

Since the show first aired in September 1996, Blue, an animated dog, and her master Steve have elbowed their way past "Sesame Street" and "Barney and Friends" to become the No. 1 rated show for children 2 years to 5 years old, according to Nielsen Media Research.

Nielsen ratings at the end of May indicate it averaged an 8.6 year-to-date national rating in the 9:30 a.m. slot, up 71% from last year.

The 45-year-old senior VP of Nick Jr. says initially she had a tough job in getting the word out about the new show.

"The ad budget wasn't a large one, so we relied on our own airtime and getting media stories printed," says Ms. Johnson.

Promotions for the show aired on Nickelodeon and print ads ran in several parenting magazines and TV Guide. In addition, Ms. Johnson says she planned a primetime airing of "Blues Clues" to give parents a chance to view the show.

"We're successful because we research every show three or four times by asking children [in focus groups] what they think," says Ms. Johnson.

Now that the show has a firm footing on the little screen, Blue is heading for retail shelves. Nickelodeon is coming out with a line of licensed products, including books, games and toys.

Also in the works are direct-to-video episodes and a CD-ROM, as well as promotions with Cadbury Schweppe's Mott's USA (blue apple sauce), Subway (kid's meals) and FAO Schwartz (merchandising promotions).

"We want to raise the bar for kids' TV and challenge children to think harder," says Ms. Johnson.

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