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Barney has arrived in the close-out aisles of retail stores, nurturing the fervent hope among many adults that the big purple dinosaur's end may be near.

The kiss of death in licensing is the markdown bin, and his migration there certainly proves Barney fever is finally cooling off, after 30 months of red-hot popularity among the toddler set.

Then there's Barney's "likability" among moms of young children and kids between 6 and 8. His standing has slid 30% compared with a year ago, according to a recent survey by Port Washington, N.Y.-based Marketing Evaluations/TVQ.

But the truth is the character is nowhere near extinction.

"Anything that goes up like a rocket like Barney did has to come down to earth, and so is Barney," said C. Woody Browne, president of licensing consultancy Building Q, Cherry Hill, N.J. "But don't get your hopes up, because he's not going away for a long time."

Barney's handlers at the Lyons Group, Richardson, Texas, asserted talk of his demise is dead wrong.

Conceding that Barney merchandise has appeared in close-out aisles, Director of Licensing Cecilia Anzaldua blamed an "overstuffed pipeline" of products following last year's swell in demand.

Although she won't reveal figures, the company said 1993 sales of Barney licensed merchandise soared 900% compared with '92, when the first Barney videotapes were released.

Demand for Barney merchandise is now moving to "realistic levels," Ms. Anzaldua said, and the company has a decade's worth of Barney media projects and publishing ventures in the works.

Not everyone believes that's achievable. Irv Zakheim, president of dinnerware company Zak Designs, which makes products tied to Walt Disney Co. films including "The Lion King," predicted Barney merchandise is on the way out because the character "got too big too fast and people are sick of him."

But the Lyons Group said adults' attitudes about Barney are irrelevant, because kids continue to love him unabashedly.

"Barney is geared to 2-year-olds, and there's a constant supply of new toddlers entering the market who will soak up Barney," Ms. Anzaldua said.

This year, Barney is being introduced to international markets, where he's being received as enthusiastically as he was in the U.S., and he will star in a feature-length movie slated for release in 1996 from Warner Bros.

A third series of "Barney & Friends" episodes will start airing on the Public Broadcasting Service in January.

Although the Lyons Group has no agency and has never advertised Barney to consumers, some advertising and cross-promotions will likely be considered as early as next year, Ms. Anzaldua said.

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