TV Pups: Remembering Wishbone

The PBS series has been off the air for twenty years, but Wishbone still lives forever in fans’ memories.

Series creator Rick Duffield called it a show about “a little dog with a restless appetite for adventure,” and that description fits well.

That little dog was a Jack Russell Terrier named Soccer, who portrayed the titular role of Wishbone in the 1995-1998 PBS series Wishbone. 

Wishbone belonged to a boy named Joe Talbot, and each episode was divided in half – one devoted to an adventure in their hometown of Oakdale, Texas, usually involving Joe’s best friends David Barnes and Sam Kepler, while the other half was a retelling of a work of classic literature.

Soccer won the role by performing a backflip during auditions, which he often did on the show as well when the humans weren’t paying attention to him.

Like any big-budget actor, Soccer had stunt doubles filling in when necessary, three of which were used in the course of the show. Their names were Phoebe, Shiner and Slugger. A dog named Bear was used for many of the publicity photos due to his relatively calm temperament. (Jack Russells are quite hyper and excitable.)

“He represents the playful and imaginative child in all of us,”  Duffield said, speaking of Wishbone to the Los Angeles Times in 1995, shortly after the show’s premiere

The voice actor providing Wishbone’s voice, Larry Brantley, met the dog during a callback and improvised a five-minute monologue about Soccer’s obsession with a tennis ball, completely ignoring the script he’d been given.

“I can’t believe I just did five minutes’ dialogue about a tennis ball…” Brantley recalled thinking of that day while being interviewed for Entertainment Tonight. Being a lifelong dog owner helped with his understanding of how Soccer thought and acted, allowing him to improvise his way to a better performance inside the recording studio.

Among the works adapted were Mark Twain’s Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Virgil’s Aeneid and H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine,, and often the episode titles were clever puns related to dogs or literature.

The recurring cast members included future stars Amy Acker (Dollhouse, The Gifted) and Jensen Ackles (Supernatural), and Shelley Duvall of The Shining once guest-starred.

Wishbone was rated “Best Children’s Series” in 1996 and 1997 by the Television Critics Association, and won Daytime Emmys for Costume Design/Styling in 1996 and 1997, Art Direction/Set Decoration/Scenic Design in 1997 and Graphics and Title Design in 1997.

Next: Breeds 101: Those great Golden Retrievers

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