TV URBAN LEGEND: Dora the Explorer was originally going to be a bunny.
Dora the Explorer, about a young Latina girl who goes on adventures along with her talking backpack and her monkey friend, Boots. The adventures include an audience participation element, as the young viewers are primed to answer questions at certain points of the story that require knowledge of riddles, ability to solve math problems or having Spanish language skills. Of course, we are only talking very basic skills in those areas, as the show is meant for little kids.
Amazingly, though, for a show that has become one of the most popular Latina fictional characters in children's television history, Dora not only was not originally Latina, she was not even originally a HUMAN!
One of Dora's creators, Valerie Walsh Valdes, explained the origin of Dora the Explorer to Mark Dawidziak of The Cleveland Plain Dealer when Dora was celebrating her tenth anniversary, "The point of origin was really a homework assignment given to me and Chris Gifford: Come up with the next big hit. Nickelodeon was looking for another preschool show to follow up the success of 'Blue's Clues' and 'Little Bear.' Our idea was to make a show that was story-driven like 'Little Bear' but interactive like 'Blue's Clues.' That was the starting point, and from there it was months and months of permutations."
Their initial show concept was almost literally a combination of Little Bear and Blue's Clues, in that it was about a group of animals in the forest and they would go on adventures and the audience would get involved, just like they do in Dora the Explorer. The main character was going to a male bunny.
After some more deliberations, though (and a name change, as the show was going to be called The Knock Arounds), the male bunny became a female bunny and then a little girl named Tess. The idea of a little girl exploring the forest with her animal friends came from observing how little kids love to explore. Walsh Valdes noted that "A lot of that came from watching preschoolers and seeing how they are little explorers. Their backyards are adventures for them. Chris had a preschool daughter at the time, and our writer Eric Weiner had a preschool son and daughter at the time. And I wanted a very strong female character."
The next big change happened when a Nickelodeon executive got back from a conference. Walsh Valdes recalled, "The conference had addressed the lack of Latino images on TV. And he asked us, 'Could you do that?' At first, we didn't think so, but then we thought, 'What a great opportunity to have a strong role model who happens to be Latina.' It wasn't our idea, but that was a seminal moment."
And so Tess became Dora and an iconic TV show was born!
The legend is...
Be sure to check out my archive of TV Legends Revealed for more urban legends about the world of TV.
Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.