Punky Brewster (NBC, 1984-1986)
First off, let it be known that Punky Brewster was a real person. She was the childhood crush of the then NBC chief of programming Brandon Tartikoff. They even approached her to use her name and, she cameoed as a teacher in the episode “The Search” that aired November 10, 1985.
Meanwhile, Punky Brewster, the show, was a sitcom that aired from September 16, 1984 to September 7, 1986; in first-run syndication from October 30, 1987 to May 27, 1988 and spawned an animated spin-off It’s Punky Brewster from September 14, 1985 to December 6, 1986. (Notice that the sitcom and the animated series ran primarily at the same time and the original cast of the sitcom voiced the same characters on the animated version.) It is, in no way, an understatement that the show pushed a lot of boundaries.
The show starred Soleil Moon Frye as Penelope Brewster, a young girl abandoned by her parents. After escaping the orphanage, Punky and her dog Brandon (Sandy the dog) decide to tough it out on the Chicago streets. They eventually wind up in an abandoned apartment where the building’s super Henry (George Gaynes) discovers them. After a court battle, which was shown on the show, Henry becomes Punky’s foster parent and later, legally adopts her.
Over its 88 episode run, the show took on a variety of social issues, including kidnapping, runaways, gang violence, drug use and retardation. One of the episodes that will always be remembered was an episode where, in 1986, Punky and her classmates watched the Challenger space shuttle disaster unfold live. (A few weeks after this episode — the second season finale — aired, NBC decided to cancel Punky Brewster).
Punky Brewster was quite popular with children. NBC aired the series on Sundays, usually after football games which typically tend to run long, the network taped six fifteen-minute episodes instead of a full-length episode because it upset the children when they had to join the series “in progress.”
All four seasons have been released on DVD (only in Region 1 though) and each season contains the subsequent animated season as well.