Dic Geeks: Where on Earth is Carmen Sandiego (1994)

DiC Geeks is our fortnightly¬†podcast (we’re on time this fortnight! Bingo!) in which we journey through the many realms of DiC Entertainment, a company that (for most of the 80s and 90s) was synonymous with both early morning cartoon blocks and generally mediocre animated tripe. This week we¬†discuss the first cartoon based on the popular computer ‘Carmen Sandiego’ edutainment game series. No, it’s not the one with the acapella group. We wish it was.

DiC Geeks – Where on Earth is Carmen Sandiego?

Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego was an edutainment game released in 1985 for home computers. Developed by Broderbund, it cast the players as agents of the ACME International Crimes Unit and tasked them with tracking down and arresting agents of the crime syndicate VILE, eventually culminating in the arrest of master thief Carmen Sandiego herself. Unusually for the time, it contained a balance of engaging gameplay and educational content that led to it being a hit with both kids and parents, and the series was quickly spun off into other titles.

The deal for a Carmen Sandiego cartoon was stuck in June 1990 mere months before the Children’s Television Act was passed. “I would like to say that people felt it was a competitive property in its own right”, Andy Heyward is quoted as having said in 1994, “but I think that Congress pushed it over the top.” The act required that networks increase the amount of educational content in their children’s’ programming blocks, and so a cartoon based upon an educational game would be an easy sell to networks desperate to increase their educational content in line with the new regulations.

Titled ‘Where on Earth Is Carmen Sandiego’, DIC’s cartoon closely followed the premise of the games. In each episode Carmen Sandiego and her cronies would perform a daring theft of a famous landmark and it would be up to ACME detectives to track her down, following a series of clues designed to teach geography and world culture knowledge. In place of the unnamed player character the show introduces sibling detectives Ivy, an 18-year old action girl and Zack, a 14 year old computer genius, alongside a computerised version of ACME’s Chief who provides exposition to the characters and audience.

Development of the series was slower than initially anticipated, and due to concerns about the level of violence on FOX’s children’s programming at the time, Broderbund required script approval for every episode. As such, the series didn’t air until 1994, by which point it had been Beaten to air by a live action game show version of the series, also titled ‘Where In The World Is Carmen Sandiego’. Regardless, the show was a success, winning a Daytime Emmy for Outstanding Children’s’ Animated Program in 1995. It ran four a total of 40 episodes over 4 seasons, and spawned one video game spin-off titled ‘Carmen Sandiego Junior Detective. The show still airs on repeats on The Worship Network and Qubo, and is also available in its entirety on DVD.