Why Peacock Leaned Into the Nostalgia Play of Barney Doc ‘I Love You, You Hate Me’

Peacock’s “I Love You, You Hate Me” two-part docuseries about the rise and fall of Barney the Dinosaur is the fifth title to launch as part of the platform’s inaugural DocFest and arguably the most anticipated.

The docu about the purple dinosaur who preached love and acceptance on PBS “Barney & Friends” debuts Oct. 12 on the streaming service. It examines Barney’s meteoric rise and how the Tyrannosaurus rex quickly became the target of hate and rage across pop culture and the early internet. Hailing from Scout Productions and director Tommy Avallone, the doc features interviews with the show’s cast and crew as well as boldface names, including Bill Nye the Science Guy and NBC’s Al Roker. The series also incorporates archival footage from the PBS’ series, which began airing in 1992.

Avallone says the inspiration for “I Love You, You Hate Me” came after seeing a nostalgic social media post featuring a 1993 news story about a Barney-bashing event at the U. of Nebraska.

“These college kids were beating up Barney,” says Avallone. “Ripping him apart, hitting him with a mallet, and at the end, the newscaster says, ‘That’s the future of our country, right there.’ And I was like, ‘Oh my God.’ We are in that future right now.’ There is a higher level of hate going on right now. Then I wondered if I could tell a story about love and hate but told through the story of Barney the Dinosaur.”

Barney creator Sheryl Leach developed the show in 1992 alongside Kathy Parker and Dennis DeShazer after initially creating home videos of the Barney character for her son. Leach met with Avallone about his project but ultimately decided against participating in “I Love You, You Hate Me.”

“The thing about Cheryl is that when the Barney bashing was happening, she never addressed the negativity,” says Avallone. “For better or worse, that was her take and that never changed. I think if I made a documentary solely about how great Barney was, she would be in it. But because we addressed some of the haters like the Jihad to Destroy Barney and the I Hate Barney Secret Society, I think that was something she didn’t feel comfortable with.”

Peacock docus are a relatively new addition to the nonfiction landscape, which has grown considerably with the advent of additional streaming services. Rod Aissa, exec VP of Unscripted Content of NBCUniversal, oversees the platform’s originals docu department and says that when it comes to content, he isn’t married to any one topic.

“We are curating something for everybody,” says Aissa. “We aren’t just known for political docs or bio docs or music docs.”

Besides “I Love You, You Hate Me,” DocFest offerings include “Prince Andrew: Banished,” which unpacks the scandals of England’s disgraced Prince Andrew; “Sex Lies and the College Cult” about professional conman Larry Ray, who brainwashed students of Sarah Lawrence College into an abusive sex cult; “The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks, which examines Rosa Parks’ overlooked accomplishments, and “Shadowland,” about how conspiracy theories have moved from the margins to the mainstream.

In all, Peacock commissioned 11 original docus this year. “We are not trying to be a volume doc player,” says Aissa. “We are trying to be an important doc player where the director’s docs get seen.  We can also make noise with each one that we put out.”

The exec isn’t surprised by all the noise “I Love You, You Hate Me” has already generated.

“I definitely think it’s a nostalgia play,” says Aissa. “It’s also a social commentary about America’s love to absolutely love and adore something and then, in a flip of a switch, hate it. That includes a purple dinosaur that’s not even real. “

Peacock’s DocFest, which began Sept. 14, concludes on Oct. 19 with the release of “The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks.”

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