NEW YORK -- With "Boohbah," beauty is in the eyes of the beholder.
But for grown-ups exposed to it, this new PBS kids show might seem beautiful in the same hypnotic way as a midnight screening of "2001: A Space Odyssey."
The intended audience -- kids age 3 to 5 -- will experience "Boohbah" on quite a different level, its creator insists.
"We always get the adults who don't understand what we're trying to do," says Anne Wood, the visionary behind the equally tripped-out "Teletubbies."
In contrast to the Teletubbies, a quartet of playmates who each seemed a blend of Roswell alien and teddy bear, the five Boohbahs (resembling assorted-flavor gumdrops clad in Astroturf) are meant to be magical atoms of energy.
They're energetic, for sure -- streaking through the heavens in an orb of light, spinning, soaring, and scampering about, all to a soundtrack of electronica and children's laughter, before charging through a set of calisthenics.
Rather than anesthetizing youngsters with its candy colors and dreamy atmosphere, "Boohbah" is designed to have the opposite effect. It's an exercise show for preschoolers.
"Their first response is to laugh at it," Wood reports. "Then their second response is to get up and move about like the Boohbahs. This is not a mesmeric type of show at all.
"Kids are really entranced by the joy of movement, and with `Boohbah' they get involved quite a lot with its symmetry, pattern, and spatial order, along with problem-solving."
Two years in the works, "Boohbah" premieres on most PBS stations Jan. 19 (locally, it will air at 8 a.m. on Channel 44 and at 1 p.m. on Channel 2). If "Teletubbies" is any predictor, it will soon become a cultural touchstone -- and, for parents within earshot of the television, the bane of their existence.
But who can blame them, when the opening of the show sounds something like this: Boohbah, Boohbah, Boohbah, Booh! Boohbah, Boohbah, Boohbah, Booh! Boohbah, Boohbah, Boohbah, Booh! (Kids giggling) Boohbah, Boohbah, Boohbah, Booooooooh!
Not that anything about "Boohbah" is spur of the moment, as Wood explains during a phone chat from Stratford-upon-Avon, England.
Even the title was carefully thought out to be a pleasing two-syllable word that rolls off the tongue with the same familiar intonation with which a mother might summon her child.
And since the 104 "Boohbah" episodes will be sold globally, that word had to sound comfortable to young viewers anywhere. Indeed, they are encouraged -- be warned, parents -- to voice it responsively.
"It's a command word," says Wood. " `Boohbah' gives them the idea they are controlling things."
During parts of an episode, the Boohbah creatures cede the screen to a multicultural human family called the Storypeople, who consist of such characters as Grandmamma, Grandpappa, Mr. Man, and Mrs. Lady.
In a pastoral setting the Storypeople explore a group activity, such as jumping rope.
A tinkly piano is heard, along with pointed comments from an off-screen narrator: "It's a blue skipping rope."
Then Brother's blue rope magically fuses with Sister's red rope (Narrator: "It's a long skipping rope"). Soon everybody gets to jump, all at the same time. Then everybody falls down, laughing. Boohbah!