updated 12/28/1992 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 12/28/1992 AT 01:00 AM EST

All together now, and remember the tune is the same as "This Old Man":

I love you
You love me
We 're a happy family.

Hey, you're not singing. You must be some sort of grown-up. You probably can't even identify the theme from PBS's Barney & Friends. You might not even recognize Barney himself, even though a six-foot-tall purple and green dinosaur doesn't come down the pike every day. Well, you're forgiven. Not even PBS figured that Barney would breathe fire when it decided not to renew funding for the half-hour, daily show back in May. But after ratings rocketed past Sesame Street in some markets and anguished Barneyphiles reacted with an outpouring of calls and letters, this dinosaur was given a stay of extinction. Indeed, with sales of Barney toys expected to reach $100 million next year, he was given a new contract on life.

Attracting as many as 40,000 screaming fans at mall appearances around the country, Barney has become the preschoolers' equivalent of the Beatles or Elvis. Of course, he doesn't quite have their edge. In fact his inspirational innocence makes Big Bird look like a cold-eyed cynic. Barney's appeal—though many parents fail to see it—is his simple-minded pedia-shtick. "He's an adult with a child's heart," says Sheryl Leach, 39, the former teacher and Dallas mom who, along with her friend Kathy Parker, 38, created Barney for the home video market in 1988. Surrounded by a coterie of very non-showbiz kids, Barney (actor David Joyner wears the costume; Bob West provides the voice) orchestrates bouncy songs and skits that teach tolerance, sharing and respect for the environment, while celebrating the power of imagination.

Though a TV special and feature-length movie are in the works, Barney's biggest moment may be on Jan. 20. He has been invited to participate in the inauguration festivities. Imagine that!

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