"Thomas & Friends" is returning for a new season on PBS Kids, and in a nod to the growing popularity of the British tank engine and his pals, the show is getting a big upgrade on the PBS schedule.
After running in syndication on the weekends since 2004, the series is getting bumped up to PBS' national feed on weekdays beginning Oct. 7, where it will begin running daily for a potential audience of 95 million households.
Additionally, a new section of the PBS Kids website (pbskids.org) will be dedicated to Thomas, for parents to stream videos for the kids, when the daily airing of the CG animated series just isn't enough.
The venerable "Thomas & Friends" series, which has aired in the U.S. since 1989, has been enjoying a recent surge in ratings, with the show seeing a 55% audience increase from two years ago and a 33% increase of its target audience, children ages 2-5, over the course of the last year.
The series began airing in the U.K. in 1984 as "Thomas the Tank Engine & Friends." The live-action series was adapted from "The Railway Series" by the Rev. Wilbert Awdry and his son, Christopher Awdry. Ringo Starr was the original narrator of the series, but in subsequent seasons he was replaced by such notable names as George Carlin, Alec Baldwin and Pierce Brosnan. Actor Mark Moraghan serves as the show's current narrator.
In addition to the new season and more frequent reruns, PBS also plans to air the one-hour Thomas movie special, "King of the Railway," which was previously released direct-to-DVD.