The Case of the Haunted Computer
In the premiere episode of Ghostwriter, twelve-year-old Jamal Jenkins gets the surprise of his life when he discovers that his computer is housing a ghost who’s trying to talk to him. The spirit begins asking him surprising and cryptic questions, such as “Where are the children? Are they all right? ” and goes on to contact several other young people in Jamal’s Brooklyn, New York neighborhood. The six kids are soon drawn into helping the spirit unravel mysterious events that are happening in their neighborhood.
The ghost in the fast-paced mystery series -- who turns out to be more good- natured than mysterious -- can only communicate with the children through the written word, and messages appear in the form of magical animated letters. He helps the kids to sharpen their communication skills, organize their thoughts, and figure out where to go when they need information.
The fast-paced mystery adventure series encouraged active participation, inviting viewers to use literacy and problem-solving skills as each mystery unfolded over the course of four half-hour episodes. Using rock and hip-hop as a backdrop, the show presented characters, friendships, families, and everyday challenges that young viewers can relate to. It also addressed real-life problems like drug addiction, toxic waste, and homelessness.
Ghostwriter’s curriculum goals were:
- To motivate children to enjoy and value reading and writing
- To show children how to use effective reading and writing strategies
- To provide children with compelling opportunities to read and write
Dr. Rita Weisskoff, who supervised the development of Ghostwriter’s educational content, explained to The New York Times’ Susan Chira in 1992 that the challenge was to combine the learning seamlessly with the mystery and fun.
"Our viewers at this age have such a nose for smelling out the educational message -- you can't stop the story dead for a teaching moment," Weisskoff said.
To complement the show’s first season in 1992, Sesame Workshop (then Children’s Television Workshop) distributed twenty million copies of Ghostwriter magazine to schools and after-school centers, giving free copies to PBS for local outreach efforts. The Workshop also delivered teaching materials to classrooms and published a monthly Ghostwriter newsletter. Bantam Doubleday Dell published a series of books that novelized the show’s episodes, including the titles. In the mid-1990s, GPN and Republic Pictures released the series on VHS.
The series ran for three seasons, from 1992 until 1995. A second version of the show, The New Ghostwriter Mysteries, aired for one season on CBS in 1997.
"Do you see me now through my dis-gweeze... dis-gwize? Dis-quize?" Man! This guy writes some weird letters! (Hector Carrero, deciphering a note containing the word “disguise”)
“He's a ghost...and he writes to us. Ghostwriter.” (Jamal Jenkins)
“He sees things, but he can't hear and he can't talk. If you want to talk to him, you have to write it out because he can read anything.” (Lenni Frazier)
Guest stars included Julia Stiles (episode 51), Samuel L. Jackson (episode 6), Spike Lee (episode 14), and Dule Hill.
The Ghostwriter team included:
- Smart, inquisitive 12-year old Jamal Jenkins (actor: Sheldon Turnipseed)
- Gutsy, streetwise 11-year-old Lenni Frazier (actor: Blaze Berdahl)
- Easygoing, athletic 12-year-old Alex Fernandez (actor: David López)
- Talkative, spunky 9-year-old Gaby Fernandez (actor: Mayteana Morales in seasons one and two; Melissa Fernandez in season three)
- Creative, organized Tina Nguyen (actor: Tram-Anh Tran)
- Shy, poetic Rob Baker (actor: Todd Alexander; left during second season)
In the second season, Puerto Rican character Hector Carrero (actor: William Hernandez) and Jamal’s cousin Casey Austin (Lateaka Vinson) joined the Ghostwriter team.
Bantam Doubleday Dell book series
A weekly Ghostwriter feature appeared in newspapers, featuring word games, puzzles, and children’s writing, and reaching 5 million readers each week.
Ghostwriter Classroom Activity Booklet
Software – Microsoft and and Children’s Television Workshop developed a Ghostwriter add-on component to the popular “Creative Writer” software.
Number of Seasons
Reruns aired on PBS from 1995 to 1999
Number of Episodes
Season one: 8
Season two: 24
Season three: 42
Serial live action
New Ghostwriter Mysteries: CBS
Target Audience Age