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While the Barney phenomenon has taken off to an amazing extent, so has the Barney backlash.

There are people out there who devote an amazing portion of their lives to their I-Hate-Barney campaigns - a rather interesting reaction to a character who promotes love and friendship.But if the Barney bashers think they've hurt the feelings of Barney's creator, they're remarkably wrong.

"I think that when a program is viewed by 13 million viewers a week and it's on several times a day to 93 percent of all American homes, the law of averages would say that there would be some negative comments," said Sheryl Leach, who's both the creator of the purple dinosaur and one of "Barney and Friends' " executive producers. "And it doesn't really concern us because with Barney, we're really here for the children. And our programming is targeted only to children."

And that seems to be the problem that the Barney-bashing adults seem to have with the show. Yes, it's sweet and childlike, but it's supposed to be. "Barney and Friends" is not meant to appeal to adults.

"I think that (the bashing) is a very logical thing because I think we might be the first programming in recent years that has designed programming specifically for the child," Leach said. "We really put nothing in our programs for adults. We put no adult humor.

"We design our programming to be very simple and very childlike, and to really model childhood itself. We feel very, very pleased that we receive about 17,000 letters a week, and the letters that we receive are from parents and children who love what we're doing.

"They love the simplicity of it, and the kind of home-grown feel that we have. So when we read that a parent has said something that's not very favorable, we take it with a grain of salt because we realize that our audience - our preschoolers - are the votes we count most."

Leach does, however, question exactly why her creation has been the object of so much negativism.

"I think that the Barney programming could have been written and produced in the '40s, '50s or '60s," she said. "It's very timeless. And I think that children of all ages and children of tomorrow come into the world exactly the same way - they come in innocent and simple and kind and loving. And I think that's what our programming does best.

"And I think that if we're criticized for that, we need to look to our society and ask why. If a parent would rather that his or her child be watching something that is violent versus something that is simple, loving and kind, I think there's a question we need to ask."

But, all in all, "The criticism has not bothered us at all."

Good for Leach and the rest of the folks behind Barney.

And just a word of advice to Barney bashers - get a life.

CHANGES: "Barney and Friends" returned to the air this week with new episodes - at last.

There have been a few changes. A few new kids and a new dinosaur - Baby Bop's big, yellow brother.

(Baby Bop herself is considerably smaller than she was last year, a more appropriate size than when she towered over the kids.)

And among the developments either under way or forthcoming, Tina breaks her arm, Tasha's mother gives birth to twins, and one of the boys gets glasses.

We'll also be seeing a child in a wheelchair, a hearing-impaired child, and a child with Down syndrome.

UPCOMING PROJECTS: No deal has been signed, but the Barney producers are talking to NBC about an hourlong prime-time special, which would air sometime early next year.

But reports that Barney would have his own Saturday morning cartoon are nothing more than unfounded rumors.

"Networks have come to us about doing an animated series for Saturday morning. And we have consistently turned those offers down," Leach said. "We feel that we want to be true to what we're about. And we are a live-action show, so we have no plans to do an animated version."

BARNEY SINGS: Barney may not be coming to cartoons, but he's already in your local music store.

The Purple One's first album, titled "Barney's Favorites, Vol. 1," was recently released.

It's a 27-song collection of tunes that will be familiar to all little Barney lovers - and their parents. Starting with "Barney's Theme Song" and continuing through "I Love You," it's the music that's such a big part of the TV show.

They've included the words for these songs - everything from "Me and My Teddy" to "Bingo" to "Apples and Bananas" to "Sarasponda" - but the kids won't need them. Even my 2-year-old twins already know the words.

The kids will love the album. It's great fun for them - and it will keep 'em busy for a while singing and dancing.

(And they're probably anxiously awaiting Vol. 2.)

SHELLEY'S SICK: Because "Good Advice" star Shelley Long is suffering from a viral infection, she hasn't been able to work.

So the show won't be ready for its scheduled season premiere on Oct. 22. That's been pushed back, and additional episodes of "Family Album" - which was supposed to be on hiatus - will air until Long and "Advice" are ready to go.

STRANGE COINCIDENCE: Last Saturday's BYU at UCLA football game included an incident that, oddly enough, closely paralleled an incident in last Thursday's episode of "The Simpsons."

On "The Simpsons," the family was going into a witness protection program. When an agent told Homer he could assume any identity he wanted, Homer - being a moron - immediately said, "I want to be John Elway."

The scene cut to Homer imagining himself as Elway, leading the Broncos to a last-second touchdown in the Super Bowl. As Homer celebrated wildly, viewers got a look at the scoreboard - and saw that Denver had just suffered another humiliating defeat.

Then, on Saturday, backup quarterback Tom Young led BYU to the final score of the game, throwing for a Cougar touchdown. Young went wild, celebrating with abandon.

That touchdown made the final score 68-14 in favor of UCLA.