Thomas is the American television series based on the Railway Series by the Reverend W. Awdry. It was adapted for television by Britt Allcroftusing the original stories from the Railway Series before using original stories written by independent writers. The series has been broadcast in over 185 territories and has spawned twenty-two series with a twenty-third currently airing, a theatrical film, and fourteen direct-to-DVD specials.
The series is currently produced by Mattel Creations taking over HiT Entertainment, who filmed the series since its acquisition of Gullane Entertainment in 2002.
Thomas & Friends is a television series mainly based around railway engines that live on the Island of Sodor. The show is mainly about the title character, Thomas, a cheeky little blue tank engine with six small wheels, a short stumpy funnel, a short stumpy boiler and a short stumpy dome. Thomas & Friends takes place on the standard gauge North Western Railway, the narrow gauge Skarloey Railway and the 15-inch gauge Arlesdale Railway. The head of the North Western Railway is Sir Topham Hatt, affectionately by the engines and staff, the Skarloey Railway is operated by Mr. Percival, "The Thin Controller" and the Arlesdale Railway is operated by Fergus Duncan, "The Small Controller."
The result was Shining Time Station, starring Ringo Starr as Mr. Conductor, which began airing in 1989. This was another hit for Allcroft and was the beginning of the "Thomas craze" in America.
When the television series returned in 1991 with the third series, there were some big changes. Instead of following closely to the Railway Series, Allcroft and Mitton loosely adapted many of the Reverend's stories as well as loosely adapted magazine stories written by the current head writer Andrew Brenner (who unfortunately did not get credited for these adaptations), they even wrote their own episodes, much to the Reverend's disdain. The fourth series, airing in 1995, only had one original episode however and featured many new characters such as the Skarloey Railway engines. The series was doing incredibly well after that and a full-length theatrical film soon loomed ahead. Britt Allcroft decided to drift completely away from Railway Series stories and in 1998, the fifth series, contained all original storylines (possibly loosely adapted from unused TUGS scripts). This was so Britt could showcase the series as her own before the upcoming film.
The full-length theatrical film gained the title, Thomas and the Magic Railroad, and after many changes from the original script, it premiered in July 2000. The film had mixed views and despite being well received in America, the film was a huge box-office failure and Allcroft was forced off the series. Her company was sold to Gullane Entertainment and they, in turn, were later sold. In 2001, the idea for a spin-off focusing on the non-rail vehicleswas being tossed around at Gullane. It is possible that this idea later became Jack and the Sodor Construction Company. During the process, the sixth series was produced and aired in 2002, as was the seventh in 2003. The buyer turned out to be HiT Entertainment and the eighth series, that aired in 2004, came with drastic changes. The episodes became more formulaic in plot with the focus on morals and education. Since the eighth series this format is still being carried out for all the following series with great success. 2005 saw the broadcasting of the ninth series as well as the release of the first direct-to-DVD special, Calling All Engines! The tenth series aired in 2006 and was the only production to contain twenty-eight episodes unlike the usual twenty-six. The first broadcasting of the eleventh series took place in 2007 and this marked the final series to contain twenty-six episodes, until the seventeenth series.
The second direct-to-DVD special, The Great Discovery was released in 2008 and this marked the final full live-action production. One of the most revolutionary steps in the show's history also took place in 2008, when it was announced that Thomas & Friends would be produced using computer generated imagery (CGI). The show would be produced in Canada at Nitrogen Studios and the twelfth series used CGI for the faces of the engines, the people and the animals alongside the traditional live-action format. This was also the first series to contain twenty episodes and this format continued until the seventeenth series. The first CG animated production was the 2009 direct-to-DVD special, Hero of the Rails, directed by Greg Tiernan. This was also the first time the engines and people had individual voice actors since Thomas and the Magic Railroad. The voice acting continued for all series and specials hereafter.
2010 saw the first year to have two series, the thirteenth and fourteenth. Another feature length special, Misty Island Rescue, was released that Autumn. The fifteenth series premiered in early 2011 and the next direct-to-DVD special, Day of the Diesels, was released in Autumn 2011. During that October, Mattel won HiT Entertainment in an auction by Apax Partners, HiT's owners and in February 2012 the money was transferred. February 2012 also saw the premiere of the sixteenth series in the UK. It was the last series animated by Nitrogen Studios, the last to have Sharon Miller as the head writer and the final series to contain twenty episodes. Blue Mountain Mystery was released in September 2012. It was the last special to involve Nitrogen Studios and Miller.
A second theatrical film, supposedly titled The Adventures of Thomas, was set to be released in 2011, but years later and still with no news on any further developments, it is unknown whether the project will actually move on. Although there has been no official confirmation of the project's cancellation, it is presumable that the film has been scrapped.
Thomas & Friends celebrated their 70th Anniversary in 2015. To celebrate this milestone, a 44-minute special, The Adventure Begins was released in Spring 2015, the first feature to include original stories by the Rev. W. Awdry since 1995. The first four episodes of the nineteenth series premiered The nineteenth series also first aired on 13th October 2015 in the US.
On 22nd August 2016, it was confirmed that Jam Filled had successfully acquired the entirety of Arc Productions and some former Arc staff regaining their jobs, resumed working on animation for Thomas & Friends under the new management and organisation name. September 2016 saw the release of the next direct-to-DVD special, The Great Race. The twentieth series began broadcasting in the US on the 21st of October 2016. HiT Entertainment and SiF released a poll in which fans voted for what they wanted to see rendered in CG for this series. Notably, this was the first series since series 4 to adapt Railway Series stories, with the book Small Railway Engines being adapted into the final three episodes of the series.
In 2017, a special entitled Journey Beyond Sodor aired in the autumn. The twenty-first series also premiered in autumn 2017 and it is the first series entirely animated by Jam Filled Entertainment. The series was cut short in order to allow for development of the twenty-second series. This series saw the addition of more slapstick humor and fast pacing in an effort to ease audiences into the soft reboot that occurred the next series.
- Series 1 (1989-1990)
- Series 2 (1989-1990)
- Series 3 (1991-1992)
- Series 4 (1994-1995)
- Series 5 (1999)
- Series 6 (2002)
- Series 7 (2004)
- Series 8 (2004)
- Series 9 (2005)
- Series 10 (2006)
- Series 11 (2007)
- Series 12 (2008)
- Series 13 (2010)
- Series 14 (2010)
- Series 15 (2011)
- Series 16 (2012)
- Series 17 (2013-2014)
- Series 18 (2014-2015)
- Series 19 (2015-2016)
- Series 20 (2016-2017)
- Series 21 (2017)
- Series 22 (2018)
- Series 23 (2019)
- Series 24 (2020)
- Series 25 (TBA)
- Thomas and the Magic Railroad (2000)
- Calling All Engines! (2005)
- The Great Discovery (2008)
- Hero of the Rails (2009)
- Misty Island Rescue (2010)
- Day of the Diesels (2011)
- Blue Mountain Mystery (2012)
- King of the Railway (2013)
- Tale of the Brave (2014)
- The Adventure Begins (2015)
- Sodor's Legend of the Lost Treasure (2015)
- The Great Race (2016)
- Journey Beyond Sodor (2017)
- Big World! Big Adventures! (2018)
These are the narrators of the show in the United States. Some of the narrators were also called Mr. Conductor
- George Carlin (US narrator for series 1–4; 1991–1996)
- Alec Baldwin (US narrator for series 5–6; 1998–2003)
- Michael Brandon (US narrator for series 7–16, 2003–2012)
- Pierce Brosnan (US narrator for The Great Discovery and the original cut of series 12; 2008)
- Mark Moraghan (US narrator for series 17–21; 2013–2018)
- Joseph May (US narrator for series 22-present; 2018-present)
- More information can be found at Sodor Island Fansite's Behind the Scenes page.
- Every narrator of the series at least a few episodes for the US.
- Four real engines have been featured in the show - Stepney has made a number of appearances and City of Truro and Flying Scotsman (tenders only) played minor roles in two third series episodes. The latter is also featured in the 2016 special The Great Race. City of Truro also briefly cameoed in one sixteenth series episode. Also, Stephen, more famously known as The Rocket, belongs to Sir Robert Norramby in the television series universe and is subsequently a regular character in the series.
- When the first two series came out, the font that was used was Bevin. From series 3-7, the show's font was Rockwell, from series 8-present, the show used Flange BQ (Bold).
- Thomas, Edward, Henry, Gordon, James, Percy, Toby, Annie, Clarabel, and Sir Topham Hatt are the only characters who have appeared in every series of the series, all of whom except Annie and Clarabel also had a speaking role in each series. Out of all of them, Thomas, Henry, Gordon, and James are the only characters who have appeared in every special. In addition, Thomas, Henry, and James are the only characters to have at least one line of dialogue in every special.
- There are no characters that have appeared in every episode of the series, not even Thomas himself. However, the narrator seems to have lines in every single episode, despite not technically being a character.
- Thomas appears and speaks in every episode of the thirteenth, fourteenth, fifteenth and nineteenth series. He also appears in every episode of the ninth, sixteenth and twentieth series, despite not speaking in all of them. However, starting from Big World! Big Adventures! and the twenty second series onwards, Thomas himself takes over the role of narration, telling it from his point of view.
- Tidmouth Sheds is the only location to appear in every series of the franchise.
- The engines and rolling stock seen from the first series were made out of modified Märklin gauge 1 models.
- The rolling stock seen from series 1 to series 5 were made out of modified Tenmille gauge 1 kits. Tenmille still make some of these wagons today. From series 6 onwards, they were all scratch built.
- There are over 500 episodes of Thomas & Friends, with the 500th being P.A. Problems. The 550th episode will air in Series 23.