In 1989, DiC Entertainment (now Cookie Jar Entertainment) adapted the first Madeline book into an animated television special for HBO. The show's teleplay was written by Judy Rothman, who would serve as a writer, lyricist and story editor for nearly all subsequent Madeline animated projects. The special was narrated by Christopher Plummer, and featured original music and songs by Joe Raposo (who died four months before the special aired), with lyrics by Judy Rothman. The special was nominated for an Emmy Award for Best Animated Program (One Hour or Less).

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