What has pink ears and pearly white fangs, wears black, thick-framed glasses (sometimes with flip-up shades), and is always crashing into things?
Kids know: It's Batly, one of the happy-go-zany characters that inhabit Eureeka's Castle, Nickelodeon's popular and much-praised puppet show for preschoolers now in its second season.
On Eureeka's Castle, the brash Batly a bat, naturally has lots of memorable company. Eureeka is a pig-tailed moptop, human variety, who's a wizardess in training and already has sprouted cute little croissant-like wizard horns. Then there's Magellan, a bumbling baby dragon with an unruly, ever-thrashing tail; Quagmire and Bogge, the squabbling Moat Twins; Mr. Knack, the castle's handyman; and Crawdaddy-o, a wise-cracking fish.
Eureeka's Castle is a flat-out favorite of kids, but grown-ups also approve. Last spring the show won an ACE award, cable's Emmy equivalent. In response to all this applause, Nickelodeon programmers have increased Eureeka's airtime from five days a week to seven.
The creators of Eureeka's Castle say there's one good reason for the show's success: the yuk factor. ''We studied up and we think we know the three things that make little kids laugh,'' says executive producer Kit Laybourne, 46. The supposedly surefire big three:
Laugh Secret No. 1: Wordplay.
Batly crashes into Eureeka's kitchen. Eureeka's horns twitch a few times and she says, ''Hey, why don't you knock before you drop in.'' Batly's comeback: ''I did knock. I knocked my head.''
Or, Batly talking to his pet insects: ''Knock, knock.''
Insects: ''Who's there?''
Insects: ''Don who?'' Batly: ''Don go away, 'cause here's something that'll really make your day.''
Says Laybourne, ''Preschoolers love jokes, including stupid jokes, much more than adults.''
Secret No. 2: Sight gags and physical shtick.
Whenever Magellan sneezes, the entire castle shakes. And Batly's entrances are always head-bangers and laugh-producers. ''Big, big yuk getters,'' Laybourne says. ''Can't have enough.''