Tuned In: Rogers Co. has hand in new PBS series

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BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. -- Following on the success of "Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood," the South Side-based Fred Rogers Company already has an encore: "Peg + Cat," an animated PBS Kids show that follows Peg, who is 5 or 6, and her sidekick, Cat, as they learn and model math concepts and problem-solving skills.

This daily series, debuting Oct. 7, is the first FRC program without a direct link to "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood," and the series was created by producers Jennifer Oxley and Billy Aronson independently before FRC got involved.

"We kind of worked it out so we said, you guys create the show, make all the characters and music and we'll manage the property," said Paul Siefken, who joined FRC as the vice president of broadcast and digital media in July after working as director of children's programming at PBS. "I think 'Peg + Cat' works for the Fred Rogers Company because Fred Rogers was somebody who was fascinated with the medium and television and wanted to figure out how it could be used to educate children, and he always wanted to push the medium. What Jen and Billy have done is a really innovative approach to teaching math to preschoolers."

PBS promo for new children's show

PBS is introducing a new children's program called "Peg + Cat," from the creative team of Jennifer Oxley and Billy Aronson. (8/7/2013)

Lesli Rotenberg, general manager of PBS children's programming, said "Peg + Cat" is designed to model resilience, collaboration and perseverance to children ages 3-5.

"And it adds a positive role model for girls who are less likely than boys to pursue math in higher education," she said. "Peg is a complex character who real kids can identify with."

Each half-hour episode of "Peg + Cat" comprises two 12-minute segments that use music to help teach math skills.

"There's so much math in music beats if not patterns," Mr. Aronson said. "Also, a lot of what we're teaching needs to be repeated over and over. You can't watch a 12-minute episode and get that right away."

Mr. Siefken said the use of music in exploring a problem is reminiscent of Rogers' approach.

"He broke things down into their components," Mr. Siefken said. "He was fascinated with taking things apart and seeing how they could work, and that deconstruction philosophy works well in 'Peg + Cat' when there are math problems and they deconstruct it and figure out how it works."

The first segment in each episode will present a math concept and the second story will build on the concept from the first story. PBS has ordered 40 episodes with 10 episodes ready to debut at launch and the rest peppered in over the subsequent 18 months. (It takes 33 weeks to take an episode from script to final picture.)

As much as "Peg + Cat" is a math show, Mr. Siefken said it's also a problem-solving show.

"The Fred Rogers Company is known for social-emotional development with children, and the thing about problem-solving is I dare anybody to come up with a problem, no matter how academic, that didn't involve emotions," he said. "Peg and Cat come up with problems that they have to solve, and the emotions that come with it. ... They come out with a solution that always works, and [is] always happy, and there's always a celebration that they give a musical high-five at the end. And that's something that I think really fits with the Fred Rogers philosophy."

"Peg + Cat" likely won't be the last show to come to TV that FRC has a hand in.

"We are absolutely continuing to look at ideas and reach out to creative people who we think take the approach that Fred Rogers took in making content," Mr. Siefken said, "where someone who is looking at doing what's best for the kids in whatever they're making and then also taking a really innovative and creative and groundbreaking approach to the content that they want to create. So we're continuing to look for new ideas."

PBS update

Gwen Ifill and Judy Woodruff have been named co-anchors and managing editors of "PBS NewsHour," anchoring together Monday through Thursday. Ms. Woodruff will anchor solo on Friday while Ms. Ifill hosts PBS's "Washington Week." "PBS NewsHour" hasn't had a named anchor since 2009.

"Coming Back With Wes Moore," airing in May 2014, will explore the personal stories of U.S. military veterans returning home from combat zones.

"Downton Abbey" returns for a new season on Jan. 5. New seasons of "Sherlock," "Mr. Selfridge," "The Bletchley Circle" and "Call the Midwife" will also be back in 2014.

An airdate for "Sherlock" has not been set; "Downton" will continue to air in the U.S. a few months after it airs in England. Given the increasing ratings for "Downton" on PBS, this is no surprise because the delayed broadcast hasn't hurt the show's popularity even if it rankles some American "Downton" fans.

Interest in "Downton" has had a halo effect on PBS with its ratings up while other broadcast network ratings decline. PBS president Paula Kerger said the network's prime-time ratings are up 5 percent year-to-year with a 26 percent rise on Sunday. Wednesday ratings rose 17 percent over two years. And while "Downton" obviously helped, Ms. Kerger emphasized it wasn't the only factor.

"Obviously eight hours of programming is not going to change our ratings for a year," Ms. Kerger said.

A new 'Roadshow'

PBS's "Market Warriors" didn't last, but the broadcaster is trying again with another reality-style show and importing half of the title of the popular "Antiques Roadshow" to help launch "Genealogy Roadshow" (9 p.m. Sept. 23).

The show uses the tagline "It's all relatives" and will chronicle genealogists as they use history and science to uncover family stories of the show's participants.

The series is executive produced by Stuart Krasnow ("The Weakest Link," "Average Joe") and Carlos Ortiz ("The Amazing Race"), who said they're able to cast the show with a wider net than when they work on commercial broadcast network shows.

"One of the best parts about the show is we don't have to go for a specific look or over-the-top personalities," Mr. Ortiz said. "We are looking specifically for authenticity and diversity within the cast itself. We won't go for a bunch of claims about [descendants of] the Mayflower. We want to spread it out. We don't have to say, do they fit the looks bill? We're looking to see, do they fit the cool, authentic history bill? It's just one of those educational programs."

A great 'Last Tango'

PBS's "Last Tango in Halifax" (8 p.m. Sept. 8) is by far the most impressive scripted drama pilot of the fall, far exceeding anything on ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC or The CW. ("Marvel's Agents of SHIELD" is my second favorite pilot.)

"Last Tango in Halifax" stars Derek Jacobi and Anne Reid as elderly singles who reconnect decades after knowing one another in high school.

The pilot episode is romantic, entertaining, dramatic and funny. And the stories aren't limited to these two leads but also stretch out to their character's children, too.

"One of the great joys of this particular drama is the bedrock of the drama is a love affair between two older people," Mr. Jacobi said during a press conference. "Actually, the age is not stressed. It is a love affair between two people who happen to be in their 70s."

Mr. Jacobi and Ms. Reid appeared at the press conference via satellite because they're filming the show's second season across the pond. PBS programming executive Beth Hoppe said PBS has not yet picked up the second season but has "dibs" on it.

'Magic' gone

At his press tour appearance in July, Starz CEO Chris Albrecht dodged a question about the future of "Magic City."

"As I've said before, our policy process is one or two seasons of a show to really get behind something if we like the work," Mr. Albrecht said. "We're now evaluating all the options with 'Magic City.' "

Not exactly a ringing endorsement, so it should come as little surprise that this week Starz canceled the show. The second-season finale -- now the series finale -- airs Friday at 9 p.m.

CNN sets new schedule

CNN will re-launch "Crossfire," airing the show weekdays at 6:30 p.m. starting Sept. 16 with Newt Gingrich, Stephanie Cutter, S.E. Cupp and Van Jones sparring over political news of the day.

That same day Anderson Cooper will host "AC 360 Later" at 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday. This spinoff will be a panel discussion show.

In addition to his duties hosting "The Situation Room," Wolf Blitzer will anchor "Newsroom" for an hour at 1 p.m. weekdays.

Channel surfing

Juan Pablo Galavis, a single father from Miami, Fla., was announced as the next star of "The Bachelor" on Monday's season finale of "The Bachelorette." A new season of "The Bachelor" will air on ABC in January. ... "Nick News With Linda Ellerbee" (8 p.m. Tuesday) features children talking about their experiences with domestic violence. ... MTV renewed "Awkward" for a fourth season with new showrunners Chris Alberghini and Mike Chessler ("90210," "Cashmere Mafia") attached. The balance of the third season begins airing in October. ... Live + 7 ratings for Disney Channel's "Teen Beach Movie" boosted viewership of the premiere by more than 5 million viewers to 13.5 million viewers, making it the No. 2 cable movie telecast behind "High School Musical 2."

On the web

Read more coverage from the Television Critics Association summer press tour in Tuned In Journal and see video of "Peg + Cat" at post-gazette.com/tv.


A portion of this column originally appeared online in the Tuned In Journal blog. Post-Gazette TV writer Rob Owen is attending the Television Critics Association summer press tour. Follow RobOwenTV at Twitter or on Facebook. You can reach Rob at 412-263-2582 or rowen@post-gazette.com. First Published August 7, 2013 4:00 AM


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