Tuned In: Another Rogers show sold to PBS

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PASADENA, Calif. -- The South Side's Fred Rogers Company has sold its third children's show to PBS in as many years.

"Odd Squad" will be the company's first live-action series since "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood," but like previous animated show "Peg + Cat," TFRC is helping shepherd the show while not being all that involved in the show's scripting. PBS ordered 40 half-hour episodes and the show is expected to air during the 2014-15 TV season.

Aimed at children ages 5-8, "Odd Squad" follows two young agents, Olive and Otto, who are part of an agency that seeks to save the day using math when odd things happen. A math concept is included in each episode.

Paul Siefken, vice president of broadcast and digital media for TFRC, said "Odd Squad" creators Tim McKeon ("Adventure Time," "The Electric Company") and Adam Peltzman ("The Electric Company," "The Backyardigans") developed the show concept as part of PBS's Ready to Learn grant and then it was picked up by PBS.

"That's when Tim and Adam had to find a way to make the show," he said. TFRC had been in conversations with Toronto-based Sinking Ship Entertainment (Disney Junior's "This Is Daniel Cook," Nick Jr.'s "Dino Dan" and Amazon.com's upcoming "Annedroids") and the three entities eventually joined together for "Odd Squad" production, which begins this week in Toronto on a 25,000-square-foot set.

"They're making it look like what you might expect an FBI headquarters to look like for kids," Mr. Siefken said. "The kids get around the headquarters through a series of tubes and slides and instead of going up stairs, they climb up a rock climbing wall."

Mr. Siefken is reading scripts and giving notes but TFRC's primary role is in assisting with financing, setting a production schedule and getting the show delivered to PBS. TFRC is also involved in producing concepts for apps and games.

"We've really integrated ourselves into the process pretty well," he said. "It is a partnership. We're weighing in as part of the team. We're not necessarily giving a thumb's up or thumb's down on content."

Because of Sinking Ship's involvement and past production work in its Toronto home base, Pittsburgh was not in the running as a filming location.

"The world of television and financing right now demands there be partnerships and co-productions and The Fred Rogers Company has been at the forefront of that," Mr. Siefken said, noting that co-productions also exist on the company's "Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood" (aimed at ages 2-4) and "Peg + Cat" (aimed at ages 4-6). "We've very quickly established ourselves as a trusted partner with PBS and have a reputation for delivering content effectively and efficiently and content that always meets the mission of PBS and The Fred Rogers Company."

"Odd Squad" will be PBS's first live-action kids' show since the relaunch of "The Electric Company" in 2009.

"We have never read a script that made us laugh as much as the 'Odd Squad' script," said Lesli Rotenberg, general manager of PBS children's programming. "And the way they were able to integrate the math curriculum seamlessly; it never gets in any way pedantic."

Mr. Siefken said TFRC will take the lead role in content on future series.

"We're always working on new ideas," he said. "With three series under our belts, we have the luxury of taking our time to find the next project."

New Daniel Tiger episodes

Five new episodes of "Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood" will air the week of Feb. 17, "Daniel's Big Feelings Week," which will feature the topics of empathy, frustration, sadness and jealousy. These episodes will complete the show's 40-episode first-season order.

A second season has not yet been ordered but an official announcement on the show's renewal is expected soon.

'Broad City'

Debuting tonight at 10:30, the traditionally male-skewing Comedy Central takes another step toward leveling its gender appeal with "Broad City," which follows last year's first stab with "Inside Amy Schumer," returning April 1.

"Broad City," executive produced by Amy Poehler ("Parks and Recreation"), stars two comic up-and-comers best known for making Web videos, Ilana Glazer (the wilder one with curly hair) and Abbi Jacobson (the one with straight hair), best friends in real life who play best friends on "Broad City," a fictionalized account of their lives as 20-somethings in New York.

It's sort of a funnier, less narcissistic version of "Girls." In tonight's premiere, Abbi fakes the need for an AIDS test to get out of work; to make money, she and Ilana end up cleaning in their underwear for a weird dude in a diaper who pretends to be a baby (Fred Armisen). Yes, it's weird, raunchy humor of the kind often found in Judd Apatow movies; this is just the distaff version.

At a press conference earlier this month, Ms. Jacobson said the pair try to draw from their real lives and then exaggerate their experiences for comic effect. As executive producer, Ms. Poehler liked that approach.

"We were excited about not doing a bird's-eye view of what's it like to live in the city, in the boroughs surrounding it, but a very street level feeling and the idea that every day you meet the same cast of crazy characters and nobody's really figured out what they want to do," Ms. Poehler said. "So you catch the characters of Abbi and Ilana kind of in a moment where they're not doing what they want to do. Maybe they're not with who they want to be with. And I'd like to think that you come and watch the show just for the big comedy and the funny, funny times, but eventually you stay because you care about Abbi and Ilana and the real relationship between the two of them."

Some of the jokes are about how they treat (or mistreat) others; other times it's about how they are treated (or mistreated).

"There's a lot of stuff in the show where the girls get harassed a lot as they walk down the street for different reasons, some positive, some negative," Ms. Poehler said. "And their reactions are sometimes positive and sometimes negative depending on the mood that they're in. A lot of that comes from real life stuff, stories about Abbi and Ilana living in New York and walking down the street."

"Our catcalls are rarely positive," Ms. Jacobson said.

"And it happens to most women, just to put that out there," Ms. Glazer added.

Future guest stars include Rachel Dratch, Janeane Garofalo and Amy Sedaris.

Channel surfing

Tony-winning Broadway actress Patina Miller ("Pippin"), a 2006 Carnegie Mellon University graduate, will star in an episode of PBS's "Live From Lincoln Center" (9 p.m. March 28, WQED-TV). ... The Corporation for Public Broadcasting awarded a $1.5 million grant to Philadelphia PBS station WHYY for creation of Keystone Crossroads, a multimedia local journalism center. Pittsburgh's WQED is among the partner stations in this venture that will focus on coverage of urban challenges, including infrastructure and budget deficits.

On the web

Read more coverage from the Television Critics Association winter press tour in Tuned In Journal 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 winter press tour. Follow RobOwenTV at Twitter or Facebook. You can reach him at 412-263-2582 or rowen@post-gazette.com.

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