Tuned In: Rogers Company debuts third series

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BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. – South Side-based The Fred Rogers Company premieres its third PBS Kids series in as many years with the Nov. 26 debut of “Odd Squad,” the company’s first live-action series since “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.”

Developed for children ages 5-8, “Odd Squad” follows two young agents, Olive (Dalila Bela) and Otto (Filip Geljo), who are part of an agency that investigates odd occurrences, using math to solve mysteries. A math concept is included in each episode.

Preview clips showed an elaborate Odd Squad headquarters set with a ball pit as a conference room and a slide that parallels stairs from the second floor to the first floor. “Odd Squad” features special effects galore with a computer-generated dinosaur running through one of the show’s scenes. The visual look is sort of a pint-sized “Men in Black.”

Production on 40 half-hour episodes of “Odd Squad” began in January in Toronto and continues (they’re filming episode 19 now). Each episode features two 11-minute stories with interstitials between that continue the math concept theme that runs through each episode.

Lesli Rotenberg, general manager of PBS children’s programming, said “Odd Squad” is designed to help children develop positive attitudes about math.

“As kids join in the adventure they learn the importance of working together, communication and perseverance, skills that are critical for success in school and life,” she said.

"Odd Squad" creators Tim McKeon ("Adventure Time," "The Electric Company") and Adam Peltzman ("The Electric Company," "The Backyardigans") said they initially had a list of math topics -- time, temperature, geometry -- that they found naturally helped form the backbone of the show’s stories.

“Some people say math is boring,” Mr. McKeon said. “I think there are boring ways to talk about math. Our challenge is to tell a funny, exciting story. … A show doesn’t have to be educational or funny; educational or action-packed. We’re trying to be educational and funny and action-packed.”

Paul Siefken, vice president of broadcast and digital media for The Fred Rogers Company, said “Odd Squad” is more of a problem-solving show than it is a math show.

“What kids get excited about is not the math, it’s about solving the problem,” He said. “The way to solve the problem is using math skills.”

The Fred Rogers Company’s “Peg + Cat,” which debuted in fall 2013, continues to unspool its first season episodes, and conversations have begun about a second season. “Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood,” which premiered in fall 2012, begins its second season Aug. 18 with a one-hour episode that introduces Daniel’s new baby sister, Margaret.

‘Fargo’ details

"Fargo" writer and executive producer Noah Hawley teased out some details for the second season of the FX miniseries late Monday afternoon. Mr. Hawley said there were seeds planted in season one about the plot of season two, particularly all those references to Sioux Falls, S.D.

"That wasn't an accident," he said.

The next 10-hour story takes place in 1979 in Laverne, Minn., in Fargo and in Sioux Falls. Those references to Sioux Falls involved Lou Solverson, played by Keith Carradine in season one. So Lou will be back as a 33-year-old Vietnam War vet but played by a younger actor. Ditto for his daughter Molly, played by Allison Tolman in season one.

"I told Allison unless she could channel her 4-year-old self we weren’t going to be able to have her in season two, which is a crime and tragedy and you should all be very mad at us for doing that because I would like nothing more than to see the continuing adventures of Molly and Gus but it felt disingenuous in the service of truthiness to give them another Coen Brothers case," Mr. Hawley said.

Viewers might meet Molly's mother, Betsy, and Mr. Hawley didn't rule out Ms. Tolman returning to play that role but he seemed to lean away from it. Viewers will also meet Betsy's dad, a sheriff.

Another returning character is Lt. Ben Schmidt of the Duluth police department, who will also be played by a new, younger actor.

"There were a lot of clues left in the first season about the events and how they unfolded there and we will do our best to hit those in unexpected ways," Mr. Hawley said.

As in season one, season two will jump off from a completely fabricated story, though it will be presented as a "true story."

"It's about creating truthiness out of falsehoods and a lot of that has to do with the way the story unfolds because truth is stranger than fiction," Mr. Hawley said. "The goal for me is not to find a real-life case; it's to create a fictional case that feels real."

Production begins in January — again in Calgary — and wraps in May, so season two will likely air in fall 2015.

"The most important element to our DNA is tone," said executive producer Warren Littlefield. "More than the time of year or the exact town or the exact character, it's the tone we create that's so unique."

‘Men’ goes gay

For the final season of CBS sitcom “Two and a Half Men,” Walden (Ashton Kutcher) and Alan (Jon Cryer) will pretend to be gay and get married for the sole purpose of making it easier to adopt a child.

CBS Entertainment chairman Nina Tassler said Walden has a health scare, leading to an existential crisis where he wants more meaning in his life.

“So he decides he wants to adopt a child,” Ms. Tassler said. “He starts the process, and he realizes it’s very difficult to adopt a child as a single, straight man. So once and for all he decides he’s going to propose to Alan, we’re going to get married, and adopt a child as a gay couple.”

So, sort of the old “Three’s Company” gag reconfigured (Jack Tripper played gay so he could live with two women).

Ms. Tassler said Walden and Alan will adopt an older child — in the 5-to-7 age range — which suggests the child will come from foster care. While infant adoption through an agency may be more difficult for single, straight men, adopting an older child through foster care probably wouldn’t be significantly more difficult than it would be for a single woman. But, whatever, this is a sitcom, not an attempting-to-be-realistic drama.

Ms. Tassler indicated the emphasis is going to be more on the notion of marriage equality.

“With the relationship between Walden and Alan, people have always raised questions about Alan’s sexuality, and it plays into a very public conversation," she said. “It is legal to adopt children and be married as a gay couple. ... [Executive producer] Chuck [Lorre] has been expert at taking very sensitive topics and bringing them out into the open. We’re gonna talk about this and we’re gonna laugh about it.”

Mr. Lorre said the men will adopt a child that’s fallen through the cracks and needs a home.

“It kind of brings the show full circle to two men trying to imbue whatever they know about life and being a man and being a human being to a young boy,” he said, “which is really where we started 12 years ago. The intent is really good, to take a child out of the system and give him a good home with people who love him. That’s the ultimate intent here and the shenanigans to get there is just that.”

Mr. Lorre said Amber Tamblyn will return but no decision has been made about the possible return of former series star Angus T. Jones, who is now in college, Mr. Lorre said.

As for the possibility of original series star Charlie Sheen returning, Ms. Tassler said there are no conversations about a Sheen appearance on the show at this time.

“We have no plans with that as well,” Mr. Lorre concurred.

Channel surfing

Cable’s TCM will remember the late James Garner Monday by airing 12 of his movies, including “Grand Prix” (9:30 a.m.), “Cash McCall” (12:30 p.m.) and “Darby’s Rangers” (4 p.m.). … “Downton Abbey” returns to PBS for its fifth season Jan. 4; “Call the Midwife” back for its fourth season March 29. … On Veterans Day, PBS debuts “Navy Seals – Their Untold Story” (9 p.m. Nov. 11). … PBS’s “American Experience” will explore the life of Walt Disney in a four-hour, two-night film in fall 2015. … HBO’s concert special “On the Run Tour: Beyonce and Jay Z” will premiere at 9 p.m. Sept. 20.

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.

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