Characters from the new PBS series "Dinosaur Train."
By Rob Owen Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Children love dinosaurs.
Children love trains.
PBS bets its youngest viewers will love them together in "Dinosaur Train," a new computer-animated series from Jim Henson Productions that premieres Monday with a marathon of episodes on WQED (8-10 a.m.).
Last fall PBS rolled out Henson's "Sid the Science Kid," a well-received series, but "Dinosaur Train" seems poised for even greater success thanks to the clever conceit of pairing dinosaurs and trains.
Series creator Craig Bartlett was inspired when he saw his son, now in college, playing with trains and dinosaurs together back when his son was in preschool. The show's goal: To teach ecology, biology, natural science and paleontology at a level kids can understand. "Dinosaur Train" succeeds at integrating its curriculum with entertaining stories and cute dinosaur characters.
Each "Dinosaur Train" episode begins with the show's catchy, twangy theme song that sets up the premise: Preschool-age Tyrannosaurus rex Buddy hatched from his egg in the nest of a Pteranodon family that takes him in as one of its own. The family often takes field trips on the Dinosaur Train to meet different types of dinosaurs, including a T. rex family that helps Buddy understand his own background.
"We are showing a very friendly dinosaur world," acknowledged Lisa Henson, co-CEO of The Jim Henson Co., at a press conference last month in Pasadena, Calif. "They do meet big carnivores, and they have to get up their nerve to talk to them, but we don't show any hunting or chasing down or killing of dinosaurs on the show because it's tonally a very friendly preschool show."
Paleontologist Scott Sampson, who appears in live-action segments after each cartoon, said the show mixes its dinosaur depictions.
"The kid dinosaurs are very kid-like," he said. "Whereas the adults we try to make as realistic as possible without showing all the blood and guts. We're trying to find a balance. Obviously dinosaurs didn't ride in trains, but that's sort of our fanciful world. The train acts as a great vehicle to take us to different places, but once we're off the train we try and create the world of dinosaurs in a whimsical, fanciful way but in a way that's still as true to the science as best as possible."
Each 30-minute "Dinosaur Train" episode comprises two 11-minute animated stories and the Sampson-fronted segments. Although producers approached the show from a science curriculum perspective, they soon realized another aspect.
"We realized that because our characters are getting on a train with their mom and dad and they are going out and they are meeting new people, it's like modeling meeting new people for kids," Henson said. "We realized we had a social curriculum that's very relevant for preschoolers because, developmentally, they are going out and starting to meet other kids and meeting other families."
"Dinosaur Train" will air regularly at 9:30 a.m. weekdays on WQED.
'Mister Rogers' online
Although "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" will no longer air daily on PBS stations this fall, the 26 episodes chosen to air each weekend will also be available for online streaming at PBSKIDS.org/rogers later this fall.
Episodes of the "Neighborhood" will air at 6 a.m. Saturday on WQED's Create Channel starting Sept. 12, and episodes will continue to air Sunday at 8 a.m. on WQED. (WQED had hoped to continue airing the show daily, but rights issues prevented the station from doing so.)
A WQED open house featuring sets from "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood," postponed from last year, will take place Nov. 7-8 with sponsorship by The Children's Institute. Details will be available closer to November.
In addition, the Mister Rogers sculpture by artist Robert Berks will soon be placed at the "Tribute to Children" site, built using an old bridge pier on Pittsburgh's North Shore. A dedication is expected to take place later this fall.
WQED garage sale
WQED will stage a flea market in the Oakland station's Studio A, noon to 6 p.m. Sept. 12 and 13.
The PBS member station will clean out its closets to sell off old thank-you gifts from pledge shows -- craft kits, CDs, DVDs, VHS tapes, children's program-related toys, cookbooks -- with some items selling for as little as $1.
Parking will be available in the station lot at 4802 Fifth Ave.
Labor Day telethon
WPXI will once again air the "Muscular Dystrophy Association Telethon" beginning at 9 p.m. Sunday from a new location: Pittsburgh Mills in Frazer. Bill Cardille returns as host, with Channel 11 anchors/reporters Peggy Finnegan, David Johnson, Jennifer Abney and others making appearances.
National segments, hosted by Jerry Lewis from Las Vegas, will feature performances by Dolly Parton, Wynonna, Neal McCoy, Bo Bice, Lee Greenwood and The Grascals.
Coverage on WPXI will continue until 2 p.m. Monday, then shift to PCNC and digital subchannel RTV (formerly RTN) so WPXI can carry NBC golf coverage of "The Deutsche Bank Championship." Coverage concludes on WPXI in the final hour at 6 p.m. Monday.
Fall TV preview
The calls have started from viewers wondering when the Post-Gazette's Fall TV preview will publish in TV Week. It's set to appear in print on Sept. 20 and here's a preview: This year's crop of fall shows is better than last year. Then again, how could they possibly be any worse?
Some series return early, including the following shows that will be back next week: "America's Next Top Model," "Gossip Girl," "90210," "One Tree Hill," "So You Think You Can Dance" and "Supernatural."
In last week's syndication roundup I reported on "Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader?" airing on WPMY weekdays at 5 p.m. starting Sept. 21 and in Tuesday prime time on WPMY as reruns. Turns out these will be new episodes.
Chris Laitta's "TV Tunes Sing-Along" returns to the CLO Cabaret at 10 p.m. Sept. 10 and 12. TV theme songs performed will run the gamut from "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" to "Good Times."
Tickets: $5 cover charge or free if you've attended another Downtown show. Buy by calling 412-456-6666.
Showtime may revive "The L Word" as a reality series following six lesbians living in Los Angeles. ... Canceled ABC drama "Eyes" (2005) will air on DirecTV's 101 Network at 10 p.m. Tuesday starting Sept. 15. ... MTV's "True Life" received a Daytime Emmy for "outstanding special class series" this week. Harmony native and current Ben Avon Heights resident Patrick Lope is among the show's producers. ... Pittsburgh native Wilma Stephenson will be featured in the documentary "Pressure Cooker" (6:30 p.m. Sept. 12, BET) about her work as a culinary arts teacher at Frankford High School in Philadelphia.
Tuned In online
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Today's TV Q&A responds to questions about "The Cleaner," "Robin Hood" and the state of TV. Tuned In Journal includes a blog post about weird, intriguing new Ion drama "Durham County." Read online TV coverage at post-gazette.com/tv.
In this week's Tuned In podcast, deputy Magazine editor L.A. Johnson and I talk about the season finales of "Weeds" and "Rescue Me" and what we hope to see in the "True Blood" season-ender. Listen or subscribe at post-gazette.com/podcast.