BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. -- With more regularity than ever before, Hollywood travels to Pittsburgh -- to film "The Dark Knight Rises," for Nickelodeon's "Supah Ninjas" -- but at two days of PBS presentations to America's TV critics, Pittsburghers journeyed west.
Joanne Rogers, widow of the late Fred Rogers, and Kevin Morrison, chief operating office for the Oakland-based Fred Rogers Company, were front and center for a news conference launching PBS's "Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood," debuting on WQED on Labor Day. (FRC president Bill Isler, another Pittsburgher, was in the audience.)
The animated "Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood" focuses on Daniel, son of Daniel Striped Tiger from the Neighborhood of Make-Believe on "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood."
Mrs. Rogers said the next generation concept of the show makes the program "such a wonderful legacy for Fred." But at the same time, the series isn't dependent on a viewer having seen "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood."
"This stands on its own," Mr. Morrison said. "It's for a new generation of children who haven't seen 'Mister Rogers.' If you're 3 or 4 today, this is designed to be your first television experience as a very young child. It carries the legacy of Fred Rogers in many ways, but it's not necessary to know everything about Fred and his Neighborhood of Make-Believe to enjoy this."
Mrs. Rogers and Mr. Morrison weren't the only Pittsburghers to participate in PBS's presentations to TV critics.
Kiesha Lalama of Center, Beaver County, an associate professor at Point Park University and choreographer for The Jimmy Awards, appeared at PBS's press tour on behalf of "Broadway or Bust" (8 p.m. Sept. 9), a docu-series that chronicles a national high school theater awards competition that's produced by, among others, Pittsburgh CLO, where she is also education director for the Pittsburgh CLO Academy of Musical Theater.
"Broadway or Bust" tracks high school student competitors over five days in New York as they prepare for The Jimmy Awards show, now in its fourth year.
That competition among high school thespians -- who advanced to the national stage after winning regional competitions, like Pittsburgh's Gene Kelly Awards -- would happen whether or not cameras were recording the goings-on.
"It really is about the educational process and growing and learning," Ms. Lalama said. "So it's a whole different kind of aspect compared to something along the lines of 'American Idol.' It's a completely different program."
PBS's "Masterpiece" production "Downton Abbey" returns for its third season on Jan. 6 with seven weeks of more drama on the way, including the possibility of financial ruin for the Crawley family and spats between Matthew (Dan Stevens) and Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery), but also talk of a marriage.
A trailer for season three revealed the Dowager Countess' (Maggie Smith) attitude toward Martha Levinson (Shirley MacLaine), mother of Cora Crawley (Elizabeth McGovern).
"When I'm with her, I'm reminded of the virtue of the English," the Dowager Countess says.
"Isn't she American?" Matthew says.
"Exactly," the Dowager Countess replies.
The "Downton" news conference was a hoot, crackling with energy from a cast that clearly gets along and enjoyed having a new cast member (that would be Ms. MacLaine) joining in the fun.
Ms. MacLaine joked of "Downton" co-star Ms. Smith: "We were lovers in another life." Actor Hugh Bonneville (aka the Earl of Grantham) unbuttoned his shirt to reveal a "Free Bates" T-shirt underneath.
Additional tidbits about the new season were revealed: Brendan Coyle, who plays the jailed Bates, revealed viewers will discover how his evil ex-wife died.
And series creator/writer Julian Fellowes intimated, but wouldn't say outright, that a wedding between Matthew and Lady Mary may finally happen. Also, Patrick, the supposed Titanic survivor and amnesiac Crawley heir, will not be back in season three but Fellowes would not say if Patrick was legit or a fraud.
In other "Masterpiece" news, Viking River Cruises has re-upped to sponsor the series for an additional two years through 2014.
Executive producer Rebecca Eaton said "Masterpiece Mystery!" is "very likely" to pick up four more "Endeavour" episodes based on the pilot that aired July 1, an "Inspector Morse" prequel.
A third series of Kenneth Brannagh's "Wallender" debuts Sept. 9 on "Masterpiece Mystery!"
Fred Willard was dismissed as host of PBS's "Market Warriors" last week after he was arrested on suspicion of lewd conduct at an adult movie theater; Mark L. Walberg, of "Antiques Roadshow," will replace him beginning with tonight's episode at 9 on WQED. ... Ken Burns' 14-hour "The Roosevelts: An Intimate History," weaving together the stories of Theodore, Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, will air on PBS in 2014.
Post-Gazette TV writer Rob Owen is attending the Television Critics Association summer press tour. Follow RobOwenTV at Twitter or Facebook. You can reach him at 412-263-2582 or firstname.lastname@example.org. First Published July 23, 2012 1:30 PM