As a childhood fan of "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood," I found it difficult to be wholly objective about "Daniel Tigers' Neighborhood," the new PBS animated series that premieres Monday.
For other adult "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" fans, particularly those who are parents, there's bound to be interest in "Daniel Tigers' Neighborhood," but children will be charmed, too. My niece and nephew, ages 5 and 3, were enthralled when they saw scenes from the show online earlier this year.
"Again!" 3-year-old James said after each of his three viewings.
That scenario is likely to play out in households this week as "Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood" has its premiere after almost six years in the making. The program debuts with back-to-back episodes at 11 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. Monday on WQED-TV before settling into its regular 11 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. half-hour weekday time slots. "Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood" also will air at 8 a.m. Sunday on WQED-TV beginning Sept. 16 and at 6:30 a.m. Saturday on WQED: The Create Channel (13.2) starting Sept. 8.
The series, created by head writer Angela Santomero ("Blue's Clues," "Super WHY!"), focuses on the children of the characters from the Neighborhood of Make-Believe (Daniel is the son of Daniel Striped Tiger from "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood").
Children are sure to be enchanted by Daniel, a cute, 4-year-old tiger cub at the same spot in his emotional and social development as the show's intended audience of preschoolers. Daniel is a friendly, sensitive tiger, and the fact that he's voiced by a child actor (Jake Beale) only makes the character more relatable for children. He also directly addresses viewers at home, a way to engage them and encourage interaction.
In Monday's premiere, Daniel celebrates a birthday and learns constructive ways to handle disappointment when things don't go according to plan. (It's worth noting that the theme had a calming effect on this adult viewer, too.)
Music and songs, by the group Voodoo Highway, enhance the series, whether the characters sing their way through a ride on Trolley or use music to help them cope with disappointment as they do after Daniel makes a mistake decorating his tiger cake and later inadvertently smushes the cake.
"When something seems bad, turn it around, and find something good," Daniel sings. The theme of disappointment and how to overcome it carries through to a second animated story about a picnic that gets rained out. In between the two animated stories the show shifts to a live-action segment filmed at Gaynor's School of Cooking on the South Side.
Most kids' shows seek to encourage co-viewing by children and their parents but "Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood" has the built-in advantage of nostalgia. Nods to "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" are strewn throughout the show, beginning with the theme song ("It's a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood") and opening credits sequence, which shows Daniel putting on a red cardigan sweater and lacing up his sneakers, just like Mister Rogers used to do on his 1968-2001 PBS series. In the background of this same scene is the familiar Trolley, traffic light and models of buildings from the Neighborhood of Make-Believe, just like viewers saw in Mister Rogers' kitchen.
To be sure, there also are some changes. Daniel's Neighborhood, while retaining the Trolley and other familiar elements, has its own main street (suburban sprawl in the Neighborhood of Make-Believe, perhaps?) and Daniel lives in a thatched hut that sits beside a body of water.
"Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood" has a distinctive look that mixes flash animation with real photos of objects added to backgrounds. And although "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" purists may be disappointed that Mister Rogers' legacy is continued in animation rather than live-action with puppets, there's no denying that Mister Rogers' approach to children's emotional development has been retained. That's more important than any quibbles about format.
Rob Owen writes this Sunday TV column for Scripps Howard News Service. Contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-2582. Read the Tuned In Journal blog at post-gazette.com/tv. Follow RobOwenTV on Twitter or Facebook. First Published September 2, 2012 4:00 AM