Tuned In From Hollywood: Fred Rogers Co. gets second show on PBS

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PASADENA, Calif. -- Just six months after placing "Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood" on PBS's children's program schedule, Oakland-based Fred Rogers Co. will have a second animated series on the public broadcaster in September. It's the company's first program with no ties to the late Fred Rogers, host of the classic PBS kids' show "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood."

"Peg + Cat" follows a spirited little girl, Peg, and her sidekick, Cat, as they learn math concepts and skills. PBS has ordered 40 episodes. The series originated in 2010, when PBS set out to find a preschool math series.

"One of the things that makes us unique in the media landscape is we start with the curriculum need first and look for properties that can be built to address that need," said Lesli Rotenberg, general manager for PBS children's programming. From that process, PBS chose "Peg + Cat" from co-creators Billy Aronson ("Rent," "Postcards From Buster") and Jennifer Oxley ("Little Bill," "The Wonder Pets!"). The pilot episode was placed on PBS's website, where it was tested with kids and parents and received a positive response, Ms. Rotenberg said. The pilot is no longer on the site, but you can get a sense of the show at pbskids.org/peg.

At one point, Ms. Oxley contacted Fred Rogers Co. chief operating officer Kevin Morrison about the nuts and bolts of production and funding for PBS programs.

"Her problems were the same problems presented to every public television producer," said Mr. Morrison, who also has an executive producer credit on "Peg + Cat." After a lengthy conversation he thought there might be a "natural marriage" between the producers and FRC. "We take care of those kinds of details. and Jennifer and Billy, who've created this great show, take care of producing it."

Unlike on "Daniel Tigers' Neighborhood," FRC is not reviewing scripts on "Peg + Cat."

"Creatively, our role is to be an enabler," Mr. Morrison said. "We don't see it as our role to start telling them how to do stuff anymore than they, when in the middle of putting together complicated financing arrangements, would start trying to tell us how to do that."

Animation for the series is done by 9 Story Entertainment in Toronto, the same company that does animation for "Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood." The show's primary production office is in Brooklyn.

Each half-hour episode of "Peg + Cat" comprise two 11-minute segments. The first will present a big-picture math concept (e.g., 100 is a large number) and the second will take that concept further (counting to 100 by 10s). There will be no live-action interstitial and the show will target viewers ages 4-6, slightly older than the 2-to-4-year-old target audience for "Daniel Tiger."

As for "Daniel Tiger," ratings for the show continue to rise. It was the No. 4 program among children ages 2-5 in November. It was also No. 3 in the demographic of women in households with children younger than 3 who view with their kids.

So far, 22 of the 40 episodes of "Daniel Tiger" have been delivered to PBS. There are now enough episodes available to air for a month without any reruns. Additional episodes will continue to be added to the rotation over the next nine months. There are talks about making more episodes beyond the initial 40, but working out how many, when they'd be ordered and how they'd be paid for has not been determined. "Daniel Tiger" merchandise is also under consideration.

"We're not making any formal announcement about that," Mr. Morrison said, "but we are on track to have Daniel merchandise in stores this fall."

PBS plans ahead

PBS continues to add scripted drama outside of "Masterpiece" to its Sunday night lineup with a three-part period mystery, "The Bletchley Circle," planned for 10 p.m. Sundays April 21-May 5. The drama is about three women who worked undercover as decryption experts during World War II. They're brought together years later in 1952 after a series of murders.

PBS also announced plans for "A Brief History of Mine," an autobiographical documentary about physicist Stephen Hawking, that will air sometime this year.

An online short form film festival will begin March 4 via PBS digital platforms and YouTube. Featured films include "56 Up," Michael Apted's eighth film in a series that follows English people beginning at age 7 and checking in with them every seven years to see how their lives develop.

In the fall, PBS will air "Latino Americans," a three-part six-hour documentary series narrated by Benjamin Bratt. "How Sherlock Changed the World," a two-hour special about how Sherlock Holmes has impacted real criminal investigation, also will air in the fall.

The week of Feb. 18, "After Newtown" will include discussion and investigation into the Sandy Hook school shooting tragedy on multiple PBS programs, including "PBS Newshour," "Frontline," "NOVA," "Need to Know" and "Washington Week."

Defending 'Homeland'

Showtime Entertainment president David Nevins defended "Homeland" from the deserved critical barbs it endured in season two.

"I really liked season two," he said. "It started really strong and ended really strong. I read everything you guys write, and I think there are levels of critical discourse on television now that's never really existed until now. ... Some of the criticism seems fair."

But maybe not all of it. He paraphrased what one critic wrote about nitpicking for its own sake as a pernicious habit, that suspension of disbelief is the scaffolding all storytelling is based upon.

"I think there is truth to the way that show is written," Mr. Nevins said, "truth to the characters that overcomes all."

Sunday night after "Homeland" won Golden Globe awards for best drama, best dramatic actress Claire Danes and best dramatic actor Damian Lewis, executive producer Howard Gordon confirmed to TVLine.com that Mr. Lewis' Nicholas Brody will return for the show's third season despite an ambiguous ending in season two.

'Bunheads' back

ABC Family's delightful "Bunheads" (9 p.m. Monday) returned last week with decent ratings in its key demos, ranking as the No. 1 cable telecast among female viewers 12-34 and retaining almost all of its summer season audience in key demos.

But an ABC Family press release failed to include any total viewer ratings. Maintaining what the show did in the summer may not be enough to keep "Bunheads" going because the summer ratings had the show on the chopping block.

And let's face it, Lifetime's "Dance Moms" is a more popular show (oh, the humanity!).

At a press conference for "Bunheads" last week, the show's stars and writer Amy Sherman-Palladino discussed their reality rival.

"I've met dance mothers I don't want to see again ever in my entire life, but dance is also such a community," said Emma Dumont, who plays Melanie Segal on "Bunheads."

All the girls on the show have dance backgrounds.

" 'Dance Moms' is a little bit different. Our show is ballet and classical ballet, and 'Dance Moms' is that competition dance," Ms. Sherman-Palladino said. "They're not necessarily going for Joffrey, they're going for ribbons."

Actress Kaitlyn Jenkins, who plays Boo on "Bunheads," was raised in the dance world.

"My mom is a dance teacher, and I knew someone who owns a competition, and I grew up in that atmosphere, and it's very cliquey," she said. "But I never had the experience where the moms would have a huddle and talk about which daughter did what or have a pyramid system, which is the most bizarre thing. The girls [on 'Dance Moms'] are fairly good for their age. But they're not ballerinas, they're competition style. It's very exaggerated. The invitationals they go to, you only have to get second place to get it. They're like, 'We got invited,' but really all you just have to do is not [stink]."

Ms. Sherman-Palladino said viewers should not expect a true representation from "Dance Moms."

"It's a reality show, it has to be crazy or it's not fun," she said. "Somebody's got to yell at somebody, otherwise what are you tuning in for?"

Channel surfing

NBC's telecast of the "Golden Globes" Sunday drew almost 20 million viewers in overnight ratings, making it the highest ratings for the awards show in six years. ... Britney Spears announced Friday she won't return for a second season of hosting Fox's "X Factor," leaving the show to shake up its judges table once more. ... The CW is considering a "Vampire Diaries" spinoff, "The Originals," focused on Klaus (Joseph Morgan) and Hayley (Phoebe Tonkin). A backdoor pilot will air as a "Vampire Diaries" episode on April 25. ... Deadline.com reports "The Real L Word" will be reformatted as a stand-alone documentary and not continue as a reality series. ... Cristina Ferrare, who's been subbing as co-host of Hallmark Channel's daytime show "Home & Family" since the departure of Paige Davis last fall, has been named permanent co-host. ... Steelers safety Troy Polamalu will be among three NFL players profiled on the second "NFL Characters Unite" documentary airing at 7 p.m. Feb. 8 on USA.

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. First Published January 15, 2013 5:00 AM


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