PRESS TOUR: More details on 'Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood'

Sunday, 31 July 2011 12:00 AM Written by 

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DanielandFriends_blogBEVERLY HILLS, Calif. -- Finally!

I’ve been waiting almost five years to be able to report the production start of “Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood,” the new animated television series from the company founded by the late Fred Rogers. I’ve been checking in on the new program’s progress every six months since we broke the news that the show was “in development” in December 2006.

How "Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood" turns out remains to be seen, but the notion of centering a series on Daniel's 4-year-old son sounds right to me. As a kid growing up watching "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood," Daniel was always my favorite character. And I got the sense Fred Rogers related to him, too.

When I interviewed Rogers in his office about the end of the "Neighborhood" in 2000, I remember Rogers putting a Daniel puppet on his hand and talking to me as Daniel. I talked right back to Daniel.

The fact that development of "Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood" took this long might seem unusual, but PBS programs often take years.

“It didn’t take a whole lot longer than I thought it would,” said Kevin Morrison, chief operating officer of The Fred Rogers Company. “My experience of developing television concepts is that they do take a large slice out of your life. By the time you’ve arrived at what it is you want to do and put it into some pitchable format and gone to a network and got them interested to the point that they say, ‘Let’s do a pilot,’ and then spend a year doing a pilot and then take it back and they say whether they like it or not.”

Morrison said there’s a sense of excitement at the Fred Rogers Co. about having a new television project.

“We really think we’re producing something Fred would be proud of that furthers his legacy,” Morrison said, “which is one of the things we’ve devoted ourselves to.”

Read more after the jump. ...

Now onto some questions viewers might have about the program, which is executive produced by Angela Santomero of "Blue's Clues" with animation by 9 Story Entertainment of Toronto:

Will Trolley be in the new show?

Yes, and Trolley is proving to be popular.

“In research, the trolley has become a very big character with the kids we’ve tested this with,” Morrison said.  “They’re 3 and 4 and have no clue what a trolley is but they like it and it plays a role in the Neighborhood.”

Trolley does not speak, it continues to ding, ding.

“What you can do in animation which you could not do with a real model is stretch the rules a bit and almost make it shrug its shoulders,” Morrison said.

What about Mr. McFeely?

An animated McFeely will make occasional appearances but he is not a regular character on “Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood.”

How does this show’s aim compare and contrast to that of “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood”?

“‘Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood’ wasn’t specifically aimed at the same audience. It had a very broad audience reach.  You could watch ‘Mister Rogers’ if you were 4 and you could watch ‘Mister Rogers’ if you were 12 and you could get different things out of the program,” Morrison said. “That was one of its great strengths, and obviously in the context of that time when there weren’t many children’s programs, that was an important strength. There are no longer three TV channels a child can watch after school; there are 300. It’s a fragmented market. It’s now structured so that there are programs that specifically target boys who are 9 and boys who are 12 and so on.

“This show is meant to target boys and girls who are 3 or 4 and be of interest to children between 2 and 5, so the focus is much more narrow than the ‘Mister Rogers’ focus,” Morrison continued. “In terms of what it is saying, it’s saying very similar things. … The ‘Mister Rogers’ of old was not the show you point to and say, watch that show in order to learn math or how to read. … ‘Mister Rogers’ was about curiosity and the world around you. He would show you how to repair a faucet and he would do it himself but the show wasn’t about plumbing and there was such a broad canvas there. The huge thing he had which nobody else had in those literacy and numeracy and science programs was an understanding of how people relate to other people, understanding emotions.”

Will PBS continue to make the original "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" available to stations on weekends as it is now?

“For the time being,” said Linda Simensky, vice president of PBS children’s programming. “It’s hard for me to say how long. It’s up to them how long they want to keep feeding the show.”

Any plans to package the shows – “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” and “Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood” -- in an hour block?

This seemed like a sort of obvious thing to consider but the response from the PBS executives when I posed the question was crickets. Once they recovered, one said, “No, that’s just too much for stations. They like to air things in half hours. We never really looked at anything longer than a half hour.”

“We are really embracing this as a brand new property,” said Lesli Rotenberg, senior vice president of children’s media at PBS.

During my reporting on this new series, there seemed to be a real push and pull among all those involved -- a desire to pay homage to the original “Neighborhood” but not link it too closely to create a barrier to entry to “Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood.”

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