BEVERLY HILLS, Calif.
With the exception of "Sesame Street," there is no more powerful name in the public TV realm than Fred Rogers. He helped define the institution and, in the bargain, helped it to define a purpose as well. Yet nearly 10 years after his death in 2003, his legacy remains firmly embedded in but one program ("Mister Rogers' Neighborhood").
After his death, the role of protector of the realm fell to his widow, Joanne Rogers, who carefully directed Family Communications Inc. (since renamed the Fred Rogers Company) in the area of education and various other activities -- with the exception of the production of another TV show.
Now, that's about to change: "Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood," the first program out of FRC since that other "Neighborhood," will launch Sept. 3 on WNET/13. It's based on 4-year-old Daniel Tiger, son of Daniel Striped Tiger (who appeared long and happily on "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood"); it's avowedly educational and pro-social; and it will incorporate live-action with animation. In fact, FRC has enlisted Angela Santomero to produce this newcomer. She was a co-creator of Nick Jr.'s "Blue's Clues," itself a landmark program in preschool programming in the early '90s.
"The company branched out into a lot of other areas producing materials for parents of infant children, but it did get to the point where it had to say, what is the future now that Fred is gone? And the answer is that we have to re-enter public television," Kevin Morrison, the company's chief operating officer, said in an interview Sunday during PBS' portion of the TV critics' summer press tour. "He was one of the architects of public TV in this country and we all just knew he would approve."
But would Joanne Rogers? She did, and does: "They wanted me to be involved and it saved my life probably to get involved," she says of the Fred Rogers Company.
The show will have echoes of "Mister Rogers," but they will be distant ones. Each episode will focus on a problem and its happy resolution. Says Santomero: "We do a lot of formative research and are constantly working with 3- or 5-year-olds and working with the curriculum, what we're finding is that kids are dying for this information. ... We think if you tell a good story that's age appropriate, they'll be with you."