You've gotta love Daniel Tiger


Daniel Tiger is one of those guys you like instantly. He's cute, he's 4, he's well-meaning and he's animated. Even better, he links back to the kindly days of the late Fred Rogers. Daniel's new show -- a "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" spin-off -- debuts Monday (Memorial Day) on PBS. Here's the story I sent to papers:

By MIKE HUGHES

LOS ANGELES – Daniel Tiger is ready
for his spotlight now. He brings an imposing TV legacy.

This is the son of Daniel Striped
Tiger, the first puppet of the late Fred Rogers, who was PBS's first
kids-TV superstar. Rogers left a generation of passionate admirers …
including Angela Santomero, the “Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood”
creator and producer.

“I was Fred's No. 1 fan …. I could
not sit any closer to the television set,” Santomero said.

That started when she was three months
old, confirms her mother, Mary Jane Capobianco. “She loved it.
'Sesame Street' and 'Mister Rogers,' that was all I allowed.”

Little Angela knew the show's songs and
its attitude. “I think it made her more calm,”Capobianco said.

And in her New Jersey home, calmness
was helpful. “I did come from a crazy, Italian family,” Santomero
said fondly. “It was very loud.”

On TV, she saw this opposite world. It
was always a beautiful day in the neighborhood; Fred Rogers said it,
sang it and believed it.

In real life, said his widow Joanne,
Rogers was the same easygoing guy people we saw on TV. “I think at
home he may have been a little more fun-loving …. He was whimsical
and he loved to be silly.”

That showed up occasionally, including
the puppets' names – Donkey Hodie, King Friday XIII, Prince
Tuesday, Digger Digorum, Dr. Duckbill Platypus.

Mostly,though, this was an earnest guy
who grew up in small-town Pennsylvania, got college degrees in music
and theology, was an ordained Presbyterian minister and stayed
forever calm.

I
don't think he screamed and yelled,” she said. “He got quieter.
But I think that didn't happen so much at home as it happened in the
work area. He was very, very serious about his work.”

Working
from a Pittsburgh station, he was on National Educational Television
in 1967 – two years before there was a “Sesame Street,” three
before there was PBS. Rogers made 475 episodes through 2001; he died
two years later of stomach cancer at 74.

Then
his company prepared its next step … gradually. “It shouldn't
take six years (plus), but there were some changes in management,”
said Kevin Morrison, the new show's executive producer.

Called
in to create the show was Santomero, who had already co-created and
produced two shows (“Blues Clues,” “Super Why”) and had all
those Rogers roots.

In
8
th
grade, I wrote a paper on Fred,” she said. And later, complete with
a Master's Degree in childhood development, she was at a conference
with him “I went up to him and said, 'I just want you to know the
whole reason I want to do children's television was because of you.'”

Soon,
she was visiting the set, then keeping in touch with Rogers. Much
later, she was working at Rogers' company. “Some of the staff had
been there for 40-plus years,” Morrison said.

People
agreed that the new show wouldn't have a human host, trying to match
what Rogers did. And instead of puppets, it would use newer
techniques of flash animation.

The
setting would be “The Neighborhood of Make-Believe” from the
original show, now in cartoon form, with some of the same people and
places. “It's such a magical world,” Santomero said.

Some
of the songs and many of the attitudes, she said, are from the
original. “We have a 40-plus-year curriculum from the Fred Rogers
company …. We learned the Fred-ish approach.”

Yes,
she uses the word “Fred-ish.” It makes sense about someone who
lived in her girlhood TV set.

– “Daniel
Tiger's Neighborhood”

Debuts
Monday (Memorial Day) on most PBS stations; any will air it at 11
a.m. weekdays