'Peg + Cat' is a new PBS series that debuts in the fall designed to help young kids with math.
Following on the success of Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood, the Fred Rogers Company already has an encore: Peg + Cat, an animated PBS Kids show that follows Peg, who is 5 or 6, and her sidekick, Cat, as they learn and model math concepts and problem-solving skills.
This daily series, debuting Oct. 7, is the first FRC program without a direct link to Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, and the series was created by producers Jennifer Oxley and Billy Aronson independently before FRC got involved.
''We kind of worked it out so we said, you guys create the show, make all the characters and music and we'll manage the property," said Paul Siefken, who joined FRC as vice president of broadcast and digital media in July after working as director of children's programming at PBS. "I think Peg + Cat works for the Fred Rogers Company because Fred Rogers was somebody who was fascinated with the medium and television and wanted to figure out how it could be used to educate children, and he always wanted to push the medium. What Jen and Billy have done is a really innovative approach to teaching math to preschoolers."
Lesli Rotenberg, general manager of PBS children's programming, said Peg + Cat is designed to model resilience, collaboration and perseverance to children ages 3-5.
''And it adds a positive role model for girls who are less likely than boys to pursue math in higher education," she said. "Peg is a complex character who real kids can identify with."
Each half-hour episode of Peg + Cat comprises two 12-minute segments that use music to help teach math skills.
''There's so much math in music beats if not patterns," Aronson said. "Also, a lot of what we're teaching needs to be repeated over and over. You can't watch a 12-minute episode and get that right away."
Siefken said the use of music in exploring a problem is reminiscent of Rogers' approach.
''He broke things down into their components," Siefken said. "He was fascinated with taking things apart and seeing how they could work, and that deconstruction philosophy works well in Peg + Cat when there are math problems and they deconstruct it and figure out how it works."
The first segment in each episode will present a math concept and the second story will build on the concept from the first story. PBS has ordered 40 episodes, with 10 episodes ready to debut at launch and the rest peppered in over the subsequent 18 months. (It takes 33 weeks to take an episode from script to final picture.)
As much as Peg + Cat is a math show, Siefken said it's also a problem-solving show.
''The Fred Rogers Company is known for social-emotional development with children, and the thing about problem-solving is, I dare anybody to come up with a problem, no matter how academic, that didn't involve emotions," he said. "Peg + Cat come up with problems that they have to solve, and the emotions that come with it. ... They come out with a solution that always works, and [is] always happy, and there's always a celebration that they give a musical high-five at the end. And that's something that I think really fits with the Fred Rogers philosophy."
Peg + Cat likely won't be the last show to come to TV that FRC has a hand in.
''We are absolutely continuing to look at ideas and reach out to creative people who we think take the approach that Fred Rogers took in making content," Siefken said, "where someone who is looking at doing what's best for the kids in whatever they're making and then also taking a really innovative and creative and groundbreaking approach to the content that they want to create. So we're continuing to look for new ideas."
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Downton Abbey returns for a new season Jan. 5. New seasons of Sherlock, Mr. Selfridge, The Bletchley Circle, and Call the Midwife also willbe back in 2014.
An airdate for Sherlock has not been set; Downton will continue to air in the United States a few months after it airs in England. Given the increasing ratings for Downton on PBS, this is no surprise because the delayed broadcast hasn't hurt the show's popularity even if it rankles some American Downton fans.
Interest in Downton has had a halo effect on PBS, with its ratings up while other broadcast-network ratings decline. PBS President Paula Kerger said the network's prime-time ratings are up 5 percent year-to-year, with a 26 percent rise on Sunday. Wednesday ratings rose 17 percent over two years. And while Downton obviously helped, Kerger emphasized it wasn't the only factor.
''Obviously, eight hours of programming is not going to change our ratings for a year," Kerger said.
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