‘Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood’ explains the pandemic to children

PBS Kids series addresses the situation for the very young

The pandemic-themed special “Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood: Won’t You Sing Along With Me?” airs Monday on PBS (check local listings).

If parents of very young children still seek a way to explain the coronavirus pandemic to them, Daniel Tiger may be able to help.

The same day the animated, Daytime Emmy-winning series from the company founded by the late Fred Rogers (alias “Mister Rogers”) starts its fifth season, the PBS Kids special edition “Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood: Won’t You Sing Along With Me?” airs on public-television stations Monday, Aug. 17 (check local listings).

Disappointed that a local carnival has been canceled, young Daniel asks his parents why, and they gently explain that many events and gatherings can’t be held in current conditions. He then looks for ways to keep himself occupied, since his father has to spend time working despite quarantining at home.

“After about a month, it became clear to us that (the pandemic) would last for some time,” recalls “Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood” senior producer Chris Loggins, “and we began to have conversations about this.”

The pandemic-themed special “Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood: Won’t You Sing Along With Me?” airs Monday on PBS (check local listings).

Though animation can take some time to produce, Loggins says the staff realized “some things were going to be canceled or rescheduled even if there was a rebound from the virus, and on the level of what kids are experiencing, we knew community events would be apparent in the lives of families. We decided to focus the story on that, as well as the social and emotional lessons we typically do.”

“We try to create content that’s timeless and useful, but also really relevant,” adds Ellen Doherty, an executive producer of “Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood” as well as the chief creative officer of Fred Rogers Productions. “I think the team makes really smart choices in how to replicate the world that kids are living in now, without making things hyper-specific in a way that could be dated later.”

Though Daniel is at home in “Won’t You Sing Along With Me?,” the first episode of the series’ Season 5 proper sees him back at school, adjusting to having a substitute teacher. “We had been working on those other episodes before the pandemic hit the United States,” Loggins explains, “but the theme of that (school) episode is about dealing with change, and we thought that was apropos to the times as well. And it’s also coming at a time when schools are trying to decide what to do.”

Acknowledging that “Sesame Street” (in a CNN special) and Nickelodeon also have done coronavirus-themed programs, Doherty notes “Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood” aims specifically toward the under-five set: “A young child really can’t take in all the information — many adults can’t — so it’s really about honing it down to the most important ideas, like a child asking questions to understand what’s going on, and taking care of each other.”


Jay Bobbin

Jay Bobbin

Jay Bobbin has decades of experience covering the television and movie businesses, winning Tribune Media Services’ Crown Jewel Award in 2008 for his performance in the company. Over those many years of interviewing and writing, he has spoken with everyone from Robert De Niro and John Travolta to Paul McCartney and Tony Bennett … from Meryl Streep and Julie Andrews to Taylor Swift and Carrie Underwood.

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