Archive for the 'Television' Category

Joanne Rogers on Mister Rogers’ legacy

Friday, June 8th, 2018

A photo of Joanne and Fred Rogers from the set of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood

[The following is an updated version of a feature article I wrote for the online magazine Kidscreen, June 7, 2018.]

It’s hard to imagine just how many people have been touched by the work and words of Fred Rogers. For many of his oldest admirers Fred’s PBS show Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood captured the attention of young viewers in the US starting in the late 1960s. Over the last decade Fred Roger’s production company continues to create new programs that captivate young children around the globe. While Fred is not here today, his universal message of a kind word and a caring neighbor resonates as strongly today in his shows as it did when he first began working in television.

Being a lifelong fan of the Neighborhood I was thrilled to have the opportunity to work with Fred’s company. Years after he had passed away the Fred Rogers Center invited me to participate in their biennial FredForward conference. Through these events I met many like minded children’s media producers, child development experts, television historians, and teachers, all touched by Fred’s vision. While attending my first FredForward, I also had the chance to meet Joanne Rogers, Fred’s wife of over 50 years.

Joanne is a sharp, spirited and thoughtful person, with many wonderful stories to tell. A leading child advocate herself, Joanne has worked on behalf of children and families for more than 50 years through her charitable efforts. She also serves as chair emeritus of Fred Rogers Productions, and in 2016 she was honored by the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh with the Great Friend of Children Award.

Hearing about the upcoming release of Fred’s documentary film “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” I thought it would be a great time to reconnect with Joanne and ask her about the film. So I gave her a call. I spoke with Joanne about the genesis of the documentary, as well the story of their relationship, Fred’s early days in the TV world, and what’s changed in kids entertainment since Mister Rogers first graced the airwaves. Below are Joanne’s responses to my questions, which have been edited for clarity and length.

Scott Traylor: How did you and Fred first meet?

Joanne Rogers: I grew up in Jacksonville, Florida and music was my life. I began playing piano at the age of five, and by the time I was in high school I won a four-year scholarship to Rollins College in Orlando to study piano. I had a wonderful, wonderful time at Rollins.

Fred went to college at Dartmouth. But after he started there, he realized it wasn’t a good fit as he wanted to become a music major, and Dartmouth didn’t have a music department at the time. However, Dartmouth had hired a professor to start a music program—and that person came from a small college in Florida named Rollins. This professor suggested to Fred he transfer to Rollins.

Fred came for a visit to my college in my sophomore year. We met then, and he started at Rollins when I was in my junior year. While we were together at Rollins, we became very good friends. When I graduated in 1950, I started a master’s program at Florida State. Fred graduated in 1951 and was interested in getting involved with television, which was a new thing at the time.

ST: How did Fred get his start in television?

JR: After Fred graduated, he went to New York and started an apprenticeship with NBC. There, Fred learned the business of television. He learned to direct and produce. He was able to work on all the musical programs, like the NBC Opera Theatre and the NBC Symphony Orchestra. All of these shows were performed live. During this time he was assigned to a music studio that was just getting started in color television. The funny thing was that Fred was color blind, so he needed some help from the stage crew.

In the spring, as I was getting closer to finishing my master’s work, Fred wrote me a letter proposing marriage. I didn’t wait for my letter to go back to him, I called him. Fred then came down to attend my graduation ceremony and he presented me with an engagement ring. That was in May and by July we were married. After our honeymoon I moved to New York where Fred continued to learn the ropes in television for another year.

ST: What television work was Fred part of before Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood?

JR: Fred grew up in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, and his father called to tell him about a new local television community getting started around the idea of educational television. It was located in nearby Pittsburgh and Fred came to take a look. It was during this visit he realized this was something he would like to be involved with, and something where he could use every talent he had.

So he was hired by the station and we moved to Pittsburgh, getting in at the very beginning. That was the end of 1953, and after just a few months, the station, WQED, went on the air. The station wanted to offer educational programming for all ages, and they also had plans to air children’s programming every day. Fred volunteered to take that challenge on. So did one of the station’s secretaries, Josie Carey. Together they started a program together called The Children’s Corner. [It was on the air from 1953 to 1961.]

ST: How did the idea to use puppets happen on Fred’s shows?

JR: In the early days of the show, there was a backup need to bring out puppets. Josie was the hostess of the show and Fred was the producer. Fred also played background music. The show itself would often play various kinds of film clips during the airing, and these films were made out of a material that was very brittle. Often these films would break during a live broadcast. When these films broke, they had to fill in the time, and that’s when the puppets were often brought out. It was from these moments that the puppets appearance started taking off.

The Children’s Corner grew to be very popular, but it was lighthearted entertainment, and very different from what would become Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. Fred had yet to learn about child development at that time. That came after The Children’s Corner, when he was studying in seminary school, and he had taken a class in child development at the University of Pittsburgh as part of his seminary training.

ST: Do you have any insights you could share about the state of children’s television today?

JR: Technology moves so fast now that I’m at the age now where I consider myself a digital immigrant, though email and my iPhone are a big part of my life. But I get lost in a lot of it. I’m delighted with Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, and I love Peg + Cat. But many shows are just fast. I get so undone with the speed, like a fast-talking news person.

I’m sure there are more Freds out there, but a lot of people say if Fred had to do it now, he wouldn’t get his show on the air. It’s just too slow. Fred was someone who could insist on time, and pace, and silence. He thought silence, and how to use silence, was the best thing yet. With a turtle, for instance—let’s look at a turtle on a show. Or to ask children, “How long does a minute take? Well, let’s just see!” That just would not go today.

I remember the time at the Emmy Awards where Fred asked the audience to think about someone important to them over the course of 10 seconds. He used to give a similar speech, where he would ask audience members to reflect over 20 or 30 seconds. But the Emmy people wouldn’t give him more than 10 seconds.

ST: How did the idea of the movie Won’t You Be My Neighbor? get its start?

JR: There’s a concept called “slender threads”— that is a good way to describe how the movie came to be. Slender threads connect so many things in one’s life. While these threads may go in every direction, they also connect back together.

As you may know, the cellist Yo-Yo Ma was a guest on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. Yo-Yo Ma’s son, Nicholas, was a big fan of the show and would attend the filming whenever Yo-Yo Ma was on. During Yo-Yo’s second appearance, his son Nicholas played the piano. Many years later, a documentary was being filmed about Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Ensemble by Morgan Neville. By that time, Yo-Yo Ma’s son Nicholas was in film school, and appeared in this documentary. Nicholas suggested to Morgan the idea for a documentary about Mister Rogers. So one day I get a call from Yo-Yo, asking if I would talk to his son Nicholas, because he had a project he wanted to ask me about. That’s how the idea for the film started, and Nicholas is one of the producers for this film.

Morgan said to me, “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood was such a big part of my childhood. With this film, he is now coming into my adult life.” I think that’s such a wonderful way to think about this film. For me, it’s just the most incredible gift. It’s just the most warm, and loving, and wonderful tribute to Fred.

Links to full list of AAP referenced research

Friday, October 21st, 2016

On Friday October 21, 2016 the American Association of Pediatrics (AAP) released three policy statements regarding health recommendations on media use by children. A review of these policy statements shows the AAP has referenced 190 different research papers and articles to support their position. Almost 30% of the papers were made available in 2015 and 2016, and generally reference a large body of helpful information regarding screen use by American youth. Over 75% of the referenced research can be downloaded for free. In an effort to help advance the interests of researchers, educators, and industry here is a collection of all of the AAP referenced research in an Excel spreadsheet with links to easily access and download all of the material.

A collection links to the AAP referenced research on children and screens

Children’s Conferences for 2016

Wednesday, December 2nd, 2015

Photo of a conference hall

Our great big list of kids conferences for 2016 is ready to be released! It’s a compilation of major events that touch on different areas of the children’s media world. Apps, toys, eBooks, education, television, video games, and more. A similar list was created last year at this time for 2015 conferences. The 2016 list is now available in two flavors. The first is a PDF doc that sorts events chronologically. The second PDF segments conferences by media type, or focus.

You may be asking yourself, “Is every children’s media event included on this list?” The answer is no. There are 68 events listed here and you could easily add hundreds more. However, the conferences included tend to be among the biggest or best known events in their specific area of focus.

A few notes about what’s new in our conference list since last year:

  • Conferences related to virtual reality and augmented reality were added as this business sector is heating up fast. These events are not specifically child focused, but is an area worth watching as it could offer new opportunities with children’s media down the road.

  • One digital video conference, VidCon, was added as more and more kids watch digital videos on mobile devices. Another event to look for is YouTube’s Brandcast, which at the time of writing has not publicly announced a date for their 2016 event.

  • Two big children’s research conferences, Society for Research in Child Development (SRCD) and the Cognitive Development Society (CDS) are biennual events, and 2016 is an off year for each. See you in 2017!

  • The iKids event from Brunico has been folded into their annual Kidscreen conference.

  • Early Education & Technology for Children (EETC) has been folded into the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) annual conference.

  • Also not included at the time of posting, Common Sense Media and Vicky Rideout should have a Zero to Eight media use report out sometime in 2016. An event date has yet to be announced but keep on the lookout for it later in the year.

If you know of other events not included on our list that could be of benefit to the children’s media community, please do share a comment below, complete with the event name, date(s), location, and URL. Thanks for your help, and I look forward to seeing you at a future event!

A Year of Children’s Conferences

Tuesday, November 11th, 2014

Photo of a conference hall

Where do you go to stay smart in the kids interactive industry? What conferences keep you on top of your craft, while also helping you grow your network? What events are vital to attend to learn the latest trends? There are so many conferences these days which ones are right for you? Look no further, here’s a compiled conference list to get you started! It covers areas of the children’s interactive media business like toys, eBooks, video games, children’s television, apps, play, research, consumer products, and more. The list below covers most of the big US and international shows in 2015, and just a few important smaller events.

You can download a PDF copy of this list here. Let us know what you think. Which events do you attend? What speakers draw you to an event? If there’s an event that’s not on this list, and you think it’s important, please let us know in the comments below.


# Conference w link Location Date(s) Focus
1 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) Las Vegas, NV 1/6-9/15 Hardware, tech
2 Kids@Play Las Vegas, NV 1/7/15 KidTech
3 Hong Kong Toys & Games Fair Hong Kong 1/12-15/15 Toys
4 Digital Book World New York, NY 1/13-15/15 eBooks
5 FETC Orlando, FL 1/20-23/15 Ed tech
6 PAXsouth San Antonio, TX 1/23-25/15 Gaming
7 Nuremburg Toy Fair Nuremburg 1/28-2/2/15 Toys
8 NY Toy Fair New York, NY 2/14-17/15 Toys
9 Digital Kids Conference New York, NY 2/15-17/15 KidTech
10 Kidscreen Summit Miami, FL 2/23-26/15 Broadcast, Children’s TV
11 iKids Miami, FL 2/26/15 KidTech
12 Game Developers Conference (GDC) San Fran, CA 3/2-6/15 Gaming
13 PAXeast Boston, MA 3/6-8/15 Gaming
14 SXSWedu Austin, TX 3/9-12 2015 Education
15 SXSW Gaming Expo Austin, TX 3/13-16/15 Gaming
16 SXSW Interactive Austin, TX 3/13-17/15 Interactive
17 SXSW Music Austin, TX 3/17-22/15 Music
18 Society for Research in Child Development (SRCD) Philadelphia, PA 3/19-21/15 Research
19 Sandbox Summit Cambridge, MA 3/22-24/15 Play
20 Dust or Magic Masterclass Bologna 3/25/15 eBooks
21 Bologna Children’s Book Faire Bologna 3/30-4/2/15 Books
22 Early Education & Technology for Children (EETC) Salt Lake City, UT 3/15 Early ed, edtech
23 London Book Fair London, UK 4/14-16/15 Books
24 Games for Change New York, NY 4/21-23/15 Serious games
25 Dust or Magic eBook Retreat Honesdale, PA 4/15 eBooks
26 PlayCon Scottsdale, AZ 4/29-5/1/15 Toys
27 Software & Information Industry Association (SIIA) San Fran, CA 5/3-5/15 Ed tech
28 Maker Faire Bay Area San Mateo, CA 5/16-17/15 Maker
29 Book Expo America (BEA) New York, NY 5/27-29/15 eBooks
30 AppCamp Pacific Grove, CA 5/30-6/2/15 Children’s Apps
31 “Content in Context (CIC, AAP) Wash DC 6/1-3/15 Ed publishing
32 NAEYC Professional Development conference New Orleans, LA 6/7-10/15 Early ed
33 Licensing Expo Las Vegas, NV 6/9-11/15 Licensing
34 Digital Media & Learning (DML) LA, CA 6/11-13/15 Ed tech
35 E3 LA, CA 6/16-18/15 Gaming
36 Interaction Design & Children (IDC) Medford, MA 6/21-24/15 Research
37 International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) Philadelphia, PA 6/28-7/1/15 Ed tech
38 Children’s Media Conference (Professional) Sheffield, UK 7/1-3/15 Broadcast
39 Playful Learning Summit Maddison, WI 7/7/15 Serious games
40 Games, Learning & Society (GLS) Maddison, WI 7/8-10/15 Serious games
41 ComicCom San Diego, CA 7/9-12/15 Entertainment
42 International Reading Association (IRA) St. Louis, MO 7/17-20/15 Education, reading
43 Serious Play LA, CA 7/15 Serious games
44 Casual Connect San Fran, CA 8/11-13/15 Gaming
45 Burning Man Black Rock Desert, NV 8/29-9/5/15 Art, mind
46 Digital Kids Summit San Fran, CA 9/15 KidTech
47 World Congress of Play San Fran, CA 9/15 Toys
48 Maker Faire New York New York, NY 9/26-27/15 Maker
49 MIP Jr. Cannes, France 10/2-4/15 Children’s television
50 MDR EdNet Atlanta, GA 10/4-6/15 Ed tech
51 MIPcom Cannes, France 10/5-8/15 Television
52 Fall Toy Preview Dallas, TX 10/6-8/15 Toys
53 Meaningful Play East Lansing, MI 10/15 Serious games
54 CineKid Amsterdam ~10/18-22/15 Interactive
55 Dust or Magic Lambertville, NJ 11/1-3/15 Kidtech, children’s apps
56 NAEYC Annual Conference TBA 11/15 Early ed
57 ChiTAG Chicago, IL 11/20-23/15 Toys
58 SIIA Education Business Forum New York, NY 12/15 Ed tech
59 Star Wars Episode VII release US 12/18/15 Entertainment

NOTE: Items highlighted in red indicate specifics about an event that have yet to be announced as of 11/10/2014.

Cooney Study Leaves New Questions for Educational Media Creators

Monday, January 27th, 2014

[The following is an article I wrote for the Jan. 24, 2014 issue of KidScreen.]

Vicky Rideout during her survey presentation at the Cooney Center Breakthrough Learning Forum.

Media research reports are great for offering insights about an industry. They help media creators take stock in where they are today with their media creation efforts on different platforms, and they also provide ideas on how we can best serve an intended audience. At the same time, what is gained from a new study almost always leads to many more new questions that can’t immediately be answered.

That’s certainly the case with the latest Joan Ganz Cooney Center report entitled Learning at Home: Families’ Educational Media Use in America. According to Vicky Rideout, children’s media researcher and the report’s main author, this is the first time “we have tried to quantify, on a national basis, what portion of kids screen time is devoted to educational content.”

The report digs deep into parents’ thoughts on their child’s use of educational media across a number of different platforms. One big finding that will not be a big surprise to broadcasters: Television is still king when it comes to delivering educational content, even though access to alternative platforms like mobile, computers and videogames has increased greatly in recent years. Television is the preferred platform by a long shot for educational media. Granted, the television industry has also had decades more time, almost 50 years’ worth, of creating and delivering educational content to young children than its younger media platform relatives. Still, with the explosive growth of mobile, this data point begs the question if parents are aware of the educational opportunities available to them on other platforms?

Among the many insights offered, children engage with educational media less as they age. Two-to four-year-olds consume 1:16 (one hour and sixteen minutes) of educational media daily, dropping to 0:50 for five-to seven-year-olds, and further still to 0:42 for eight-to 10-year-olds. Even at this lower end for eight-to 10-year-olds, you could consider their educational media use as an added class of learning material each day. However, as a child ages they also spend more overall time consuming media, educational or not, to the point where eight to 10-year-old media usage almost doubles compared to that of two-to four-year-olds. Surprisingly, while this older group consumes less educational media content daily, their parents report seeing their child demonstration of “a particular action as a result of something they saw or did with educational media” more so than the younger age groups. This could very well be a cumulative effect of educational media use consumed over many years, but still, it’s striking data point in the research. One could strongly argue, this “particular action” is evidence of mastery of the educational content that is consumed.

Other noteworthy findings:

  • Parents see a greater perceived learning impact in the areas of cognitive skills, reading, and math from educational media use but less impact with learning science or anything related to the arts.
  • The greater a parent’s education, the less educational media is consumed.
  • The greater the family’s income, the less educational media consumed.
  • Hispanic/Latino households reports less “actions taken” from educational media use than Black or White families.

These are just a few of the many findings called out in this report. There’s also data on parent and child sharing in the educational media experience together (often referred to as “joint media engagement”) as well as findings on traditional book reading and eBook use.

With just these few items I’ve called out above, the report forces us to consider many big, unanswered questions:

  • As children grow, why do they engage less with educational media, yet consume more media at the same time? Is there a need to create more engaging educational content for this age group than what is currently being offered?
  • What is it that we’re doing wrong, or not doing at all, to better engage Hispanic/Latino families with educational media?
  • Are parents less aware of the educational offerings available through mobile, computers and video games? If so, should we get behind a national awareness campaign to make ratings and reviews websites like Common Sense Media and Children’s Technology Review better known to parents?

Perhaps the biggest question raised in this report is whether educational media use, which appears to have great benefit at an early age, leads to greater media consumption that is of less benefit to children as they age?

Michael Levine, the executive director of the Cooney Center shares this report is the beginning of a larger conversation around educational media use. “There’s a lot of interest in having children view educational media, but less fulfillment of the wish as illustrated by this report, particularly for low income and Hispanic and Latino families,” he says.

As media creators, it is imperative to understand what can be done to up our game in the educational media space, no matter what the delivery vehicle. Part of that entails informing parents about resources available to them today to help them find the best educational content broadcasters and software publishers have to offer. The Cooney Center as well as many other interested groups, foundations, and policy makers are already quickly working on the next new report, and latest research findings that will one day in the near future move the industry needle even further ahead, as well as create many more questions we’ve yet to imagine, as evidence by the volume of questions this report is sure to generate.

Additional video links:
1.) Vicky Rideout – Learning from Home report overview
2.) Michael Levine – Learning from Home report overview
3.) Playlist of all Learning from Home speakers
4.) The complete Learning from Home discussion (speakers with audience discussion)

[Scott Traylor is the CEO and founder of 360KID, a youth-focused organization that specializes in developing interactive content, apps, and games for broadcasters, publishers and organizations that wish to engage kids of any age.]