‘Donkey Hodie’ continues Fred Rogers’ legacy

Rick's Reviews

“Donkey Hodie” is the new PBS series aimed at children ages 3-5. (Photo courtesy of Fred Rogers Productions)

Beloved television host Fred Rogers died 18 years ago but his legacy of wanting to entertain and educate children goes on through Fred Rogers Production. The latest series from the company aimed at children ages 3-5 is the whimsical “Donkey Hodie.”

The series – set to debut at 10 a.m. May 3 on ValleyPBS – follows the adventures of Donkey Hodie, granddaughter of the original Donkey Hodie character from “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.” The original puppet – now known as Grampy Hodie – appeared in 59 episodes of “Neighborhood.”

A cast of colorful and quirky characters in “Donkey Hodie” help young viewers navigate the challenges of childhood. The series features original new music along with reimagined versions of Rogers’ songs. 

Ellen Doherty, Chief Creative Officer, Fred Rogers Productions, stresses the 3-5 demographic has always been the focus of the company.

“I think that when you’re specific in how you tell the story and who the audience is for, that’s how you can really connect with the viewer,” Doherty says. “And then also the really careful writing and the songs and then the music and the performances all really, I think, bring a joy to the show that is something that also just transcends a trend.

“We’re looking at sort of core heart and soul and emotional development, as well as perseverance and resilience. We hope Donkey and her pals will inspire kids to keep trying even when tasks get hard and to face challenges with an ‘I can do this’ attitude. The show will also help parents guide their children in becoming strong critical thinkers and problem solvers.”

Leading the way is Donkey Hodie, an enthusiastic, “can-do” yellow donkey with a bright magenta mane, and her pals: Purple Panda, her loyal and empathetic best friend who wears his big heart on his sleeve; Duck Duck, a practical, quick-witted young mallard who loves to figure things out; and Bob Dog, an energetic and eager canine who is always ready to boogie to music or fetch a ball. They all live in Someplace Else where everyone’s big dreams are possible.

No one connected with “Donkey Hodie” had the opportunity to meet Mister Rogers but they all embraced his legacy. That’s particularly true with Haley Jenkins who provides the voice for Donkey Hodie.

Jenkins grew up watching “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” and when she went to college in Pittsburgh, her acting coach was Mary Rawson who played Cousin Mary Owl on the series. Her fondest memory of the show was when Mister Rogers would feed his fish.

“This show has always been so special to me. It’s such a special show.  I can’t explain it enough.  But specifically – it’s funny.  When talking to our art department, they asked me if there were any things about ‘Mister Roger’s Neighborhood’ that I wanted to see reflected in the background of Donkey’s windmill,” Jenkins says. “I said, ‘That fish tank.’

“There might be a little Easter egg back there when you see the show that just kind of is a nod to that.”

On the road again – sort of

The regular format of the PBS series “Antiques Roadshow” was no longer an option once the pandemic hit. There was no way throngs of people could safely be brought together to discuss their items that experts determine to be trash of treasure.

The solution is the first “Celebrity Edition” that will debut at 8 p.m. May 3 on ValleyPBS.

“We wanted to use ‘Roadshow’s’ unique power of knowledge, our appraisers’ brains, to continue to learn history via material culture, but with a spin,” says Marsha Bemko, Series Executive Producer. “When we are on tour, we keep our owners’ identities confidential so no one can find them and their treasure.  With our ‘Celebrity Edition’ shows, we wanted to make sure you know who our owners are, and, if you’re like me, in addition to being curious about what they consider treasures, hearing them tell us why.”

The airing on May 3 is the first of four weekly “Celebrity Edition” episodes, with the following episodes airing May 10, 17 and 24. Some of the celebrities featured include Jay Leno, S. Epatha Merkerson, Nancy Kerrigan, Jason Reynolds, Dottie Pepper, Carla Hall, Rubén Blades, Soledad O’Brien and Carson Kressley.

There was no hesitation by Kressley to be part of the show as he has been a fan for years. That interest comes from the fact he has been collecting antiques since he was a child.

“I was that weird kid who would get birthday money and be like, ‘Can we please go to the antique mall,’ not the movies or a baseball game.  I was just that kid,” Kressley says. “So, I have a treasure trove of things I have been collecting since I was literally in my teens.

“I could have had the crew here all day, being like, ‘What about this?  What do you think about this?’  They are like, ‘Okay, calm down.’  But we had some fun items that I actually learned a lot about.”

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