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'Donkey Hodie' on PBS: Go behind the scenes of new Fred Rogers show

Darcel Rockett, Chicago Tribune on

Published in Entertainment News

Under their company, the two serve as co-creators and executive producers of “Donkey Hodie.” Adam also serves as the head writer. David serves as the director and a puppeteer of Grampy Hodie and Bob Dog; he also designed all of the puppets.

Adam Rudman said Fred Rogers Productions reached out to Spiffy to collaborate on the project.

“When we heard the name, we were in. We were like, ‘this sounds so funny,’ and we started developing the show with them,” he said. “The more we learned about Fred Rogers’s archives and the farther we went in and learned about his other characters and the places he created, we just got so excited and kept going and going.”

According to Ellen Doherty, Chief Creative Officer of Fred Rogers Productions, “Donkey Hodie” will fit into the production company’s unique children’s programming alongside “Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood” and “Odd Squad.”

“At the heart of all our shows at Fred Rogers Productions are engaging stories that focus on simple, clear take-aways for children,” said Doherty, who’s also executive producer of “Donkey Hodie.” “Say it clearly, make it relatable and it will be memorable. That’s one of the things I’ve learned from watching the work of Fred Rogers.”

Viewers will be treated to 40 episodes of “Donkey Hodie” this first season, which means the Rudmans are filming 80, 11-minute episodes. The brothers are just starting the scripting for Season 4 of “Nature Cat,” and will go back and forth to get both shows done. The brothers expect to be done shooting “Donkey Hodie” by the end of the year. While “Nature Cat” inspires youth to enjoy the outdoors, this new endeavor is all about teaching preschoolers perseverance.

“The big one is resiliency,” Adam Rudman said. “Obstacles that might be thrown at you, you can overcome them if you just keep on trying and be resilient and persevere — those are the main overarching themes for the series.”

The message is one that coincides with the pandemic.

“It really is perfect timing for kids and parents alike to watch the show and learn a little and give hope and encouragement,” Adam Rudman added.

 

Each “Donkey Hodie” episode features original music, as well as re-imagined versions of Fred Rogers’ original songs, performed by the puppeteers. Cordero calls them “super catchy.”

“The education is there for the little kids with the lessons and the curriculum, but we always try to put some funny things in there for the parents. And the music is really important ..., so we play around with different styles and different types of music,” David Rudman said.

Citing influences like Buster Keaton and Jack Benny, the Rudmans say comedy is as important as the curriculum. Cordero remembers watching Jack Benny when he was younger and into radio plays, as well as reruns of “The Muppet Show.” His fascination with puppets led him to seek out the Rudmans as a college student to start his puppetry career.

“There are so many talented people in Chicago and this is where we’re based out of and we love finding homegrown talent and people to work with here,” Adam Rudman said.

The Rudmans agree that Cordero brought Purple Panda to life. The West Side native admits that he identified with the character.

“A lot of the character description did line up with myself, though,” he said. “He was described as being a calm guy, wears his emotions on his sleeve. Which I feel I’ve always been like that. And now, especially after having kids, I’m hoping that a lot of modeling will help children as well.”

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