Spotlight on Angela C. Santomero - Creator & Executive Producer of Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood

How did you first get involved in children’s television?

My two biggest influencers were Fred Rogers (I was the biggest Mister Rogers’ fan there was!) and my little brother who was born when I was 14. Through “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood,” Fred inspired me to bring authentic, respectful, quality educational media to kids.  I studied child development (like he did), getting my MA from Teachers College, Columbia University.  

My brother, on the other hand, was my first taste of child development!  I have always loved kids and was in awe of how smart and interesting my little brother was.  Watching him learn and ask questions about the world was fascinating to me. Combining my love of kids, and Fred’s inspirational work became the crux of my desire to create children’s television shows.  The first show that I ever wrote was, "Super Why!"  (PBS)  It was my culmination project for my Masters’ Thesis using research to prove that kids can learn from television.  Armed with my knowledge base and love for children, I worked at Nickelodeon and got an opportunity to write and create a new idea that turned into a “preschool game show” called “Blue’s Clues.”  

 What drew you to creating “Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood?”

Did I mention I was a huge Fred Rogers’ fan?   smiley I used to sit so close to the TV when the show was on that my mother was worried about me!   When the opportunity from Kevin Morrison at The Fred Rogers Company came to me to create a show that would promote Fred’s legacy I was honored, humbled, and passionate to bring “Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood” to life.  In many ways, the show was how I would play out the Neighborhood of Make Believe when I was a preschooler.  I would have all of the characters grow up, get married, and have preschoolers of their very own – which is essentially what “Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood” is!

 What do you like best about the series?

I’m passionate about putting “little nods of love” in the series throughout every episode.  These are little reminders of “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” and Fred Rogers, himself.  You can see our “love” when we use Fred’s music, hear some of the signature lines our characters say (Meow Meow!  Nifty Galifty!).  We also add them in small ways as well. We created little clay models of the Neighborhood, and we put them in the Tiger Family house. We have the fish tank and the traffic light, and Daniel wears a red sweater and sneakers, just like Fred did.  

I also love how much our musical strategies have given kids and parents tools to use every day. Our strategies have “handles” – that parents and kids can easily “hold” and use whenever they need to.  And they do!  All the time!  In fact, our newest Allergy episode is already being touted as extremely helpful to parents.  It makes me so proud. 

Do your kids ever influence what appears on the show?

Both my girls influence me all the time, in every way possible.  The idea behind Daniel making Banana Swirl? My girls love it.  Banana bread?  My favorite.  Even the whole scene where Daniel meets Baby Margaret for the first time after she was born was inspired by my own girls.  Now, even though my girls are older than our target audience (they are 15 and 13!), they are both so proud and protective of the show.  They read scripts with me (and give me their good notes!), they watch animatics and early animation tests and weigh in.  They have been part of the process from the beginning.  In fact, I use the strategies at home, too.  But being older, my daughter will say, “Don’t Daniel me, Mom!” But I do.  All the time.  And truth is, our strategies work on teenagers, too!   smiley

Angela shares her insights on parenting at her blog that she updates regularly.

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