Fred Rogers Productions Achieves Big Dreams Someplace Else


The magic of Fred Rogers has been brought to life once again, this time through the PBS KIDS puppet show Donkey Hodie, with new episodes set to hit screens on Fridays in March.

Set in the land of Someplace Else, the preschool series from Fred Rogers Productions and Spiffy Pictures centers on big dreams and what it takes to achieve them. The titular character—a donkey with bright yellow fur and a vibrant magenta mane—is an optimist and a go-getter, according to Kristin DiQuollo, supervising producer of the show for Fred Rogers Productions. “We call her a can-do donkey.”

The bright yellow character is the granddaughter of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood’s Donkey Hodie, who was a gray hand puppet. When the producers at Fred Rogers Productions revisited Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood for inspiration, Chief Creative Officer Ellen Doherty landed on the name “Donkey Hodie,” and, “pulling on the thread of the source material Don Quixote and ‘The Impossible Dream,’ thought, ‘What about a series based on Donkey Hodie that’s about big dreams and what that means for preschoolers?’” DiQuollo says. And thus, the yellow and pink go-getter was born.

The setting of Someplace Else is derived directly from a Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood storyline in which the original Donkey Hodie began building a windmill behind King Friday’s castle in the Neighborhood of Make-Believe. “King Friday did not like it and told Donkey Hodie to go build a windmill someplace else,” DiQuollo explains. “So, Donkey Hodie left the neighborhood and founded Someplace Else, population one.” Now, his granddaughter Donkey Hodie lives in the windmill that he built.

The land of Someplace Else is “a place where everybody comes to realize their big dreams,” DiQuollo says. “It’s where everybody can get a little messy and have fun and make mistakes and be supported along the way.” And there are no dreams too big to achieve—whether it’s Grampy Hodie’s original dream of building a windmill to Game Show Gator’s of being a game-show host or Bob Dog’s of living in a tennis ball.

With Donkey Hodie centering on big dreams, “the themes of resilience, perseverance and problem-solving that you need to make those big dreams happen” became core tenets of the show, DiQuollo says. The lessons of each episode are developed with Roberta Schomburg, a longtime adviser for Fred Rogers Productions who worked with Rogers, and Brittany Sommer Katzin.

“We frame all the core messages as ‘I’ statements,” DiQuollo points out. “Donkey has an ‘I, Donkey Hodie,’ statement in every story. ‘I, Donkey Hodie, will make art for the art show,’ for example. She sets her goal, and she restates the goal several times, typically, throughout the story.” And when she inevitably runs into problems trying to achieve her grandiose goals, she tries and tries again.

Quite crucially: “She will ask for help if she needs it and when she needs it,” DiQuollo adds. “An important skill for building resilience is acknowledging that you don’t have to do it all by yourself; you can ask for help if you need it. That’s a really important piece of the learning DNA for our show.”

Overcoming challenges, managing your own emotions, persisting when things get tough and letting yourself be OK with the feelings that you feel are vital pieces of the show. “Frankly, these are all things that we as adults can learn from as well,” DiQuollo says. “And I know I’ve learned a lot.”

The use of live puppets helps to drive these lessons home, as the physicality and range of emotions are “different than what you’re able to achieve in animation, and it just feels so much more real,” DiQuollo notes. The huggable and touchable nature of live puppets is able to reinforce the show’s takeaways because children don’t have to imagine them; they really exist. “And, of course, it was a good way to nod to Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood because many of these characters were puppets.”

Aside from the main concepts taught throughout the series, one of the core purposes of the show hearkens back to a story DiQuollo recalls: “I heard from our advisers that Fred used to say that what’s on the outside of kids might change—meaning their experience in the world or what’s happening around them—but their insides stay the same. And that has really stuck with me. With Donkey Hodie, we’re honoring what’s on the inside for all kids and hopefully helping spark their sense of fun and play and wonder along the way.”