“Donkey Hodie” was produced out of Pittsburgh and filmed in Chicago.By Kristine Sorensen

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — Fred Rogers Productions, headquartered in Pittsburgh, has developed a new show based on a character from “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.”

“Donkey Hodie” was dreamed up by Fred Rogers and in production as the star of its own show long before the coronavirus pandemic. But the show’s message about perseverance and resilience couldn’t be more timely.

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“It does feel more resonant than ever,” said Ellen Doherty, the executive producer for Fred Rogers Productions. “After the year that everyone has had, to have a show that is about getting through hard times and just keep on going.”

Fred Rogers Productions also created “Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood”, “Peg Plus Cat” and “Odd Squad.”

Five years ago, the production company began discussing a show for preschoolers using puppets. Haley Jenkins, who studied theater at Point Park University, plays Donkey Hodie.

“It’s really fun,” Jenkins said. “It’s kind of like playing with a stuffed animal in the same way you would with a kid, but you’re just taking it on to a different level.”

In the shows, Donkey learns lessons like the importance of asking for help, practicing and trying again. Peters Township native Stephanie D’Abruzzo plays Duck Duck and Harriett Elizabeth Cow.

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“The original Harriett Elizabeth Cow was a fairy tale voice, a school teacher, but this Harriet Elizabeth Cow, I wanted to bring some Pittsburgh to her,” D’Abruzzo said.

“Duck Duck is one of our smallest neighbors, but that does not mean her personality is small. She’s low to the ground, and she’s just very happy with who she is because she’s just got to go where she’s got to go and do what she’s got to do,” she added.

You’ll notice a trolley, a fish tank, stop lights – all nods to the Mister Rogers show, which these puppeteers and producers all grew up watching.

“It really is an honor to be able to carry on his legacy and keep telling his stories,” D’Abruzzo said.

“Donkey Hodie” was produced out of Pittsburgh and filmed in Chicago. It debuts Monday on PBS Kids.

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Kristine Sorensen