TV producer and creator of 'The Backyardigans', Janice Burgess, dies

 March 6, 2024

Janice Burgess, the Nickelodeon producer and creator of the hit children's TV show The Backyardigans, has died. She was 72.

The cause of death was breast cancer.

“We are saddened to learn of the passing of one of the great architects of Nick Jr. and creator of the globally beloved series, The Backyardigans. Janice was one of the greats--inherently creative and kind, and dedicated to the preschool audience everywhere," Nickelodeon said in a statement.

The Backyardigans creator dies

Burgess' career in TV began modestly enough, with a volunteer role in craft services at WQED, a public station in Pittsburgh.

She later moved to Children's Television Workshop, now known as Sesame Workshop, before getting hired by Nickelodeon. Burgess joked that she applied for the job "11,000 times."

As the executive producer of Nick Jr., she oversaw Blue's Clues and Little Bill. She was eventually approached to create a show for preschoolers, which became The Backyardigans.

Her first pitch, a live action musical puppet show called Me and My Friends, was unsuccessful, but she was encouraged to re-work it.

"Sometimes your first attempt is just not all that great. In this case, my second attempt was much better," she told Investor's Business Daily in 2009.

Art history grad won two Emmys

The Backyardigans, an animated series about five animal neighbors and their adventures, debuted in 2004 and ran for four seasons.

In 2008, The Backyardigans won an Emmy. Burgess also won an Emmy for Little Bill in 2004.

The Pittsburgh native and Brandeis University graduate initially wanted to be an art historian, but soon realized the highbrow art world wasn't for her. As a children's TV producer, Burgess drew inspiration from action movies like Die Hard and Terminator 2.

"I'm really quite a refined person, but there's nothing I like more than cops and robbers and gun fights and crazy driving and fast and furiousness," Burgess said at the time," she told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in 2006.

"When you think in terms of little kids, you don't want to scare them, and I'm not in favor of showing any kind of violence or aggression, but you can certainly have a big adventure even if you're 3. I thought it would be fun to take kids on that big adventure."

Burgess is survived by her mother and her brother Jack Burgess.

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