D.C. show ‘Pancake Mountain’ gets big push from PBS

Rufus Leaking -- a goat puppet -- is one star of Pancake Mountain (Photo: Bill Crandall)

WASHINGTON — “Pancake Mountain” – an edgy, music-heavy television show for kids of all ages, created 10 years ago in D.C. – will come out of retirement and reach a new audience with a recently launched PBS platform that focuses on online content.

While critics have described “Pancake Mountain” as “Romper Room unleashed,” “super hip” and “the coolest booking in rock,” Scott Stuckey’s creation had been a well- received, hard-to-describe, impossible to market show in search of a large audience.

And then YouTube happened.

Now, the nonprofit Public Broadcasting Service, firmly entrenched in American television with shows ranging from “Sesame Street” and “Thomas the Tank Engine” to “Antiques Roadshow” and “Downton Abbey,” is adding its weight to a show featuring a talking goat and an inept superhero named Captain Perfect.

“It’s pretty exciting,” says Stuckey. “It’s been 10 years.”

Cutting-edge music plays a large role in “Pancake Mountain,” including dance parties featuring children and their parents shaking to music from performers including Katy Perry, Arcade Fire and Thievery Corporation.

“After we produced the show for 5 or 6 years in D.C. and visited all the networks in L.A., no one really got it,” says Stuckey. “So we retired the show 2 years ago.

“Then out of the blue we got a call from PBS Digital Studios.”

After years and countless visits with stuck-in-the mud producers intent on tweaking the show, PBS told Stuckey “Pancake Mountain” could stick with its do-it- yourself, off-the-wall format.

“They said they would like us to continue to make shows, and we didn’t have to change anything, or try to do anything different to reach a different demographic, and we thought that sounded great,” says Stuckey.

Not your parents’ PBS

“PBS Digital Studios is still the PBS you know and love, but on a different platform and for a different audience,” says Danielle Steinberg, writer/producer and social-media lead for the team.

Steinberg says PBS Digital Studios, founded and headed by Matt Graham at the Crystal City headquarters, creates, develops, produces and manages online content for PBS.

While PBS Kids has a substantial audience of young viewers, as well as an older audience for fans of “Masterpiece Theater” and “Frontline,” “viewers between those demographics – tweens to 30s – are inconsistent viewers,” says Steinberg.

“When we thought about where that particular audience was consuming content, it hit us: YouTube,” says Steinberg.

So PBS Digital Studios aimed to make content that fits the PBS aesthetic, but for the web and devices like Roku, Xbox, Apple TV and Hulu.

That works for Stuckey and “Pancake Mountain.”

“I was really kind of blown away when I checked out what they were doing,” says Stuckey.

“It’s a new thing, but that’s what really excited me – that we get complete control,” says Stuckey, finally liberated from the expectation that content would meet specific needs of educational television.

“We can’t call it a kids show or a children’s show, which is fine with me,” says Stuckey.

Something new and different

An exact launch date hasn’t been announced, but Stuckey and his fellow producers and characters are busy creating new content – something he’s never had to do on a regular basis.

“We never really had a real production schedule. It was more like when we had free time, or a band we really liked and admired was coming through town, that we’d decide to shoot episodes.”

With the increased exposure afforded by the PBS imprimatur comes increased pressure.

“We will have a weekly schedule, which is kind of terrifying,” acknowledges Stuckey.

Stuckey expects filming will take place at various locations.

“Some will be in D.C., especially the dance parties, we’re going to continue to film those in D.C.,” says Stuckey.

PBS Digital Studios’ Steinberg is enthusiastic about the show’s “awkward comedy, famous musicians and an anything-goes mantra that just pulls you in and makes you want to click on other episodes to see if it can possibly get any whackier. …

“While the content may not strike people as inherently PBS at first, keep in mind this is PBS for a new, Internet-oriented generation,” says Steinberg.

See what “Pancake Mountain” is all about:

WTOP’s Neal Augenstein appeared in early episodes of Pancake Mountain as an “evil corporate stooge.” Stuckey explains: “We just kinda got whoever we thought was interesting and people we like and people we knew – there was no casting or anything.”

Follow @WTOP on Twitter and on the WTOP Facebook page.