Janice Burgess, ‘The Backyardigans’ Creator, Dies at 72

Janice Burgess, creator of Nickelodeon’s “The Backyardigans,” died on Saturday in hospice care in Manhattan, according to The New York Times. She was 72.

“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,'” Nickelodeon said in a statement. “Janice was one of the greats–inherently creative and kind, and dedicated to the preschool audience everywhere.”

Animation writer Fracaswell Hyman, who met Burgess while both were working on “Gullah Gullah Island,” wrote on Instagram, “Janice swept in with her acid-tongued wit, flowing Hermes scarves and omnipresent cigarettes. Instead of an overseer, she became a friend. She recognized my magic before I did and made sure I was in the room and under consideration for many of the shows that came my way including ‘Little Bill’ and ‘Taina.'”

The statement continued, “Janice, Maria Perez-Brown and I developed shows together, gossiped together and oh, how we laughed! I will miss my dear friend. RIP. Oh, how we laughed.”

Born in Pittsburgh, Burgess graduated from Brandeis University in 1973 with an art history degree. She then decided to try a new career path in television, starting out at craft services for Pittsburgh’s WQED TV station. Burgess then worked her way up to positions at Children’s Television Workshop, working on “3-2-1 Contact” and “Ghostwriter.”

Joining Nickelodeon as an executive in charge of production for Nickelodeon’s Nick Jr. channel, she oversaw shows such as “Blue’s Clues,” “Allegra’s Window” and “Gullah Gullah Island.” She then turned to the creative side of the business, creating a pilot for a live-action full body puppet show called “Me and My Friends” in 1998. Though the series did not move forward, she was encouraged to re-tool the concept for animation and eventually created “The Backyardigans.”

The popular children’s series ran from 2004 to 2013, spanning 80 episodes featuring song and dance routines. It followed five animal best friends, Uniqua, Tyrone, Austin, Pablo and Tasha, who had adventures in their backyard.

Burgess’ other notable credits include her work as a story editor on “Winx Club” and co-developing “Bubble Guppies.”

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