×

‘Odd Squad’ Deploys New Team for Old Mission: Getting Kids to Tune In

The kid cast of the PBS series “Odd Squad” is gearing up for its usual challenge, teaching kids about math and science. While the four new members of the team tape scenes in New York’s Central Park, however, a bigger threat looms.

Viewers of “Odd Squad” will not be all that familiar with Valentina Herrera, Jayce Alexander, Alyssa Hidalgo and Gavin MacIver-Wright when they take to the PBS Kids schedule sometime in 2020 for the third cycle of this popular kids’ program. Producers are betting fans of the program and others who have yet to sample it will embrace them quickly. A cast shake-up is not the norm for most series, but for “Odd Squad” it has fast become de rigueur.

Across kids’ TV, most favorites rarely change. Curious George looks almost the same now as he did when he debuted in 2006. The same is true for Nickelodeon’s SpongeBob SquarePants. Just as its young agents solve problems using unorthodox methods, so too do the show’s producers, who rely on the series’ live-action feel to keep a rising generation of TV viewers interested in what’s happening.

“There’s entirely too much of it,” says J.J. Johnson, founding partner of Sinking Ship Entertainment, which produces “Odd Squad” along with Fred Rogers Productions, speaking of animated series for children. “We are trying to get kids excited about the real world.” He adds: “I just think kids connect to kids they see who are like them. It’s important for kids to see themselves represented on screen. I think this show does that.”

Since its launch in 2014, “Odd Squad” has captured young eyeballs through an interesting conceit that casts kids as part of a vast network of secret agents who aim to solve all kinds of mysterious phenomena using logic and reasoning. The producers lace the live action with special effects and funny, original songs that often spark viral pass-along.

The challenge is the one that looms for any executive behind the operations of a live-action kids’ favorite. Within the space of just a few seasons, the actors get too old for the role. Little wonder that Disney Channel’s “Liv & Maddie” or Nickelodeon’s “iCarly” last just four to six seasons. “Odd Squad” must also contend with the fact that PBS tends to broadcast a small handful of episodes at a time, parceling out originals just a few times a year.

The “Odd Squad” cast has been through two iterations, and will now debut a third. In this go-round, the show will focus on just four agents, who function as part of a mobile squad, and will travel to places ranging from New York to Australia. Viewers who have followed the show in the past will notice the series’ evolution as soon as the squad members step into their new van, says Mark De Angelis, the program’s co-executive producer and writer. “They step into it for the first time and they say, ‘How is this thing way bigger on the inside than it is on the outside?’” he explains. The show “still has the same magic,” he adds. “It’s a little more intimate.”

Not necessarily for the four new cast members, who are navigating some of the series unique quirks. Jayce Alexander, 11 years old, says one of his most challenging scenes so far required him to rattle off a bunch of fractions. “I was like, ‘three-fourths, two-fourths, five…one-fourth, two-fo….I quit.” Gavin MacIver-Wright, also 11, had to muddle through tongue-twisters. Alyssa Hidalgo’s character is several centuries old and wears an ornate hairpiece she says takes 20 minutes to get on her head. Valentina Herrera plays Opal, a mission-driven agent. ‘We have to keep going,” she says, “She’s really the ‘get-going’ of the group.”

Gone are Anna Cathcart, the former Agent Olympia, and Isaac Kragten, who played Agent Otis. Longtime viewers will be encouraged to learn that Millie Davis, who has played leader Ms. O since the series started, remains on hand as a now-legendary guiding light known as “The Big O” (Johnson acknowledges that producers are working harder than ever to keep the series in characters with “O” names).

“Changes are never easy for kids,” notes Suzanne Masri, director of marketing and communications for Fred Rogers Productions, but producers know a certain segment of the audience grows out of the show year by year, and are working well ahead of the launch of the next cycle to make certain audiences are aware of the new lineup and storyline. “We are pretty confident this new cast will find a new place in viewers’ hearts, like the other casts have,” she says.

And there are other avenues to consider as well. Producers already launched an accompanying series of streaming-video snippets on “Odd Tube.” Now they plan to launch an audio component, an “OddCast.”

The hope is the changing casts will give future fans more to watch. “Kids will find the original season and the sequel cast in the second season,” says Johnson. “The ‘Odd Squad’ world is massive, and it just keeps folding out.”

More TV

  • Rihanna

    Rihanna Pleads for Equality at NAACP Image Awards: 'Tell Your Friends to Pull Up'

    Rihanna was the recipient of the NAACP President’s Award. The honor is bestowed on an entertainer whose commitment to philanthropy is unparalleled. Rihanna, whose chosen charities include the Clara Lionel Foundation, Raising Malawi and UNICEF and was honored as Harvard’s Humanitarian of the Year in 2017, was in attendance for the NAACP Image Awards show, [...]

  • Bernie Sanders, Jane Sanders. Democratic presidential

    Bernie Sanders Projected to Win Nevada Democratic Caucus

    Bernie Sanders is now projected to win the Nevada caucus. Per the Associated Press, Sanders has captured 54% of the delegates with 4% of precincts reporting on Saturday afternoon. Joe Biden is currently in a distant second with 17.8%, while Elizabeth Warren rose to third with 10%. Pete Buttigieg is in fourth place with 8.7%, [...]

  • Lizzo51st Annual NAACP Image Awards, Arrivals,

    NAACP Winners 2020: The Complete List

    The 51st annual NAACP Awards, hosted by Anthony Anderson, took place Saturday night in Los Angeles. Lizzo was named entertainer of the year and Warner Bros.’ legal drama “Just Mercy” nearly swept the top film honors, taking home best motion picture, best actor (Michael B. Jordan) and best supporting actor (Jamie Foxx). Rihanna, meanwhile, accepted the [...]

  • Leonine Takes International Rights to Premium

    Leonine Takes International Rights to Premium Series 'Herzogpark'

    German media group Leonine has taken international distribution rights to the six-part premium series “Herzogpark,” following a deal with its producers Letterbox Filmproduktion (“Bad Banks”). The rights for German-speaking territories are held by Mediengruppe RTL Deutschland. The dramedy centers on four women from Munich’s upscale Herzogpark district, for whom keeping secrets has become a life’s [...]

  • Luna Nera Netflix Italy

    Italy's Women Filmmakers Set to Make Waves

    The Berlinale in recent years has been a prime launching pad for Italian films directed by women, which though fewer in number to their male counterparts, make up a considerable portion of the country’s representation on the festival circuit — Alice Rohrwacher (“Happy as Lazzaro”) at Cannes, Susanna Nicchiarelli (“Nico”) at Venice, and Berlin regular [...]

  • Love Me Scandinavian Cinema

    Scandinavia Ups Its Game With So Many Markets for Its Fare

    When the Nordic entertainment group, one of Scandinavia’s largest media groups, announced last month during the Goteborg Film Festival that it was pulling out of non-scripted content to focus on scripted drama, and film production and distribution, it underscored two market trends in the Nordics: Subscription-based services, whether local or global, are driving the region’s [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content