Now here's a phrase you don't hear often: Mister Rogers has gone viral. This summer, the cardigan-sporting crooner and two of his fellow late PBS phemons have become social media sensations after a trio of catchy Auto-Tune remix YouTube videos -- released by brainiacs in the network's Web-based faction -- received millions of hits, spiking traffic for online shows, broadening youth viewership and immeasurably increasing the notoriously stodgy network's hip quotient.
"PBS sometimes ... gets criticized for being peas and carrots or being appealing only to your mind, and I don't think that's true," said Jason Seiken, co-founder of PBS Digital Studios. "What we wanted to do with these videos was make sure they provoked people to think, but at the same time touch their hearts."
The three videos -- "Garden of Your Mind," "Happy Little Trees" and "Keep On Cooking" -- were created by musician John Boswell of Bellingham, Wash. PBS approached the 26-year-old, who goes by "melodysheep," earlier this year to remix the deceased icons in tribute, while adhering to a "YouTube sensibility," Seiken said.
"My hope is that they remind people that PBS has been producing some amazing content for decades now, and they certainly still are and deserve to be well-funded," Boswell told the Herald.
Because of the remixes' popularity, PBS Digital Studios has seen "a significant uptick" in traffic for two online-only series, "Off Book" and "Idea Channel," Seiken said, adding more are on the way.
Emerson College marketing professor David Gerzof Richard said the Virginia-based broadcaster was "brilliant" to explore the YouTube route, as the videos not only target younger viewers but also help build an "army" of fans who will back the often-embattled network in fights over funding or content.
"It's an indirect return on investment," he said. "They're almost paying it forward to themselves."
"Keep On Cooking," featuring Julia Child as WGBH's "French Chef," was viewed half a million times in less than a week. A whopping 6.4 million fans have tuned in to hear Fred Rogers murmur, "Did you ever grow anything in the garden of your mind?" In "Happy Little Trees," which has had 2.7 million views since mid-July, "Joy of Painting" host Bob Ross urges viewers to explore their creative sides.
The videos received unanimous praise from friends and colleagues of all three hosts.
"Bob would have loved it. He always wanted to be a singer, and now he is," said Annette Kowalski, co-founder of painting supply and instruction company Bob Ross Inc. in Virginia. David Newell, who portrayed "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" mailman Mr. McFeely, said he sees the videos "as a loving tribute to the people who helped start public television. If no one has seen Fred or Julia before and they see these videos, I think it would prompt someone to find out more about these two iconic figures."
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