The research is alarming, but PBS is ready to fight back. PEG + CAT, a new animated children's series premiering Monday is designed to combat recent studies that show young girls are increasingly buying into the belief that boys are better at math.
"Not only is the notion ridiculous, it's a real shame, because it's encouraging girls not to pursue math in school, and that will greatly affect their career options," says Lesli Rotenberg, the general manager of children's programming at PBS. "We wanted a show that will address the issue in a fun way and help reverse this crazy thinking."
Meet Peg, a curious and spunky preschooler, and her feline companion, Cat, who will rely on math "to tackle social and relationship issues and everyday problems like cleaning up a messy bedroom," Rotenberg says. Some of their dilemmas may be zany — like how to get 100 chickens back into their coop or how to feed a horde of hungry pirates with just one banana — but it's all solvable via mathematics and a zippy song.
The series, the first production from the Fred Rogers Company unrelated to Mister Rogers, has a startlingly simple, homemade look. "Children's programming has become almost too sophisticated with the visual dazzle of CGI," says cocreator Jennifer Oxley. "We're taking young viewers back to the days of Peanuts, with characters who are internally complex but very simple on the outside — characters the kids can draw themselves."
But will boys give a hoot? PBS is confident they will. "The traditional TV networks think girls will watch a show with a boy as the main character but boys won't watch girls," says Rotenberg. "We would never play into that!"