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‘The Backyardigans’ Creator Janice Burgess Passes at 72

The long-time Nickelodeon creative executive began her career in craft services before joining the network, eventually overseeing Nick Jr. shows such as ‘Blue’s Clues’ and ‘Gullah Gullah Island;’ her development and writing work included ‘Winx Club and’ ‘Bubble Guppies.’

Janice Burgess, creator of the Nickelodeon animated series The Backyardigans, passed away in hospice care over the weekend, according to Variety. 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.”

Burgess was born in Pittsburgh, and after earning her art history degree from Brandeis University in 1973, began her entertainment career in craft services for a local TV station. Working her way up to Children’s Television Workshop, she then joined Nickelodeon as an executive for the Nick Jr. channel, overseeing such shows as Blue’s Clues, Allegra’s Window, and Gullah Gullah Island.

Burgess’ friend, animation writer Fracaswell Hyman, recently posted their condolences on Instagram. “I met Janice Burgess early in my career when I was head writer on Gullah Gullah Island and she was assigned to be our Executive in Charge of Production,” reminisced Hyman. “This is the person the network sends to the set to make sure the money is not going to waste. 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.”

“Janice created The Backyardigans and guided countless other shows for Nickelodeon, Sesame Workshop, Disney and Apple TV,” Hyman continued. “Her script/story critiques were astute, clear and constructive - and I really thank her for that.”

Pivoting to the creative side of the industry in 1998, Burgess wrote a pilot for a live-action full body puppet show, which sparked her interest in animation. While also known for her work on Winx Club and Bubble Guppies, her series The Backyardigans, which ran from 2001 to 2013, was the feather in her cap. Burgess hoped that the characters from the series would inspire children’s creative sense of adventure.

Speaking previously with The Times, Burgess said, “I hope they’ll feel they can create their own adventures by seeing what’s on the screen and playing with it the way they want to. If they want to put pirate hats on and go to outer space, that’s OK.”

Laurén Alexa's picture

Journalist, antique shop owner, aspiring gemologist—Laurén brings a diverse perspective to animation, where every frame reflects her varied passions.