IT’S BEEN NEARLY seven years since Mister Rogers slipped on his sweater and pulled off his loafers for the last time, but one Portlander has picked up the program’s mellow mantle and given it a sense of 21st-century realism. For one thing, the star of Tammy Stoner’s show, Dottie’s Magic Pockets, is a woman. She also sports a hoodie instead of a cardigan. And she’s married to another woman.
The show, which debuted on DVD in September and premieres in Portland on January 19 at Southeast’s Q Center, is one of the first programs produced specifically for children of same-sex couples. While TV has come a long way since Will & Grace debuted in the ’90s, the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation says gay and lesbian TV characters still make up only 1.3 percent of all regular characters on network shows. Children’s programming isn’t any different. But as the number of children raised by same-sex couples grows—today’s estimates range between 6 million and 14 million kids—depictions of traditional family models don’t always jibe with kids’ realities.
“We wanted to help kids make sense of what they see on TV,” says Stoner, who was inspired, in part, to create the show in 2006, when her toddler son, Oliver, took to sometimes calling his moms “Daddy.”
Episodes of the show, which Stoner describes as “Mister Rogers with less Prozac,” focus on typical 2- to 6-year-old fodder, like learning to spell and to share. And, in the tradition of many other kids’ programs, Dottie has puppet friends, who appear when she sprinkles magic glitter from her pockets, among them Matilda the Mouse and Randal the Beaver (yes, a beaver—even Stoner admits it’s a humorous choice). But in reality-based segments, Dottie often chats with members of gay or lesbian families, like Joe, the construction worker whose boyfriend is a baker.
“We didn’t want to hit people over the head with the issues,” says Stoner, who isn’t yet shopping the show to television. She predicts the networks probably won’t come calling anyway. It was only in 2005, after all, that an episode of the PBS children’s travelogue Postcards from Buster was pulled from several local broadcasts because it featured a Vermont lesbian couple who made maple sugar. Cable stations like HBO aren’t as conservative, Stoner reckons, but they’re not knocking on Dottie’s door yet either.
Maybe that’s because the show’s central premise—essentially, magic pocket lint—is a bit of a stretch. But then again, so is a magic trolley that travels to the Neighborhood of Make-Believe.