Janice Burgess, Visionary Creator of The Backyardigans, Passes Away at 72

Janice Burgess

The animation and children’s television community is mourning the loss of Janice Burgess, the brilliant mind behind Nickelodeon’s beloved series, The Backyardigans. Burgess, 72, passed away on March 4, and although the cause of her death has not been immediately disclosed, her departure was confirmed by fellow animation writer Fracaswell Hyman through heartfelt social media posts.

Hyman reminisced about his early encounters with Burgess in the 1990s when he served as the head writer on Gullah Gullah Island, and she took on the role of Executive in Charge of Production. In a poignant tribute, he shared a beachside image of Burgess, portraying her vibrant spirit and recounted their professional journey together.

“Janice swept in with her acid-tongued wit, flowing Hermes scarves, and omnipresent cigarettes. Instead of an overseer, she became a friend,” Hyman fondly remembered. He emphasized Burgess’s significant impact on his career, acknowledging her role in recognizing and fostering his talents.

Burgess’s legacy extends beyond The Backyardigans. Hyman praised her for creating the show and guiding numerous others for Nickelodeon, Sesame Workshop, Disney, and Apple TV. Her script and story critiques were described as astute, clear, and constructive, reflecting her dedication to nurturing talent within the industry.

Born in the Squirrel Hill area of Pittsburgh, Burgess graduated from Brandeis University in 1973 with a degree in art history. Her career in television began at WQED TV station in Pittsburgh, where she initially worked in craft services. She later contributed to Children’s Television Workshop, working on shows like 3-2-1 Contact and Ghostwriter.

Burgess’s journey at Nickelodeon started as an executive in charge of production for Nick Jr. channel, overseeing hits like Blue’s Clues, Allegra’s Window, and Gullah Gullah Island. Eventually, she transitioned to the creative side of the industry, leaving an indelible mark on the world of children’s entertainment.

In 1998, Burgess developed a live-action full-body puppet show pilot called Me and My Friends, which didn’t move forward. However, her creative spirit persevered, and she re-imagined the concept for animation, resulting in the creation of The Backyardigans.

Janice Burgess’s impact on the animation and television landscape is immeasurable. Her wit, creativity, and mentorship have left an enduring legacy, and she will be remembered as a pioneer who brought joy and imagination to audiences worldwide.

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