Mister Rogers, Julia Child, and Bob Ross in 2012: The Auto-Tuned Version of PBS


PBS has always been known for its classic television shows. Fred Rogers kindly asked viewers to be his neighbor on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood for 31 seasons. The French Chef with Julia Child introduced French cooking to the United States with cheery enthusiasm. Bob Ross made oil painting look easy with his gentle voice in The Joy of Painting. Although all three icons have sadly passed away, their legacies live on. Especially now.

Since June, PBS has been reviving old footage from these classic TV shows by posting auto-tuned versions of them to YouTube. PBS Digital Studios, which “takes PBS’ mission and applies it to the Internet age,” partnered with John D. Boswell (aka “melodysheep”) to remix old footage using his signature auto-tune technique.

Mister Rogers was the first to receive the auto-tune treatment, and the “Garden of Your Mind” video has already gotten more than 6 million views in just two months. In July Bob Ross was remixed, and last week a remix of Julia Child was posted in honor of what would have been her 100th birthday.

Remixes, of course, are nothing new. New York-based filmmaker Kirby Ferguson has dedicated an entire project to the idea that “Everything is a Remix” in a compelling four-part video series that demonstrates the prevalence of remixes in popular culture (highly recommended). Remixed content has virtually become a new genre on YouTube, ranging from movie footage (check out this remix of the Disney/Pixar movie “Up”) to newscasts (see the famed “Bed Intruder”). And ever since Cher released “Believe” in 1998, a number of musicians have popularized auto-tune–especially hip-hop artists such as T-Pain and Kanye West.

So what makes these autotuned PBS videos stand out? Let’s be honest: PBS isn’t exactly the type of company you’d expect to be jumping on the auto-tune bandwagon. However, that’s part of the beauty of this campaign. By auto-tuning old footage, PBS is giving the somewhat dated icons current relevance. At minimum, the remixed footage is calling attention to the PBS network, which could lead to more donations and viewers.
Think about it: an 8-year-old might scoff at the old-fashioned Joy of Painting or quickly tire of watching Julia Child demonstrate French cooking. But if that same 8-year-old comes across a remixed version of either show and finds the auto-tuned version funny or just plain cool, that 8-year-old might turn on PBS to see what else the channel has in store.

The videos have been receiving largely positive feedback from viewers, and PBS Digital Studios has already seen online traffic increase for two of its online-only series. In yesterday’s Boston Herald, BIGfish President David Gerzof Richard called the move “brilliant,” and we agree. Keep up the good work, PBS. We think your autotuned videos are great.

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