Syracuse screenwriter makes TV breakthrough with ‘Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood’

It’s a great day in the neighborhood for Kayla Skipper.

Skipper, a 2011 graduate of Hannibal High School who lives in Syracuse, just made her television breakthrough with her first scripted episode of “Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood” on PBS KIDS. His episode, titled “Daniel Goes to Day Camp,” aired last week with his name appearing in the credits as co-writer along with co-writer Alexandra Cassel Schwartz, who worked on the TV show for more than four year.

It’s a turning point in his career that came after years of hard work getting his feet wet in the entertainment industry.

Skipper graduated from SUNY Oswego with a degree in human development and received her master’s degree in television, radio and film from the Newhouse School at Syracuse University. In 2019, she moved to New York to work in the Sesame Writers’ Room, a “Sesame Street” Creator Fellowship program for underrepresented writers.

“I knew writing was what I wanted to do, so I focused on scriptwriting,” Skipper told syracuse.com | The Post-Standard in a telephone interview.

The fellowship connected her with writers in the industry to learn more about the business and what it’s like to write for children’s television shows. In 2020, he was asked to write an episode of “Daniel Tiger” after meeting with Schwartz and his team, who came up with the basic storyline of the titular character going to day camp.

“I have to take the creative liberty to expand (the concept) into the script and turn it into story beats for what’s going on and how Daniel is feeling in those moments,” Skipper said. “I have to choose which characters would be in the episode with Daniel.”

The creative process took about a year, then another year before she could see it pay off when it finally hit television.

“I’m really grateful to have the opportunity to write an episode,” she said.

“Seeing my name in the credits gives me such an overwhelming feeling that I can’t even describe it,” she added on Facebook, along with a screenshot of her name appearing onscreen.

Kayla Skipper, of Syracuse, is a children’s television writer who graduated from Syracuse University, SUNY Oswego, and Hannibal High School. Photo provided

In addition to writing, Skipper also made many industry connections in New York and worked as a production assistant for American films shot in the Syracuse area like “Holly Slept Over”, “Looks That Kill”, “The Binge” and “The Ultimate”. Noise playlist.

“I gained a lot of experience with them,” Skipper said, praising American High founder Jeremy Garelick and the Liverpool-based production company’s current chairman Will Phelps as a “great” help in learning the business.

Skipper says she now lives in Syracuse, where she can continue writing from home. She said she can do her job remotely and loves being in central New York, but noted she might check out LA “at some point.”

She loves writing for children’s TV shows, but admits she would love to have her own series.

“I have a few ideas of my own, but I also get my feet wet,” she said. “The ultimate goal would be a dramedy on, like, HBO or Freeform, and collaborating with other filmmakers and shows. Not necessarily for financial gain, just for the love of cinema.

She also advises anyone else interested in the entertainment business to do so for love, not money.

“To anyone who wants to be a writer in this industry: write and study your craft. Be consistent and intentional. Be patient and make sure your heart is in the right place,” Skipper said. “In this industry, it takes a lot wait to see if you’re going to be the author of the episode and even later to see when an episode airs.”

“There’s not a lot of accolades to show as a writer sometimes. It can be very slow…you have to have that passion to do it. That passion for storytelling.

“Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood,” which premiered in 2011, is an animated children’s series about 4-year-old Daniel Tiger, his family and friends as they learn key skills to navigate school and life. Inspired by the classic TV show “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” and produced by The Fred Rogers Company, the show is aimed at preschoolers ages 2-4.

“Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood” airs in central New York weekdays at 9:30 a.m. on WCNY. Episodes can also be streamed on Amazon Prime Video, pbs.org, and the free PBS KIDS app.

RELATED:

15 Movies Shot In Syracuse: Fun Facts You Didn’t Know As American High Turns 5

‘My Favorite Girlfriend’: Syracuse’s New Romantic Comedy Explores Love and Mental Health

‘Spiderhead’: New Netflix movie based on the story of Syracuse professor George Saunders