It was always a “beautiful day in the neighborhood” when Mister Rogers was around. Nowadays it would be a comfort to have him back as our “neighbor” bringing kindness to the world.
The iconic children’s show Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood is turning 50 and PBS will celebrate that milestone Tuesday, March 6 at 8pm with the prime-time special Mister Rogers: It’s You I Like.
The tribute show is a great reminder of the positive impact that the beloved Fred Rogers had on generations of children. He hosted Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood from 1968 to 2001 nurturing kindness, civility and empathy. He embodied the best of humanity with a genuine goodness that kids recognized and even cynical adults admired.
‘…he was a great listener and wanted people to listen to children.’
During the recent Television Critics Association’s winter press tour, PBS presented an interview panel featuring Ellen Doherty, head of production for the Fred Rogers Company and executive producer for the pledge special Mister Rogers: It’s You I Like, along with JoAnn Young, producer and writer of the program, and David Newell, who played the Neighborhood’s cheerful postman Mr. McFeely throughout the show’s 31 seasons.
Nicholas Ma was also there to talk about the experience of appearing on Rogers’ show as a child with his father Yo-Yo Ma. Nicholas remembered, “His message to children was ‘bring the best of who you are to this world and that is enough.’” Newell said, “He saw himself as a communicator and not a teacher. And he was a great listener and wanted people to listen to children.”
Doherty announced, “The 50th anniversary celebration is a star-studded retrospective of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood featuring favorite moments from the show, including visits from special guests like Yo-Yo Ma and Itzhak Perlman. Also, reminiscences by original cast members and celebrities who fondly remember the series, including John Lithgow, Sarah Silverman, Judd Apatow, and Esperanza Spalding. The host of the program, Michael Keaton, is originally from Pittsburgh and one of his very first jobs working in showbiz was on the stage crew for Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.”
Also featured are performances from the archives, including Tony Bennett singing “It’s You I Like.”
The stars lined up to tell their personal Mister Rogers stories in the special, along with Joanne Rogers, Fred’s widow, who reported that her husband had a silly side, but other than that he was just as we saw him on TV.
There’s nobody like him at the moment, on TV or anywhere. And we sure need someone like him now. So, this reporter had to ask— Where is the next Mister Rogers? Who is following in his footsteps? Doherty said, “A lot of us that produce media for children’s television, particularly for PBS Kids, are trying to emulate the messages that Fred had, certainly on Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood that The Fred Rogers Company does for PBS Kids. We look at things that were done on the original neighborhood and say, ‘How can we do that for kids today?’ Other shows that we do at The Fred Rogers Company, like Odd Squad, Peg + Cat, and Through the Woods, we look to Fred’s humanity, empathy, about teamwork, friendship and listening. Those are really important things. Even if we’re doing a show that’s about nature or math, we’re still making sure that our characters ring true to what we feel is important as the Fred Rogers Company. That’s one way we carry on the legacy.”
It’s important to remember that Rogers’ show explored difficult topics: death, divorce, anger, handicaps, courage, acceptance, etc., but “It’s what’s inside us that matters most,” the cardigan-clad Rogers told viewers. Rogers also told Congress (in 1969) about the importance of PBS funding; giving an eloquent defense of public broadcasting that should be heeded by our current leaders.
Sadly, Rogers died of cancer in 2003 at age 74, but his legacy lives on. In addition to the It’s You I Like special, fans can rejoice about the casting of Tom Hanks in the role of Fred Rogers in the recently announced biopic You Are My Friend. At this year’s Sundance Film Festival, the Morgan Neville documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor? was introduced. Scheduled for a Friday, June 8 theatrical release, it’s about the timeless lessons Rogers taught.
And on Friday, March 23 the U.S. Postal Service will release a new stamp featuring Fred Rogers.
Margie Barron is a member of the Television Critics Association and has written for a variety of top publications for more than 35 years, and was proud to be half of the husband and wife writing team of Margie and Frank Barron.