Revisiting Mister Rogers

Mister Rogers Neighborhood logoAnother piece of news that came out right before the holidays is the release of a new documentary on Fred Rogers of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood fame. Coming out in June of 2018, this documentary will examine the long-term impact of Mister Rogers. As its production company puts it, “Won’t You Be My Neighbor explores the question of whether or not we have lived up to Fred’s ideal. Are we all good neighbors?”

Shown nationally on PBS for 33 years, from 1968 to 2001, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood presented Fred Rogers as a calm, peaceful presence who wasn’t afraid to touch on contemporary topics in an appropriate way for his audience. I imagine that I was slightly old for his target demo, being 8 when the show debuted in 1968. While I outgrew the puppet parts of the program rather quickly, I still found his “one-on-one” talks to the camera (and me) to be worth tuning in to watch on a regular basis for a number of years.

Turning the calendar ahead a few decades, a colleague of mine had a great story about Fred Rogers. In the early 1990s, my first boss and mentor in media research, Maura Clancey, was to present for the first time at the PBS annual conference. It was to be the largest crowd to which she ever had to present, and she was nervous even before leaving for the conference.  Flying on USAir, she had to change planes in Pittsburgh to get to the final destination. By some trick of fate, she ended up sitting next to – you guessed it – Fred Rogers.

Over the next couple of hours, Maura shared her story with Fred and, as she would put it, Fred Rogers was exactly like he was on his show. He told her how it was normal to be nervous, it happened to everyone including him; and he had complete confidence everything would turn out fine for her. She walked off the plane with no worries after her personal pep talk from Mister Rogers!

I’m calling my realtor

Fred Rogers passed away in 2004 so he has, thankfully, not experienced the increasing levels of incivility and crudeness that have become so pervasive in our culture. But if he was here, he wouldn’t be scolding or downbeat. He’d just explain very calmly about how wouldn’t the world be a better place if we all were just a little bit nicer to everyone? Mister Rogers is the neighbor we all need in today’s world.

David Tice is the principal of TiceVision LLC, a media research consultancy.
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