Mister Rogers' Neighborhood or Mister Rogers is an American children's television series that was created and hosted by Fred Rogers. Mister Rogers' Neighborhood was produced by Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA public broadcaster WQED and Rogers' non-profit production company Family Communications, Inc. (named Small World Enterprises prior to 1971). It is the longest running series on PBS. (Sesame Street began a year and a half later.) The series could be seen in reruns on most PBS stations until September 1, 2008, when it was removed by PBS from their daily syndicated schedule, although a number of stations have chosen to continue airing it independently of the PBS feed.
The first broadcast of Misterogers' Neighborhood was on the National Educational Television network on February 19, 1968. When NET ceased broadcasting in 1970, the series moved to PBS. The show would be renamed to its more-familiar three word title, Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, in 1971. The first series of episodes were produced and aired from 1968 to 1976. The second series of episodes were produced and aired from 1979 to 2001 (modern series).
Mister Rogers' Neighborhood was characterized by its quiet simplicity and gentleness. Episodes did not have a plot, and consisted of Rogers speaking directly to the viewer about various issues, taking the viewer on tours of factories, demonstrating experiments, crafts, and music, and interacting with his friends. The half-hour episodes were punctuated by a puppet segment chronicling occurrences in the Neighborhood of Make-Believe.
At the beginning of each episode, Fred Rogers enters his television studio house, singing "Won't You Be My Neighbor?". He hangs his coat in a closet, puts on a cardigan zipper sweater, and removes his dress shoes to put on sneakers. One of Rogers' sweaters now hangs in the Smithsonian Institution, a testament to the cultural influence of his simple daily ritual.
Starting in 1979, episodes were grouped into week-long series, with each series focused on a particular topic. Rogers' monologues throughout the week explore various facets of the topic, and the ongoing story from the Neighborhood of Make-Believe serves as illustration.
Rogers covered a broad range of topics over the years, and the series did not gloss over issues that other children's programming avoided. In fact, Rogers endeared himself to many when, on March 23, 1970, he dealt with the death of one of his pet goldfish. The series also dealt with competition, divorce, and war. Rogers returned to the topic of anger regularly and focused on peaceful ways of dealing with angry feelings.
Mister Rogers always made a clear distinction between the realistic world of his television neighborhood and the fantasy world of Make-Believe. He often discussed what was going to happen in Make-Believe before the next fantasy segment was shown ("Let's pretend that Prince Tuesday has been having scary dreams..."), and sometimes acted out bits of Make-Believe with models on a table before the camera transitioned to the live-action puppet rendition. The miniature motorized trolley, with its accompanying piano theme music, was the only element that appeared regularly in both the realistic world and Make-Believe: it was used to transport viewers from one realm to the other. Rogers, however, was mentioned from time to time in Make-Believe, particularly by Mr. McFeely, who appeared occasionally in the Make-Believe segments and seemed to form a link between the two worlds.
This reality/fantasy distinction put Rogers' series in sharp contrast with other children's series, such as fellow PBS program Sesame Street, which freely mixed realistic and fantastic elements.
The series was also notable for its use of jazz-inspired music, mostly arranged and performed by Rogers' long-time friend Johnny Costa, until Costa's death in 1996, when he was succeeded by Michael Moricz for the remainder of the series. The music was unique in its simplicity and flow that blended with the series' sketches and features. The music was usually played live during taping. Lyrics and melodies were written and sung by Rogers, who created more than 200 original songs. The final episode of the series aired on August 31, 2001.
When Fred Rogers died in 2003, PBS' website communicated some ways to make children not be scared by Mr. Rogers' passing away by presenting suggestions to parents of what to say to the children about Mr. Rogers and how to approach a child who inquires after him.
The song "Won't You Be My Neighbor" was written by Fred Rogers in 1967 and was used as the opening theme for each episode of the show. The ending theme song was titled "It's Such a Good Feeling" and was alternated by Rogers saying either "I'll be back when the day/week is new" or "That we're friends, you can make each day special by just being you."
The final week of original episodes of the "first series", first broadcast starting February 16, 1976, featured Mister Rogers in his workshop, watching scenes of past episodes of his series, which he recorded on videocassettes and kept on the shelf in his workshop. On the Friday episode of that week, he reminded viewers that they, too, can watch many of those old episodes beginning the following week.
As of August 11, 1995, all of the episodes of the first half are no longer shown on television, since there is already an ample supply of the second series in circulation, and since many of the episodes of the first series have become outdated. A few episodes from the first half exist in the Museum of Television & Radio, including the first episode of the series and the first color episode.
Almost all of the 1979–2001 episodes are in active rotation on PBS. The only exception is the week-long "Conflict" series (episodes #1521–#1525), first aired during the week of November 7-November 11 1983 to coincide with ABC's airing of the television film The Day After, and designed for children to cope with the aftereffects of that film. The series/story arc covered the topics of war, bombs, and an arms race. The "Conflict" series was last aired during the week of April 1-April 5 1996.
In that week of episodes, Corny's factory was making oddly-shaped parts for a project in Southwood. The king originally determined that they were parts for a bomb, so he ordered Corny to make extra "bomb" parts for the Neighborhood of Make Believe. Furthermore, King Friday had most of the human characters of the Neighborhood of Make Believe trained as generals, but forgot to train regular soldiers. In the end, they found out that the parts were for a bridge that the Southwooders were building and the Neighborhood was able to use the parts King Friday had bought to make record players. At the end of the Friday episode, after Mister Rogers sang the Good Feeling song, he sang a lullaby, "Peace and Quiet", wishing his television friends "peace". This was followed by an on-screen display of Isaiah 2:4:
Beginning September 3, 2007, some PBS affiliates began replacing the show with new programs such as Super Why! and WordWorld. In June 2008, PBS announced that, beginning in the fall of 2008, it would stop transmitting "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" as part of its daily syndication lineup to member stations, instead airing the program only once a week over the weekend.. Beginning on September 1, 2008, the Neighborhood program was replaced by new programming such as Martha Speaks, Sid the Science Kid, and an update of The Electric Company. However, individual member stations have the option of airing the Neighborhood independently of the PBS syndicated feed. There is currently a campaign to urge PBS and all member stations to bring the show back five days a week.
Credited sponsors include:
|Sears-Roebuck Foundation||1968–1976, 1979–1993|
|Corporation for Public Broadcasting||1971–1976, 1992–2001|
|Johnson & Johnson||1975–1976|
|Public Television Stations||1971–1976, 1979–2001|
The human characters who appeared in the Neighborhood of Make-Believe were mostly imaginary versions of people who lived in Mr. Rogers' "real" neighborhood. For example, Joe "Handy Man" Negri was a music shop proprietor on Rogers' street. The non-make-believe version of Betty Aberlin was an actress. Audrey Roth was said to be a maid in the real neighborhood, but was royal phone operator "Miss Paulificate" in Make-Believe. Only Mr. McFeely, Mrs. McFeely, and Chef Brockett appeared substantially the same way in both Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood and the Neighborhood of Make-Believe.
Thirteen in-series "operas" took place during the course of the series within the Make-Believe segments. Many of them feature American baritone John Reardon as a main character. These operas, and the year of their first airing are:
Of those 13 operas, only the last 4 still air; the others had their last airings during the 1970s, 1980s, or 1990s. Additionally, a play, "Josephine The Short-Necked Giraffe", first aired in 1989 as a tribute to the late John Reardon, and still airs today.
Pittsburgh-area native Michael Keaton received his first major acting break as a "Neighborhood of Make-Believe" character in 1975. Keaton played an acrobat in a troup called The Flying Zookeenies that performed for King Friday's birthday. He was also in charge of running the Trolley.
Guests on Mister Rogers' Neighborhood were often surprised to find that although Rogers was just as gentle and patient in life as on television, he was nevertheless a perfectionist who did not allow "shoddy" ad-libbing; he believed that children were thoughtful people who deserved programming as good as anything produced for adults on television.
Rogers appeared as a guest on some other series. On the children's animated cartoon series Arthur, for example, Rogers plays himself as an aardvark like Arthur. Later on, Arthur appears as a guest in hand-puppet form in a 1999 episode of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood in the Neighborhood of Make-Believe. Bill Nye, host of a science-themed program, and Rogers also exchanged appearances on each other's series, as did Rogers and Captain Kangaroo. Rogers additionally appeared in an episode of Sesame Street, where he explains to Big Bird that even if one loses a running race such as the one Big Bird had run against his friend "Snuffy", no hard feelings threaten to break the two of them apart. Big Bird himself also appeared in one episode of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood in the Neighborhood of Make Believe.
In 1994, Rogers created another one-time special for PBS called Fred Rogers' Heroes which consisted of documentary portraits of four real-life people whose work helped make their communities better. Rogers, uncharacteristically dressed in a suit and tie, hosted in wraparound segments which did not use the "Neighborhood" set.
For a time Rogers produced specials for the parents as a precursor to the subject of the week on the Neighborhood called "Mister Rogers Talks To Parents About (whatever the topic was)". Rogers didn't host those specials, though; other people like Joan Lunden, who hosted the Conflict special, and other news announcers played MC duties in front of a gallery of parents while Rogers answered questions from them. These specials were made to prepare the parents for any questions the children might ask after watching the episodes on that topic of the week.