Of the many shows that have aired on PBS since the network’s inception, it’s difficult to imagine any one as more defining of the network’s approach to children’s programming than Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.
Now in its fourth decade of production, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood reaches some eight million households and child care settings each week. The show has been an inspiration to kids and continues to act as a role model for many professionals in the kids business.
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After graduating from Rollins College in Florida, where he majored in music composition, Fred McFeely Rogers began his career in entertainment in 1951 as an assistant producer at NBC in New York on the show The Voice of Firestone.
Two years later, he returned to his home state of Pennsylvania to work at WQED, Pittsburgh, one of the first community-supported public television stations. There, he developed and produced a live hourlong children’s show called The Children’s Corner. Several of the characters who would later become regulars on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood-such as Daniel Striped Tiger and King Friday XIII-got their start with Children’s Corner.
But it was in 1963 in Toronto, working with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, where Fred Rogers appeared for the first time on camera as the show’s host. The show, called Misterogers, began as a 15-minute series.
A year later, Rogers returned to Pittsburgh, where he added another 15 minutes to the show to create a half-hour series under the name Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. The show was distributed by the Eastern Educational Network in 1966 and `67, and, in 1968, made available to the affiliates of PBS.
There are some 700 episodes in the series, and Rogers continues to write and produce new episodes each season. Two George Foster Peabody Awards and several Emmys are among the many awards and citations that Rogers has received over the years.
Recently, the Pittsburgh Children’s Museum received a US$840,000 grant from the Grable Foundation to design and build a hands-on exhibit called Welcome to Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. The exhibit is a re-creation of the show’s television set. The exhibit will premiere at the museum in April 1998 and two other versions will travel to children’s museums nationally.