By Scott Nash, Big Blue dot
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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First of all, let me say I still love the sweater and the sneakers. Like a fuzzy blanket from childhood, they are still the same, tried and true, as familiar as milk and cookies in the afternoon. Mister Rogers, unlike so many other things, is still the same-tried and true-and somehow, he is still my friend, no matter what. And he is a true and genuine friend to thousands of children, many who now have their own children. Generations now visit the neighborhood where there is unconditional affection and acceptance of you, just the way you are.
It is this unfailing sense of acceptance and security that Fred Rogers exudes from the screen. The grandparent of our nation, he is not bland or saccharin, he is friendly, gentle and patient. He has time for his viewers-time to explain, to listen, to tell magical stories. His watch is set to preschoolers’ time, not the harried pace of the adult world. His personality is uncluttered and straightforward, with no unpleasant surprises or wisecracks. He is not cool, he is warm . . . and without apology.
I never fully understood preschool programming until I heard a lecture given by Fred Rogers. He spoke of a need for children to hear positive voices as an alternative to the constant barrage of negatives in modern-day culture. Preschoolers are not naturally mean-spirited, sarcastic or insecure; that is learned behavior of adulthood. Sweetness is a language that adults don’t always understand, yet Fred Rogers has shown that television has the potential to provide these positive voices for preschoolers.
Mister Rogers has used the medium of TV to its best advantage. He transcends the box and enters the homes of children of all social situations. He becomes the universal next door neighbor, extended family member, or teacher/mentor that children accept as real. From the passive realm of TV as babysitter, he embodies all that is engaging, making TV as interactive and personable as possible.
Through his format of fantasy characters mixed with real personalities, he creates an environment rich with interest. Children are exposed to all sorts of subjects in a way that relates to them, in a way that says, ‘Hey, this is something you might be able to do one day.’ Mister Rogers introduces topics that fascinate and make a lifelong impression (one young viewer plays the cello to this day after seeing Yo-Yo Ma perform on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood).
Most of all, Fred Rogers really cares about kids. He takes his job as a friend and role model seriously, and it shows. His unconditional affection continues to radiate right out of the TV screen and into the hearts of his viewers. Like the familiar sweater and sneakers, his innovative, straightforward and unapologetically sweet approach has endured, withstanding the ultimate tests of kids and time.