It’s not such a beautiful day in Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. In many places around the country, PBS is now officially done with our gentle cardigan-wearing neighbor. Ratings are apparently declining. I wonder what Fred McFeely Rogers, the show’s deceased host, would have to say about this treatment if he was around? He’d probably say something nice and neighborly, but his hoards of fans, many who are embittered adults by now, might have something else to say. After all, the wildly successful show is the longest running in PBS history, even over Sesame Street. As Brian Linder, a Rogers crusader and founder of the Web site www.savemisterrogers.com, says: “It sucks, man.”
I can’t recall how frequently I tuned into Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood as a kid, but like with almost everybody else I know, the show clearly stands out in my mind. Kids are still watching it today, an impressive feat for a program that made its debut in 1968. So many of us can relate to the theme song, the message of neighborly love, the pleas for compassion and even, at least in my case, the strange little puppets.
Anyone who can take off his shoes during every episode and turn it into a revered tradition in the history of children’s programming has my vote for a television lifetime achievement award. The man was colorblind, but he never grabbed the wrong cardigan out of his closet. He was clockwork.
Mister Rogers was so widely popular that when his old trusty Impala was stolen, so many news outlets picked up the story that the thieves returned the car back to where it was stolen with a note saying, “If we’d known it was yours, we never would have taken it.” Who ever knew a man in a cardigan could command such respect from the criminal underground? Mister Rogers knew. He’s the only person I know of that is universally referred to as Mister, with the exception of Mr. T. That’s respect.
Linder is not the only person angry that Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood is getting lifted from the air. Sure, he can always fall back on places like Milwaukee, where the PBS affiliate has declined to remove the show. But I don’t think that’s enough for people like Linder. Five years after the death of Fred Rogers, Linder and others want to see his legacy endure. Most likely it’s a lost cause since ratings ultimately have the final word in these matters. Reruns can only hold interest for so long.
But, if we learned anything about compassion from Mister Rogers himself, we can’t help but feel bad for one of his biggest fans: Koko, the famous gorilla. Koko’s favorite show has long been Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.
Fred Rogers was an accomplished musician, a television icon and just an all-around standup guy. Now with PBS bumping his show, be sure to say hello to your neighbor and, if you happen to have one, throw on your favorite cardigan and say thanks, Mister Rogers. You had a great run.
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