Can You Say Bingewatch?
“Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood” turns 50
Exactly 50 years ago on Monday, Feb. 19, a children’s television show called “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood” hit the national airwaves on NET (an early educational network, later succeeded by PBS). It was a hallmark moment in television history, particularly for creator and star Fred Rogers, who would go on to claim some 40 honorary degrees, a Peabody Award and a Presidential Medal of Freedom. Rogers’ show lasted 31 seasons and aired until August of 2001, forming a key memory block in the minds of generations of American children—most of whom can still sing the opening theme song (“Won’t You Be My Neighbor”) word-for-word.
“Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood” introduced young viewers to such indelible characters as Speedy Delivery man Mr. McFeely, friendly policeman Officer Clemens, kindly neighbor Betty Aberlin and gruff-voiced Chef Brockett. In the regular segment known as the “Neighborhood of Make-Believe,” a toy trolly transported imaginative children to a land populated by puppets like King Friday XIII, X the Owl, Henrietta Pussycat and Daniel Striped Tiger. And yet, Rogers was always clear on the line between reality and fantasy, often taking cameras behind the scenes to expose the puppeteers and sets that brought it all to life.
Unlike other educational shows, Rogers’ weekly half-hour was rarely interested in teaching kids hard facts like numbers or letters. Instead, it gently confronted social concerns, talked about feelings and addressed the many confusions of growing up. In a famous 1970 episode, Rogers talked about the death of one of his trademark pet goldfish. He often spoke to kids about such real-world problems as war and divorce. Through it all was the reassuring feeling that the host was never talking down to kids or lecturing them. Instead, he spoke to kids honestly and directly, a calm, comforting voice that always insisted “You’re special to me;” “You’re the only person in this whole world like you;” and “I’m proud of the way you’re growing and changing.”
In addition to marking the 50th anniversary of the show, 2018 has seen what would have been Fred Rogers’ 90th birthday. (He was born on March 20, 1928.) To celebrate these two milestones, PBS has teamed up with Amazon’s live streaming video platform Twitch to stream every single episode—all 856 of them—online. The livestream, which kicked off on Tuesday, March 20 at 11am MST, started with the 90 greatest episodes, back to back. Once that milestone is cleared, Twitch will get down to airing a complete run of the entire series. It will take about 18 days to get through all 33 years (!) of the show.
There’s no doubt the world is a sadder place since the passing of Fred Rogers in 2003. If ever there was a time our world needed a dose of the civility, kindness, empathy and deep humanity of which Mr. Rogers was capable, it’s now. I suggest you join me in watching as many episodes of “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood” as humanly possible—if only to remind yourself of Mr. Rogers’ core message: We are all unique, we make each day special by being ourselves, and people can like us just the way we are.