It's a beautiful day in the neighborhood… when the nation recognizes one of TV's greatest stars: Fred Rogers.
"Mister Rogers' Neighborhood," which premiered 50 years ago on national public television on Feb. 19, 1968, has prompted another PBS special, a new Tom Hanks movie, a stamp, a feature-length documentary, a sold-out Cincinnati party and a conversation about him Wednesday on WVXU-FM's "Cincinnati Edition" talk show.
Fred Rogers changed the world, because he refused to change. As the pace of TV quickened, he spoke slowly and directly to the youngest, most impressionable viewers.
Mr. Rogers talked about everything from getting angry, to worries about going to the doctor, or being sucked down the bathtub drain. He told them they were loved. He spoke directly to kids, not at them. Who else does that on TV?
Fred Rogers left the most lasting impression on me, of all the hundreds of TV personalities I’ve met. In a business consumed with super egos, he had none.
I'll admit I didn't "get" him until my son Jay wanted to eat lunch watching "Rogers," instead of my favorite “Sesame Street.” Mr. Rogers, who died in 2003 at age 74, was an ordained Presbyterian minister who realized early on the power of television to teach love, charity, acceptance and tolerance.
When I spent two memorable days in 1997 in his Pittsburgh “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” TV studio, he told me:
“I've wanted all these years to let the children know that there are many ways to say ‘I love you.’ And that each one of those children is unique and acceptable. Knowing that we can be loved exactly as we are gives us all the best opportunity for growing into the healthiest of people.
“I'd love to go off to heaven knowing that kids have felt within their being that… their neighbor is every bit as important as they are.”
Here's what's happening:
CINCINNATI EDITION: We're talking about Fred Roger's impact at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday on WVXU-FM's afternoon talk show. "Mr. McFeely" (actor David Newell) will call in to chat with host Mark Heyne, panelists Karen Meyer from the Fred Rogers Center, WCET-TV/WPTD-TV programmer Jim Wiener and myself. Call and tell us your favorite Fred Rogers story.
WCET-TV: Reservations for CET's "Be My Neighbor" event reached capacity almost instantly. The free family-friendly event features folks from the Cincinnati Ballet, Cincinnati Zoo, Newport Aquarium, first responders Daniel the Tiger to celebrate the 50th anniversary of "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood."
IT'S YOU I LIKE: Actor Michael Keaton, a stagehand on "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" in his Pittsburgh hometown in the 1970s, hosts a March public television pledge special for the 50th anniversary. "It's You I Like," based on a Rogers' song from the show, includes comments from Judd Apatow, Whoopi Goldberg, Chris Kratt, John Lithgow, Yo-Yo Ma and son Nicholas Ma, Itzhak Perlman, Sarah Silverman, Esperanza Spalding and Caroll Spinney (the puppeteer who performs Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch).
WCET-TV (Channel 48) will air the show at 8 p.m. on both Saturday, March 3, and Tuesday, March 6.
FRED ROGERS STAMP: The United States Postal Service will dedicate a "Mister Rogers" anniversary stamp on March 23 at Pittsburgh's WQED-TV, where he taped his show. It will be released to the public that day, reports the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
WON'T YOU BEY MY NEIGHBOR: A new feature-length Rogers' biography, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January, will be released by Focus Features June 8.
Filmmaker Morgan Neville says the documentary shows that Rogers' lessons of friendship, imagination and hard work are still relevant for kids and adults today. It includes behind-the-scenes footage of the TV show and never-before-seen clips of Rogers.
YOU ARE MY FRIEND: Tom Hanks will star in a feature film as Fred Rogers directed by Marielle Heller ("The Diary of a Teenage Girl," "MacGruber"). The script was inspired by Rogers' friendship with Tom Junod, a cynical journalist who "begrudgingly accepts an assignment to write a profile piece on the beloved icon and finds his perspective on life transformed," Variety says.
No word yet when or where it will be filmed.
It's a beautiful day in the neighborhood, isn't it?