September 01, 2009

Fred Rogers

“We are servants of those who watch and listen,” Fred Rogers said of his role as a television producer, and he lived those words through almost a half-century in the medium. As the gentle host of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, he donned his trademark sweater and sneakers for more than thirty years, inviting children into his living room and the nearby Neighborhood of Make-Believe. There — through music, puppets and chat — they learned to value themselves and others and to cherish what makes them special.

Rogers’ attitude toward television was something special from the start. “I got into television because I hated it so,” he said. “And I thought, ‘There’s some way of using this fabulous instrument to nurture those who would watch and listen.’”

Pennsylvania born, Rogers studied piano from childhood and majored in music composition at Rollins College in Florida. He worked briefly as a stage manager for NBC in New York, but when he heard about the new-fangled notion of educational TV, he applied right away at the nation’s first such station, Pittsburgh’s WQED. In 1954 Rogers launched The Children’s Corner, a live show that would last seven years and introduce local viewers to some of the puppets that would become famous on the Neighborhood, like King Friday XIII and Queen Sara, named after his wife. While running the show, he completed studies for the Presbyterian ministry and a graduate degree in child development.

In 1963 Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood debuted as a fifteen-minute program in Canada, where it aired for four years before Rogers brought it back to Pittsburgh and U.S. public television. Production ceased in 1975 and resumed in 1979, continuing until 2000. On February 27 Rogers died of cancer. He was seventy-four.

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