A Decade Later, it is Still a Sad Day in the Neighborhood

Today marks the tenth anniversary of the death of Fred McFeely Rogers, or Mr. Rogers, as he was known in the neighborhood.

Known mostly for his sweaters during his life, Mr. Rogers has found his way onto many a t-shirt in death. Photo R Anderson

Known mostly for his sweaters during his life, Mr. Rogers has found his way onto many a t-shirt in death.
Photo R Anderson

From 1966 to 2000 generations of families tuned in each day to watch Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood to learn about life, make believe and things in between with Mr. Rogers as their guide.

I was one of those children. From as early as I can recall, and for many years after, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood was as much a part of my daily routine as brushing my teeth.

I would no doubt fail miserably to list everything I learned from the show if I tried. The show in no small way helped shape who I would become.  There are millions of other adults who can say the same thing I am sure.

So what made the neighborhood and Mr. Rogers so memorable? It could probably be summed up in the manner of the man himself. Never one to talk down to the viewers or belittle their issues each show seemed to be a reflection of how we wished all people would interact and handle their issues and disagreements.

From talking tigers to purple pandas, the Land of Make Believe seemed to offer a little of something for everyone. But most of all it encouraged people to use their imaginations and plant ideas in the gardens of their minds. Sadly I think that is a trait that is in short supply nowadays.

In the neighborhood there were always new neighbors to visit and learn new things from.  And one never new what speedy delivery item was going to arrive. As a reporter I often used the philosophy that everyone had a story to tell if you just asked the right questions.  Mr. Rogers knew the questions to ask. He was able to bring that experience across in an easy conversational manner that never seemed forced, even though in many ways by the very nature of television it was.

During three decades of work on television, Mr. Rogers became an icon of children’s entertainment and education. He was inducted into the Television Hall of Fame and  was ranked No. 35 among TV Guide’s Fifty Greatest TV Stars of All Time.

His work was not limited to the small screen however as he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, a Peabody Award,  and over 40 honorary degrees. The Smithsonian Institution, in Washington D.C., has one of his trademark sweaters on display as a “Treasure of American History”.

One of several books the Fred Rogers wrote to help people of all ages through difficult times.

One of several books that Fred Rogers wrote to help people of all ages through difficult times.

Long after I had outgrown the typical target age of the show, I still would find myself tuning into Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood now and then.  During particularly stressful times in college it was soothing in an indescribable way to tune in and seem a familiar face when everything else seemed so foreign.

Of course it would never be discussed among my friends since somehow I felt that they would laugh about me watching it but deep down I know they were watching it, too.

While few can argue the impact that Mr. Rogers had during his life, generations of people who never saw the show are still benefiting from the wisdom of Mr. Rogers in ways that they may not even be aware of.

It is well known, for the most part, that when funding for Public Broadcasting was in jeopardy Mr. Rogers testified before the Senate in 1969 and was able to convince skeptical lawmakers about the benefits of PBS. As anyone who has watched the testimony can attest, the hardened senators were won over by the argument made in favor of providing quality television for children.

A lesser known example of Mr. Rogers testifying, that generations are still benefiting from, involves the act of recording television shows. While it makes me feel old to even say this,  there was in fact a time when home recording devices such as VCRs, DVRs, etc. were not commonplace.

The issue of whether people should be allowed to record items from television for their own viewing later, or time shifting as it was called, was a huge issue in the early 80’s. It was such a big issue that it even made it up to the United States Supreme Court in 1984 in the case of Sony Corp. of America v. Universal City Studios, Inc.

In a 5-4 ruling the Supreme Court determined that the making of individual copies of complete television shows for purposes of time shifting did not constitute copyright infringement and was considered fair use.

Mr. Rogers’ earlier testimony in District Court was credited in the majority opinion as a notable piece of evidence.  One could argue that without the favorable ruling by the Court in 1984, helped in large part by Mr. Rogers, there would be no video on demand or full episodes of shows available online whenever we chose to watch them. Think about that little nugget the next time you settle in to watch all of those saved episodes of Swamp People or  NCIS on your DVR.

With such an important piece of testimony it is fair to take a moment to share some of the words of Mr. Rogers that the court felt were so moving.

Very frankly, I am opposed to people being programmed by others. My whole approach in broadcasting has always been “You are an important person just the way you are. You can make healthy decisions.” Maybe I’m going on too long, but I just feel that anything that allows a person to be more active in the control of his or her life, in a healthy way, is important.” Fred Rogers

So on this anniversary of the passing of Mr. Rogers, let us take a little time out of our busy lives to remember that we are special just the way we are and that it is a good feeling to know we’re alive. It also doesn’t hurt to travel to the land of make believe now and then. Just watch out for purple pandas and be sure to keep your hands and feet inside the trolley at all times.

Now if you’ll excuse me I think it is time to change into my after work sweater and give the fish some food .

Copyright 2013 R Anderson