Through television we have a great chance to show and tell our children that they really matter, even when they’re very little…We have a chance to communicate the fact that childhood lies at the very basis of who people are and who they become. – Fred Rogers
On this date, September 21, 1967, 51 years ago, Fred Rogers walked into the television studio at WQED in Pittsburgh to tape the very first episode of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, which would premiere nationally on PBS in February 1968. He became known as Mister Rogers, nationally beloved, sweater wearing, “television neighbor,” whose groundbreaking children’s series inspired and educated generations of young viewers with warmth, sensitivity, and honesty.
Rogers grew up in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, a small town near Pittsburgh. Music was his first love, and he studied music composition at Rollins College. Just before graduating in 1951, he happened to watch some children’s television shows and described them as “a lot of nonsense, pies in faces.” He felt children deserved better and headed for New York, serving as an apprentice and floor manager for the music shows at NBC.
Returning to Pittsburgh, Rogers eventually added the ministry and lifelong studies in child development to his talents, bringing them to WQED, where he produced Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. He drew on all of his talents, including being a gifted communicator, to wear many hats, serving as creator, host, producer, script writer, composer, lyricist, and main puppeteer for almost 900 programs.
Rogers’ reputation as a champion of high standards—for children’s programming and for television in general—was highlighted by his now-famous testimony before Congress in 1969 advocating against proposed budget cuts to public television. The committee was so moved by his simple, genuine, and powerful plea that the budget was increased for the following year.
Although production on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood ended in 2000, many PBS stations continue to broadcast the series for a new generation of children to discover. Today, young viewers also get to “visit with” Daniel Tiger (son of the beloved puppet from Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood) on Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, the animated spin-off, which delves into many of the same important topics Rogers did.
Today’s stop-motion, animated video Doodle celebrating Mister Rogers was created in collaboration with Fred Rogers Productions, The Fred Rogers Center, and BixPix Entertainment. Set to the iconic opening song of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood (“Won’t You Be My Neighbor”), the Doodle aims to be a reminder of the nurturing, caring, and whimsy that made the show feel like a “television visit” between Mister Rogers and his young viewers. Everyone was welcome in this Neighborhood. Through his honest words, thoughtful songs, and imaginative Neighborhood of Make-Believe stories, Mister Rogers took us by the hand, helping us feel good about who we are. He encouraged us to find positive ways to deal with our feelings, to treat others with respect and kindness, and to appreciate the world around us.
-Hedda Sharapan, Child Development Consultant, Fred Rogers Productions