McFeely Rogers, better known to millions of American children as
Mr. Rogers, is the creator and executive producer of the longest-running
children's program on public television, Mister Rogers' Neighborhood.
While commercial television most often offers children animated
cartoons and many educational programs employ the slick, fast-paced
techniques of commercial television, Rogers' approach is as unique
as his content. He simply talks with his young viewers. Although
his program provides a great deal of information, the focus is not
upon teaching specific facts or skills but upon acknowledging the
uniqueness of each child and affirming his or her importance.
did not originally plan to work in children's television. Rather,
he studied music composition at Rollins College in Florida, receiving
a bachelors degree in 1951. He happened to see a children's television
program and felt it was so abysmal that he wanted to offer something
better. While he worked in television, however, he also pursued
his dream of entering the ministry, continuing his education at
Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. In 1962 Rogers received the Bachelor
of Divinity degree and was ordained by the United Presbyterian Church
with the charge to work with children and their families through
the mass media.
began his television career at NBC but joined the founding staff
of America's first community-supported television station, WQED
in Pittsburgh, as a program director in 1953. His priority was to
schedule a children's program; however, when no one came forward
to produce it, Rogers assumed the task and in April 1954, launched
The Children's Corner. He collaborated with on-screen hostess
Josie Carey on both the scripts and music to produce a show that
received immediate acclaim, winning the 1955 Sylvania Award for
the best locally produced children's program in the country. Rogers
and Carey also created a separate show with similar material for
NBC network distribution on Saturday mornings. With only a meager
budget their public television show was not a slick production,
but Rogers did not view this as a detriment. He wanted children
to think that they could make their own puppets, no matter how simple,
and create their own fantasies. The important element was to create
the friendly, warm atmosphere in the interactions of Josie and the
puppets (many of whom are still a part of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood),
which has become the hallmark of the program.
In 1963, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) in Toronto
provided Rogers another opportunity to pursue his ministerial charge
through a fifteen-minute daily program called Misterogers.
This was his first opportunity to develop his on-camera style, gentle,
affirming, and conversational. The style is grounded in Rogers'
view of himself as an adult who takes time to give children his
undivided attention rather than as an entertainer.
returned to Pittsburgh in 1964, acquired the rights to the CBC programs,
and lengthened them to thirty minutes for distribution by the Eastern
Educational Network. When production funds ran out in 1967 and stations
began announcing the cancellation of the show, an outpouring of
public response spurred the search for new funding. As a result
of support by the Sears, Roebuck Foundation and National Educational
Television, a new series entitled Misterogers' Neighborhood began
production for national distribution. Currently there are 700 episodes
in the library, and since 1979 Rogers has produced a few new segments
each year, adding freshness and immediacy to the series.
Rogers' Neighborhood is unique because it provides a warmth
and intimacy seldom found in mass media productions. The show is
designed to approximate a visit between friends and is meticulously
planned in consultation with psychologists at the Arsenal Family
and Children's Center, under the direction of Margaret B. McFarland
until her death in 1988. The visit begins with a model trolley which
travels through a make-believe town to Rogers' home. He enters,
singing "Won't you Be My Neighbor?", an invitation for the viewer
to feel as close to him as to an actual neighbor. He also creates
a bond with his audience by speaking directly to the camera, always
in an inclusive manner about things of interest to his viewers.
As he speaks, he changes from his sport coat to his trademark cardigan
sweater and from street shoes to tennis shoes to further create
a relaxed, intimate atmosphere.
pacing of the program also approximates that of an in-depth conversation
between friends. Rogers speaks slowly, allowing time for children
to think about what he has said and to respond at home. And psychologists
studying the show verify that children do respond. He also takes
time to examine objects around him or to do simple chores such as
feed his fish. Although he invites other "neighbors," such as pianist
Van Cliburn, to share their knowledge, the warm rapport also allows
him to tackle personal subjects, such as fears of the dark or the
arrival of a new baby.
the importance of play as a creative means of working through childhood
problems, he also invites children into the Neighborhood of Make
Believe. Because Rogers wants children to clearly separate fantasy
from reality this adjacent neighborhood can only be reached via
a trolley through a tunnel. The Neighborhood of Make Believe is
populated by a number of puppets who are kindly and respectful but
not perfect. King Friday XIII, for example, is kind but also somewhat
pompous and authoritarian.
characters also inhabit this neighborhood and engage the puppets
on an equal level. Since Rogers is the puppeteer and voice for most
of the puppets, it is difficult for him to interact in this segment.
This movement away from "center stage," however, is a conscious
choice. His lack of visible participation underscores the separation
between the reality he creates in his "home" and these moments of
fantasy. The trolley then takes the children back to Rogers' home,
and the visit ends as he changes back into his street clothes and
leaves the house, inviting the children back at a later date.
1971, Rogers formed Family Communications, Inc., a non-profit corporation
of which he is president, to produce Mister Rogers Neighborhood
and other audio-visual, educational materials. Many of these productions,
such as the prime time series Mister Rogers Talks with Parents
(1983) and his books Mister Rogers Talks with Parents (1983)
and How Families Grow (1988), are guides for parents. He
has also recorded six albums of children's songs. However, these
activities are viewed as educational endeavors rather than profit-generating
enterprises, and most of the funding for his productions still comes
Mr. Rogers has succeeded in providing something different for children
on television and in acknowledgment of his accomplishments has received
two Peabody awards, a first for non-commercial television. Rather
than loud, fast-paced animation or entertaining education, he presents
a caring adult who visits with children, affirming their distinction
and value, understanding their hopes and fears.
Photo courtesy of Family Communication, Inc.
MCFEELY ROGERS (Mister Rogers). Born in Latrobe, Pennsylvania,
U.S., 20 March 1928. Educated at Dartmouth College, 1946; Rollins
College in Winter Park, Florida, B.A. in music, 1951; Pittsburgh
Theological Seminary, Bachelor of Divinity, 1962. Married Sara Joanne
Byrd, 1952, children: James Byrd and John Frederick. Assistant television
producer and network floor director at NBC, 1951-53; program planner,
producer, writer, and performer at noncommercial station WQED in
Pittsburgh, 1953-62; producer and television host for the Canadian
Broadcasting Company in Toronto, Ontario, 1962-64; producer and
host of PBS show Mister Rogers' Neighborhood since 1967;
produced and hosted Old Friends, New Friends, 1979-81; producer
of videocassettes for CBS, 1987-88; hosted Fred Rogers' Heroes,
1994; president of Family Communications, Inc. Member of the Esther
Island Preserve Association; Luxor Ministerial Association; board
of directors of the McFeely Rogers' Foundation; honorary chairman
of the National PTA, 1992-94. Honorary degrees: DHL from Thiel College,
1969; HHD from Eastern Michigan University, 1973; LittD from St.
Vincent College, 1973; DD from Christian Theological Seminary, 1973,
Washington and Jefferson College, 1984, Westminster College, 1987;
LHD from Yale University, 1974, Lafayette College, 1977, Washington
and Jefferson College, 1984, Linfield College, 1982, Duquesne University,
1982, Slippery Rock College, 1982, University of Southern California,
1985, MacMurray College, 1986, Drury College, 1986, Bowling Green
State University, 1987; DFA from Carnegie-Mellon University, 1976;
MusD from Waynesburg College, 1978, University of Indiana, 1988;
LLD from Hobart and William Smith Colleges, 1985, University of
Connecticut, 1991, Boston University, 1992, Moravian College, 1992,
DHL from University of West Virginia, 1995. Recipient: Peabody Awards,
1969, 1993; Emmy Awards, 1980, 1985; Ohio State awards, 1983, 1986;
ACT Award, 1984; Christopher award, 1984; Educational Press Association
of America's Lamplighter award, 1985; Children's Book Council Award,
1985; Gold medal at the International Film and TV Festival, 1986;
Parent's Choice Award, 1987-88, PBS award in recognition of 35 years
in public television, 1989; Eleanor Roosevelt Val-Kill medal, 1994;
Joseph F. Mulach, Jr. award, 1995. Address: 4802 5th Ave., Pittsburgh,
1954-1961 Children's Corner
1967- Mister Rogers' Neighborhood
1979-81 Old Friends, New Friends
1994 Fred Rogers' Heroes
You Be My Neighbor, 1967; Let's Be Together Today, 1968;
Josephine, the Short-necked Giraffe, 1969; You are Special,
1969; A Place of Our Own, 1970; Bedtime, 1992; Growing,
Friends (Mister Rogers' First Experiences Books). New York:
New Baby (Mister Rogers' First Experiences Books). New York:
Rogers Talks with Parents. New York: Berkley Books, 1983.
Rogers: How Families Grow. New York: Berkley Books, 1988.
Are Special. New York: Penguin Books, 1994.
Felicity. "Mister Rogers Goes to Russia." The New York Times,
21 September 1987.
Eleanor. "Rogers Has New TV Series on School." The New York Times,
20 August 1979.
Robert. "Misterogers Is a Caring Man." The New York Times,
16 November 1969.
Kenneth A. "Mr. Rogers Decides It's Time to Head for New Neighborhoods."
The New York Times, 8 May 1975.
Glenn. "TV's Mr. Rogers--A Busy Surrogate Dad." The New York
Times, 19 June 1983.
Stuart. "Children's Corner." Kids TV: The First Twenty-Five Years.
New York: Facts on File Publications, 1983.
"Fred M(cFeely) Rogers." Current Biography. Moritz, Charles,
editor. New York: H. W. Wilson, 1970.
"Fred McFeely Rogers." Broadcasting & Cable (Washington,
D.C.), 26 July 1993.
Elliott H. "Big Friend to Little People." Today's Health
(New York), August 1969.
John J. "An Observer Who Bridges the Generation Gap." The New
York Times, 23 April 1978.
"Mr. Rogers, a Gentle Neighbor." The New York Times, 15 February
Man Kids Believe." Newsweek (New York), 12 May 1969.
"TV: On Superheroes." The New York Times, 4 February 1980.
Tim. "Kid Video." Pittsburgh (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania),