It's a beautiful day in this neighborhood...
...a beautiful day for a neighbor.
Would you be mine?
Could you be mine?
With that snatch of song, Mister Rogers walks in the front door of his little house, takes off his suit jacket and puts on a sweater. Still singing, he sits down and takes off his shoes and replaces them with a pair of tennis shoes.
This little ceremony was repeated for 33 years and nearly 1000 episodes of the children's television programme Mister Rogers' Neighborhood which is broadcast on commercial-free public television stations across the USA.
The concept behind the show is simple - provide a 'television visit' where children can learn to understand their feelings and where they can feel 'special' about themselves as part of a community. Mister Rogers has been doing just that since the programme first aired in 1964 on Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania's television station WQED.
The show is geared towards children - or 'television neighbours' as Mister Rogers calls his audience. He often talks directly to the camera and speaks slowly using small words. Yet his overall manner is far from condescending. Each show has a theme which is expanded upon by the props that Mister Rogers brings to the house, or by going for a walk in his television 'neighbourhood' to visit a bakery or music shop. There is also a fantasy land called Make-Believe which he visits each episode.
It is often by interacting with his 'neighbours' that Mister Rogers is able to illustrate his theme. His neighbours include a regular cast of characters as well as special guests, including cellist Yo-Yo Ma, children's author and Pennsylvania native Marc Brown1, chef Julia Child and Olympic ice skater Peggy Fleming.
Music plays an important role in the programme, which you might expect from a man who holds a degree in music composition. Each programme opens with the song 'Won't You Be My Neighbor' and that serves to set the tone for the entire 'television visit'. Fun jazz riffs fill voids in the programme while Mister Rogers walks to his neighbours' homes in his 'real' neighbourhood. A special tune signifies when the trolley appears for the trip to Make-Believe, and each broadcast ends with Mister Rogers singing 'It's Such a Good Feeling'.
Some of the songs that generations of Americans learned by watching this programme include:
- 'You Are Special'
- 'I Like to Take My Time'
- 'It's You I Like'
- 'Everybody's Fancy'
Some of the regular cast members include:
Mr McFeely - played by David Newell. This character runs the 'Speedy Delivery Messenger Service' delivering packages in the 'real' neighbourhood and in Make-Believe.
Joe Negri - played by himself. This character lives next door to Mister Rogers in the 'real' neighbourhood and shows Mister Rogers and his friends how to play various instruments. In Make-Believe, he is the royal handyman, Handyman Negri, who makes odd repairs around the kingdom.
Lady Aberlin - played by Betty Aberlin. This character only exists in Make-Believe where she is the niece of King Friday and plays with all the fun-loving puppets. She has a special place in her heart for Daniel Striped Tiger.
Bob Trow - played by himself. This character is a craftsman in the 'real' neighbourhood who shows Mister Rogers and his friends how to use tools and build things. In Make-Believe, he plays Bob Dog and Robert Troll. Sadly, he died in November 1998.
Chef Brockett - played by Don Brockett. This character is a baker in the 'real' neighbourhood where Mister Rogers can show his friends how things are baked. Sadly, he died in May 1995.
The Neighborhood of Make-Believe
An important part of each programme is the journey to the 'Neighborhood of Make-Believe' - a land inhabited by puppets and a few human adults - in which lessons ranging from sharing to the loss of a loved one are played out in a thoughtful, yet entertaining manner.
Often the trip to Make-Believe is accomplished by following a red and yellow miniature streetcar - known as the Neighborhood Trolley - along an electrified track into a tunnel in the wall of Mister Rogers' house. The camera fades to black and returns with a scene of the trolley entering the Neighborhood of Make-Believe.
Rogers plays the voices of many of the puppets in the Neighborhood of Make-Believe, including King Friday, Queen Sara, Daniel Striped Tiger, X the Owl, Henrietta Pussycat, and Lady Elaine, among others, yet he never appears there as himself, serving to separate reality and fantasy.
Some of the more memorable characters in the Neighborhood of Make-Believe include:
King Friday XIII - ruler of the Neighborhood of Make-Believe, he lives in a blue castle to the left of the trolley tracks as the trolley enters Make-Believe from Mister Rogers' house.
Queen Sara Saturday - wife of King Friday, Queen Sara often serves as a voice of reason when her husband is being too 'regal'.
Prince Tuesday - the son of King Friday and Queen Sara, he attends school and expresses common childhood fears and problems.
X the Owl - lives in the large tree in the centre of Make-Believe and loves to learn about all sorts of things.
Henrietta Pussycat - lives in a treehouse next to X the Owl's knothole. She says 'meow' in the place of words in sentences like 'Meow morning, it's a meow-meow day'.
Cornflake S Pecially - lives in the factory between the castle and the museum; he manufactures 'Rockit' rocking chairs.
Lady Elaine Fairchilde - the curator of the Museum-Go-Round, Lady Elaine is often inciting mischief.
Daniel Striped Tiger - a soft-spoken, shy tiger who lives in a clock to the right of the Museum-Go-Round near the platypus mound. He likes to rub noses with Lady Aberlin and say 'ugga-mugga'.
Dr Duckbill Platypus - a pediatrician, 'Dr Bill', lives in a platypus mound between the museum and Daniel's clock. He is married to Elsie Jean and is the father of Ana.
Elise Jean - lives in the platypus mound and plays the role of caring mother to Ana, and wife of Dr Platypus.
Ana - daughter of Dr Bill and Elsie Jean, she attends school with Daniel Striped Tiger and Prince Tuesday.
Grandpere - a French tiger who lives in the Eiffel Tower between X the Owl's tree and the castle.
Harriett Elizabeth Cow - the teacher at the schoolhouse for Make Believe's three children.
When we return from Make-Believe, Mister Rogers wraps up the programme's message and cleans up his little house before leaving for the day.
His exit is the reverse of his entrance to the set; he takes off his tennis shoes and replaces them with his dress shoes. He exchanges his cardigan sweater for his suit jacket and walks out the door, while singing:
It's such a good feeling to know you're alive.
It's such a happy feeling; you're growing inside.
And when you wake up ready to say,
'I think I'll make a snappy new day.'
He waves goodbye as he exits the set as if he can't wait to see you tomorrow. It's really easy to feel good about yourself in this atmosphere and you may notice that you've got a smile on your face. And that, Mister Rogers would tell you, is the whole point of his programme, and a pretty good reason it has endured for more than three decades.
Mister Rogers' Biography
Fred McFeely Rogers was born on 20 March, 1928, in Latrobe, Pennsylvania. A pianist since age nine, he majored in music composition at Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida. He earned his degree in 1951, and a year later married his college sweetheart, Joanne Byrd, who was a pianist and fellow Rollins graduate.
After college, Rogers went to New York City to work in television, until November 1953 when he moved back to Pittsburgh and started working at WQED, developing a show called The Children's Corner which was an hour-long programme with puppets and music.
Serving as puppeteer and musician as well as producer, Rogers stayed with the programme - which could be considered the prototype for Mister Rogers' Neighborhood - for seven years. During that time, Rogers attended both the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and the University of Pittsburgh's Graduate School of Child Development. He was ordained as a Presbyterian minister in 1963.
That same year, he went to Toronto, Canada and began broadcasting a 15-minute show called MisteRogers in which he appeared on-camera for the first time. The following year he returned to Pittsburgh's WQED and launched his half-hour programme for which he is now most fondly remembered.
In 1969, Mister Rogers' Neighborhood began airing on PBS stations across the US, starting a run which lasted until early 2001 when the last episode was taped. The shows will continue to be aired in syndication, and Rogers will focus more of his time writing and developing web-based content for children.
Rogers' programme has earned every award for which it is eligible, including several Emmy Awards and two lifetime achievement awards - one from the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences and one from the TV Critics Association. He has had a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame since 1999.