I didn’t live in Mister Rogers’ neighborhood. In fact the South Bronx was far removed from the white-bred and sanitized world where Rogers existed. When Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood debuted on PBS in 1968 I was three years-old. By the time I began to regularly watch TV, the show, along with Sesame Street, was part of the daily diet. Two different really worlds-one urban and multicultural, the other suburban and for all intents white. When Eddie Murphy brilliantly parodied Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood in the 1980s, with Mr. Robinson’s Neighborhood, it was clear that his satire wasn’t so much a critique of the show’s lack of color as it was simply a tribute to the fact that a whole generation had been socialized on the show’s wholesome goodness.
There is little doubt though, that the show’s appeal (and longevity) lay in its invocation of an unchanging world—one that resonated powerfully among audiences ambivalent about the changing world that programs like Sesame Street, The Electric Company, Zoom and even Barney represented.
Fred Rogers is to be commended for continuing his vision for more than 30 years, with little concern for the changing viewing habits of his core constituency or competing programs like The Rugrats or The Powerpuff Girls, where the appeal lies in an ability to entertain both children and their parents.
My four-year-old daughter has never watched Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood—she was only two when Rogers called it quits in 2000. Her introduction to him came via an episode of Arthur in which the character of Mr. Rogers was featured. As she wondered aloud who he was, I was proud to tell her about my own days as a four-year-old, digging the cardigan sweater and the so very deliberate way he got comfortable after a day’s work. With the passing of Mr. Rogers, I lament that there is little that she will find on television that is as comforting.