Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood is one of the most beloved children’s television shows in history. Hosted for nearly 40 years by Fred Rogers, the program grew from a small local broadcast with a budget of only $30 US Dollars (USD) per episode, to an internationally syndicated program. Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood is loved by generations of viewers, who fondly remember the songs, stories and characters that inhabited the friendly neighborhood.
The program originally began broadcasting in 1962, as a 16-minute regular show. In 1969, thanks to a grants and public broadcasting support, the program expanded to a thirty minute format, which it retained for the rest of its run. The show involved two major settings, Mr. Rogers’ house and the fantastical Neighborhood of Make-Believe. Occasionally, Mr. Rogers’ would also make trips to other locations for special segments, such as bakeries and factories.
Fred Rogers, the host, was a composer and minister with a passion for early childhood education. In his occasional statements about the show, Rogers stressed the importance of talking about emotions with children in a positive and constructive manner. He dealt with many issues that children would face, from the stress of getting a haircut or having a fight with a sibling to the uncertainty that can follow a major trauma, such as the death of a loved one or divorce.
The format of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood was simple and clearly laid out. Each show would begin with Mr. Rogers entering his house, changing from a suit jacket and nice shoes to a cardigan and sneakers while singing the show’s theme song, “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” Rather than relying on flashy exhibits, Mr. Rogers would have a typical day, receiving visits from friends or screening a video about something new, while talking to his audience about a particular theme of the day. Most episodes featured a visit to the Neighborhood of Make Believe, an imaginary kingdom inhabited by puppet and human characters, whose activities would often exemplify the topic of the day. At the end of each show, Mr. Rogers would change back into his regular clothes and leave, always reminding his viewers that they are special and he likes them just as they are.
Despite the simplicity of the show, Fred Rogers incorporated a great deal of innovation into Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood. Using his musical training, he would write and create operas that would last several episodes, featuring characters from the Neighborhood of Make Believe. Over the course of the series, 13 original musicals were created and performed. Additionally, Rogers performed most of the puppetry and voice acting on the show, as well as introducing viewers to a constant stream of talented and unusual friends.
Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood ended its extensive original run in 2001, due to Fred Rogers’ retirement from television. The last program, broadcast on 31 August 2001, was neither flashy or unusual, featuring a conclusion to a series about the arts. After nearly 40 years of programming, Mr. Rogers simply changed out of his cardigan and headed out the door for the last time, having changed and brightened the lives of millions of children and adults along the way.