Won't You Be Our Neighbor?

February 19th, 1968 was the date of the first national broadcast of Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood. He wasn't an astrophysicist or a chemist, he didn't advance medicine or invent new technology, but he connected with children in a way television had never seen before. His respectful, informative tactics have shaped the lives of kids for years - while the show first aired nearly 50 years ago, people of all ages still smile when asked, "Won't you be my neighbor?"

Today, the Science Wizards would like to honor a children's entertainer who even helped influence what we do in our children's programming! Check out these cool facts about Fred Rogers and his amazing Land of Make-Believe.

1. Mr. Proactive

Parents: Do you find yourself lamenting that television can sometimes be too crass or violent? That even kids' programming contains rude humor and innuendo? Mr. Rogers felt that the TV of his time was not being used as well as it could have been, so he decided to change it. He started on a show called The Children's Corner which would garner acclaim that would lead to the advent of the Neighborhood. His show came about as a way to teach kids valuable lessons about themselves and the world around them, while simultaneously promoting self-worth, curiosity, creativity, tolerance, and more. Fred Rogers made a huge impact on children and their perceptions, all because he wanted to see a positive change and he made it happen!

2. What You See is What You Get

If you know anything about Mr. Rogers, you probably already know that he was the same off screen as he was on screen, but it's one of our favorite things about him. He wanted children to appreciate being genuine and honest, so he never felt it necessary to play a "character" of himself. Captain Vic and the Science Wizards are also this way! There's no need to put on an act when the real-deal is so cool.

3. A Proponent for Information

Being the genuinely concerned man he was, Fred Rogers fought on behalf of easy access to his program. First, he defended the importance of public programming in 1969 when President Nixon proposed budget cuts. Years after that, he wanted people to be able to freely record his shows on VHS tapes to be viewed at their convenience. Then, as now, most entertainers and artists considered this to be a severe copyright infringement - Mr. Rogers, however, saw nothing wrong with the noncommercial use of copies. In the "Betamax case" (Sony Corp. of America v. Universal City Studios, Inc. - 1984), he testified, saying:

Some public stations, as well as commercial stations, program the ‘Neighborhood’ at hours when some children cannot use it. I think that it’s a real service to families to be able to record such programs and show them at appropriate times. I have always felt that with the advent of all of this new technology that allows people to tape the ‘Neighborhood’ off-the-air, and I’m speaking for the ‘Neighborhood’ because that’s what I produce, that they then become much more active in the programming of their family’s television life. Very frankly, I am opposed to people being programmed by others. My whole approach in broadcasting has always been ‘You are an important person just the way you are. You can make healthy decisions.’ Maybe I’m going on too long, but I just feel that anything that allows a person to be more active in the control of his or her life, in a healthy way, is important.

4. We Have Boston Moms to Thank

When funding for Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood was cut rather early in its life, a group of Boston mothers rallied together* and knocked door-to-door for financial contribution to keep the show on the air. Word of the movement spread to William McCurdy, the president of the Sears-Roebuck Foundation - a foundation which would support Mister Rogers' Neighborhood for upwards of twenty years. He attributed that success not to chance, but to the power of people coming together to fight for what they care about.

*The mention of the Boston women happens at the very beginning of this segment of video. The whole interview is amazing, if you have the time to watch it!

5. Not-So-Make-Believe

Fred Rogers did several of the voices for his puppet characters in the Land of Make-Believe, including King Friday, Henrietta Pussycat, and others. Many of the characters were also named after friends and family. Mr. McFeely the delivery man, for example, was named after Mr. Rogers' grandfather, whose name (Fred McFeely) was also passed onto Mr. Rogers (Fred McFeely Rogers). Talk about an homage!

Entertainers like Fred Rogers are few and far between, these days. That's why the Science Wizards love what he has done for children's programming! We should all hope to remember the values taught to us by Mr. Rogers in our everyday lives. 

Curiosity is wonderful,  creativity is great, loving yourself is important, and loving one another is what keeps our world together. 

To learn more about Mr. Rogers, check out his PBS page. And if you are curious about enriching children's programming for your school, event, or private party, contact the Science Wizards today. Won't you be our neighbor?