40 Years Ago: "Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood" Premieres

Forty years ago, on February 19th, 1968, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood premiered. Originally titled Misterogers (as its precursor had been called in Canada) the show emanated from WQED Pittsburgh and aired on EEN (Eastern Educational Network). The series moved to PBS in 1970. Production ceased in 2001. Sadly, Fred Rogers passed away in 2003; the series continues to air nationwide.

In 1999, the Archive of American Television interviewed Mr. Rogers. Click here to Fred Rogers’ 9-part interview (and be on the lookout for puppet cameos). Also, check out this link on the show’s homepage for Mister Rogers trivia.

A favorite excerpt from the interview:

“My mother, as long as I could remember, made at least one sweater every month. And at Christmas time she would give us each a hand-knit sweater. And so, until she died, those zipper sweaters that I wear on The Neighborhood were all made by my mother. We would open up the boxes at Christmas and, and we’d all try on the sweaters. Then she would say, ‘Okay, now what kind of do you want next year? Now, I know what kind you want, Freddy, you want the one with the zipper up the front.’ There are ties that many people don’t know, just watching certain programs and it makes the experience so much deeper to know from whence Mr. McFeely came or where the sweaters came from. And the music is a huge part of my work. That was always my way of saying who I was and how I felt. In those days, you didn’t speak your feelings as much as express them artistically. I was always able to cry or laugh or say I was angry through the tips of my fingers on the piano. I would go to the piano, even when I was five years old, and start to play how I felt. So it was very natural for me to become a composer. Having written all of the music for The Neighborhood, I feel as if that’s one of my gifts to children. Here is a way that doesn’t hurt you or anybody else, to say who you are and how you feel.”

Interview description:
In his 4-1/2 hour interview, Fred Rogers described his work as the creator and host of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, which began its run in 1968. He described the show’s evolution, which started with Misterogers which he produced in Canada for the CBC. He described each aspect of the show including the origin of his trademark sweaters. He described his early years in television working as a floor manager for NBC on such shows as NBC Opera Theatre, The Kate Smith Hour, and The Gabby Hayes Show. He detailed his move into public television in 1953 with his work as the program director for WQED, Pittsburgh. He described his first children’s program The Children’s Corner (1954-61 WQED; 1955-56 NBC), which introduced several puppets later used on Mister Rogers. He talked about the importance of children’s programming and his longevity as a childrens’ show host. The interview was conducted on July 22, 1999 at WQED in Pittsburgh, PA.

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