By John Bowen, Digital Content Manager, Salem "Fish"/Music Stations
Imagine stepping into the executive offices of today’s biggest networks to pitch a concept for a new children’s show. A soft-spoken mild-mannered man steps in the offices saying that he has a wonderful idea for a kids’ show. He can reach out to children by educating and entertaining them with puppets and simple props, and by telling them regularly they are loved.
You can almost hear the howls and guffaws of laughter those executives would bellow as they kick this guy out of the offices of today’s entertainment world.
But in a simpler time in television history, Fred Rogers was given the green light to change the face of children’s television and endear generations of children - by that exact formula. Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood delighted children and families for over 31 seasons; debuting on Feb. 19, 1968, and filming its final episode on Aug. 31, 2001 (The show was on a hiatus between 1976 and 1979).
Rogers’ message and ministry has come to theatres, in Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, starring Tom Hanks. Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is based on the true story of a real-life friendship between Fred Rogers (Hanks) and journalist Tom Junod (Emmy winner Matthew Rhys). After a jaded magazine writer is assigned a profile of Fred Rogers, he overcomes his skepticism, learning about empathy, kindness, and decency.
Think about what an unprecedented success Mister Rogers Neighborhood was; flying in the face of today’s formula and standards of “successful children’s TV”. It had no loud music, no nudity, no crass raunchy jokes, no smarting off to adults, and no rude sarcastic language. Yet, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood continues to hold such a dear and tender spot in the hearts of multiple generations of Americans.
Why indeed! More profoundly, why do we long for the tender affirmations and warm televised hugs that Fred Rogers provided? It’s apparent that America has become so coarsened and desensitized that we are nostalgic for Rogers’ simpler more innocent presentation and message. America’s modern families are being fed a steady diet of dysfunctional children’s programming. It’s clear that Hollywood’s recipe for children’s entertainment is souring the values of our children – and maybe we’re tired of that. On the other hand, the success of the 2018 documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor? should show Hollywood that our families are being underserved in the area of sweet sentimental schooling.
Just as a small child is fascinated with simple things of nature and the world around us, America yearns for the simple message that Fred Rodgers gave – that we are special and that we are loved.
The release of Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood reminds us that Fred Rogers made a profound difference and impact on small hearts in America because of his unselfish quiet love and his commitment to do so. And sadly, it reminds us how far children's programming has fallen.
Our lost children of today’s culture are ready for - and need - the next Mr. Rogers.