A little over 50 years ago, the precursor to PBS, called NET, launched the first episode of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, a show hosted by Fred Rogers that taught children the importance of kindness, learning, imagination, and make-believe. Tonight (check local listings), PBS is airing a special retrospective on Mister Rogers called “Mister Rogers: It’s You I Like.”
The special is hosted by movie actor Michael Keaton who got his start on Mister Rogers behind the scenes; he also occasionally appeared in front of the camera, including as one of the “Flying Zucchini Brothers.” Within the special celebrities and even some neighbors like Joe Negri (Handyman Negri) and David Newell (Mr. McFeely), as well as Fred Rogers’ widow Joanne Rogers, share their recollections and some favorite clips. These clips include the famous moment where Rogers sings “It’s You I Like” with a young boy named Jeff Erlanger, and a tear-jerking moment where Rogers tells his neighbors about his childhood dog that passed away.
One of my favorite parts of “It’s You I Like” has to be the montage that kicks it off, which features Rogers over the years singing his title song “Won’t You Be My Neighbor.”
For anyone who might be too young to know what Mister Rogers was about, or for those who wanted to experience the series again in a one-hour chunk, this is a great option. The special focuses only on the show; so if you’re looking for a history of the program, what came before or after, or clips of things like Rogers speaking to politicians about the importance of educational television, you’d have to look elsewhere. Also, as I had mentioned in a previous post, I was disappointed that some still-surviving former “neighbors” weren’t included. I would have much preferred to see Betty Aberlin (Lady Aberlin), Francois Clemmons (Officer Clemmons), or Chuck Aber (Neighbor Aber) as they worked directly with the man. Though don’t get me wrong: Some anecdotes from people like Yo-Yo Ma and his son Nicholas, or Sesame Street’s Carol Spinney, had wonderful stories about their experiences appearing on the show. I just know, as a child, those folks were an important part of the experience.
In a world where people are so combative with one another, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood is a nice respite and a reminder of the best television has to bring us. Every story I’ve read about Fred Rogers illustrates how he believed in television as a way to reach children in a positive way, and all of the people in this special who knew the man talk about how what you saw on TV was the real deal. And, thankfully, “It’s You I Like” celebrates all of the best of that, condensed into one-hour form. Check it out on PBS tonight.
MISTER ROGERS: IT’S YOU I LIKE, a celebrity-filled, hour-long special that premieres on PBS stations in March 2018 (check local listings), celebrates Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, the pioneering PBS series that premiered nationally 50 years ago and became an iconic and enduring landmark in the world of children’s television and beyond. Cast members from the groundbreaking series share their personal perspectives and insights in this new production, which pays tribute to television’s longest-running children’s series, still broadcast on many PBS stations today. The program also features interviews with numerous celebrities who have been influenced and inspired by Fred Rogers, a modest man who always said, “I am not a teacher, I simply help children learn.”
Michael Keaton, who worked as a stagehad and made appearances on the series in the 1970s, hosts the special. Judd Apatow, Joyce DiDonato, Whoopi Goldberg, Chris Kratt, John Lithgow, Yo-Yo Ma and son Nicholas Ma, Itzhak Perlman, Sarah Silverman, Esperanza Spalding and Caroll Spinney reveal their favorite memories from Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, while Joe Negri (“Handyman Negri”), David Newell (“Mr. McFeely”) and Joanne Rogers, Fred’s widow, share their personal stories. Also featured are performances from the archives by Tony Bennett, The Empire Brass Quintet, Hillary Hahn, Margaret Hamilton, Yo-Yo Ma and Nicholas, Wynton Marsalis and Perlman.
The nearly 900 episodes created by Fred Rogers encompass topics that resonate to this day with adults and children alike. Favorite segments, such as a visit with Koko the Gorilla, Big Bird’s appearance in the Neighborhood of Make-Believe as well as trips to the Crayola Factory and the Radio Flyer Wagon Company, are highlighted.
MISTER ROGERS: IT’S YOU I LIKE is produced by JoAnn Young (JFK: The Lost Inaugural Gala, Oscar Hammerstein: Out of My Dreams) and John Paulson (JFK: The Lost Inaugural Gala and A Raisin in the Sun Revisited). Ellen Doherty and Kevin Morrison of The Fred Rogers Company are executive producers.