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Old 02-28-2003, 07:32 PM
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Default Veteran's appreciation, Two Freds... all know what I mean...

......Thank you both Freds...

..."A sad day in the neighborhood"...

Fred Rogers' gentle vision brought an unrivaled comfort and grace to children's television

By MARK McGUIRE, Staff writer
First published: Friday, February 28, 2003

For three and a half decades, from the Vietnam War to the precipice of 9/11, Fred Rogers provided comforting doses of reassurance needed in a world that's scary to more than just kids.

Fred Rogers rehearses the opening of his PBS show 'Mister Rogers' Neighborhood' during a taping in this June 28, 1989 file photo.

Man, how we could use him today.

The acclaimed, beloved host of PBS' "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" a sincerely decent man who by all accounts was no different off-screen than on television died of stomach cancer early Thursday at the age of 74. He had been diagnosed only a few months ago.

There was anxiety Thursday - isn't there anxiety in the air all the time these days? - over the passing of Rogers. That comes from knowing the world lost a man who made kids and adults feel safe.

"He is more important for today's children than every before. The calm quiet," said Hedda Sharapan, the associate producer of "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood." "The help in dealing with our feelings ... it's such a gift that continues to nourish."

Fred Rogers, schooled in child development and ordained a Presbyterian minister, is still singing, still teaching, still comforting and calming. There he was at noon Thursday on WMHT Ch. 17, smiling and singing the song whose words you know.

"Hey, neighbor. Do you sometimes sing that song with me?" he asked. Of course we do.

It was a 1999 rerun, one of more than 900 episodes of "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" taped between 1966 and 2000. (The show went national on public television in 1968; the last new episode aired in August 2001.)

He'll still come through the front door. He'll still hang up his sport coat in favor of a sweater. He'll forever exchange his loafers for a pair of logo-free sneakers.

"I learned how to tie my shoes from him," my wife said after hearing the news.

The thing is, Rogers didn't exactly teach kids to tie their shoes; children just learned by watching him.

"I have a 2-year-old, and I turn on the videos for her," said Angela Santomero, co-creator, executive producer and head writer of Nickelodeon's popular children's show "Blue's Clues." "Now when she changes her shoes, she says 'Won't you be my neighbor?' She did it this morning and I burst into tears."

Designed for the youngest children, "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" still waded into very serious topics, from divorce to even death. Rogers imparted these life lessons subtly, comfortably. He always wore that warm smile that said everything, without having to say anything: It's going to be OK.

Santomero said many elements of "Blue's Clues" style - especially the way its host addresses young viewers through the camera - drew their inspiration from "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood."

" 'Blue's Clues' really came from that passion, that positive energy and telling kids how amazing they are," Santomero said. "I think that television changed because of his show."

But Rogers' show was never a vehicle to sell breakfast cereal or super-soakers. The show moved at a deliberate pace, a tempo that's utterly missing from the vast majority of today's children's programming. There were no day-glo colors, quick-cut edits or action sequences. Try pitching that concept today.

"Maybe public television would be open to him, but I can't say that with total conviction," said WMHT General Manager Deborah Onslow. "Commercial television would never be open to him. ... His messages were never crafted to please advertisers."

Rogers knew this. In 1997, he told Times Union staff writer Doug Blackburn that "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" and "Captain Kangaroo" would be tough sells in the modern era.

"I can't imagine either one of us taking our programs to a program manager and having them bought today," he said.

"Our shows aren't jumpy or bombastic. They're not quick-cut kind of things that adults think that children want. This is a sad commentary on television today, not children."

As Thursday's episode of "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" drew to a close, its host began to make his exit: changing his shoes, hanging his sweater in the closet. As usual, he sang his farewell:

"It's such a good feeling,

A very good feeling,

A feeling, you know, that I'll be back when the day is new.

And I will have more ideas for you.

And you'll have things you want to talk about.

I will, too ... "

His sport coat is back on, the front door is open. He's still speaking to kids, to all of us:

"I really like being with you," he said. Even on this day he was talking just to me.

"You make my day such a special day, by just you being yourself.

"I'll be back next time. Bye-bye."

And he will. Mister Rogers is not going anywhere. That's reassuring.

Mark McGuire is the Times Union TV/radio writer. His column generally appears Sunday, Tuesday and Friday. Call him at 454-5467 or send e-mail to
"Let me tell you a story"
..."Have I got a story for you!"

Tom "ANDY" Andrzejczyk

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