‘Mister Rogers’ Still Looms Large in Pittsburgh

Y’all remember Mr. Rogers ! Check out an exert from an article from NY Times about how Pittsburgh is keeping his legacy alive below and the full article after the jump.

PITTSBURGH — Nationally, it may seem that in the seven years since Fred Rogers’s death, the legacy of America’s favorite neighbor has waned.

After all, two years ago PBS stopped offering his show, “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood,” to its member stations every weekday, offering it just once a week, though it allowed stations to digitally stockpile them for daily viewing. Then, last year, PBS quietly stopped allowing stockpiling, meaning there are no stations showing it daily.

“Kids today just don’t know him,” said Tom Dvorak, director of broadcasting for WMVS-TV, a public television station in Milwaukee that in January stopped running its stockpiled shows.

But here in Pittsburgh, where he lived and worked most of his life, Mr. Rogers’s legacy seems assured, and not just because everyone over the age of 10 seems to have a story about meeting him. Images of him — and his trademark cardigan sweaters — seem to be everywhere, including displays at Pittsburgh International Airport, the Pittsburgh Children’s Museum and the Heinz History Center, for starters.

In October, a 10-foot, $3 million statue of Mr. Rogers tying his sneakers was unveiled along the city’s riverfront to great fanfare, even if it was criticized by some, including Jimmy Kimmel, the late-night talk show host, who thought it looked more like a “mud monster.”

In November, WQED, the local public television station here, decided to reinstall the Neighborhood of Make-Believe set at its studio where Mr. Rogers filmed his show from 1968 to 2001, with the intention that a couple of hundred people might show up to reminisce. Instead, a line stretched down the sidewalk, and more than 5,000 people over two days took the tour.

And another statue, this time a wax figure — also of Mr. Rogers tying his sneakers — will be unveiled at the History Center on Saturday on what would have been his 82nd birthday.

None of it seems overdone to Pittsburgh residents.

“He’s one of our own, you know?” said Sheryl Strobl, 31, of Pittsburgh, who was visiting the Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood play area at the Children’s Museum recently with her 3-year-old son, T. J. “Because he’s not on TV every day, it’s hard for my son to associate him with that. But when we come here, the first thing he wants to do is drive the Neighborhood trolley. He still knows who Mr. Rogers is.”

Dave Pastorkovich, 49, a remedial reading specialist from Pittsburgh who is an assistant basketball coach at Carnegie Mellon University here, is also a fan.

“I think he’s important because he worked here and played a large part in many people’s childhoods, including my own,” he said. “I thought it was rather strange they stopped running the show. There’s still goodness for kids in there.”

But building a legacy beyond his hometown could be an uphill trolley ride, said Donna Mitroff, a children’s media consultant, educator and author who has worked more than 40 years in the field, including three years with Mr. Rogers at WQED.

In the pantheon of children’s television performers and creators, she places Mr. Rogers on a short list with figures like Burr Tillstrom, creator of the “Kukla, Fran and Ollie” show in the 1950s, Buffalo Bob Smith, the host of “The Howdy Doody Show” in the 1950s, Shari Lewis, a puppeteer whose show featuring Lamb Chop replaced Howdy Doody in 1960, and Bob Keeshan, whose “Captain Kangaroo” show ran from 1955 to 1984.

None of them has any kind of formalized legacy, Dr. Mitroff pointed out.

“There were efforts to build formal legacies around Tillstrom and Keeshan, but in neither of these cases did it take hold,” she said.

PBS, though, hopes that Mr. Rogers will live on for children — online. Last month, PBS began streaming full-length episodes of “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” on both its Rogers site and its PBSKIDS There are now 26 episodes available.

“We think about Fred every single day,” said Lesli Rotenberg, senior vice president for children’s media at PBS, who said meeting Mr. Rogers was the highlight of her career. “The PBSKIDS site is based on a philosophy that I think he pioneered of looking at the whole child.”

But it is another event that begins on Mr. Rogers’s birthday that may mean the most to his national — and even international — legacy as an advocate for responsible children’s entertainment.

Starting Saturday at St. Vincent College in Latrobe, Pa., about 30 miles east of Pittsburgh, the Fred Rogers’ Center for Early Learning and Children’s Media will host its first conference, called “Fred Forward.”

The last two days of the four-day conference will bring together a who’s-who of more than 60 experts in children’s media for a series of lectures and panels to explore “creative curiosity, new media and learning.”

Mr. Rogers grew up in Latrobe and, before he died, he began the effort to create the center as a place for his archives. The trove of notes, scripts, handwritten music, letters and awards tucked into 120 boxes gives a detailed view of how he created the 895 episodes of “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.”

The $15 million center itself, which opened in 2006, sponsors a fellows program to encourage research, the creation of new screen media and new educational materials that use Mr. Rogers’s approach. It is also creating a Learning Network that will provide online tools for raising and educating children for teachers, families and caregivers.

“Fred Rogers was a techie in the 1950s who realized how to use the new technology of his day,” said Maxwell King, a co-director of the Rogers center. “Our challenge here, and at this conference, is to find out how to use our new media for the benefit of children. That will be his legacy.”


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