This editorial appeared in Tuesday's Los Angeles Times:
It's not a beautiful day in this neighborhood. Would you, could you believe that after 33 years Mr. Rogers isn't taping any more programs? The final five new ones air this week on PBS. But don't worry, children and parents Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood and his slow, soothing style will endure for many years of reruns. Can you say Hooray?
One modern measure of this Perry Como of preschoolers is to imagine some agent for Fred Rogers pitching a TV network today for a program that always begins with a 73-year-old Presbyterian minister donning a cardigan sweater, changing shoes and singing softly about the beautiful day in this neighborhood. No quick cuts. No fast music, product placements or naked navels. He is the Anti-Hip. Just a nice uncle looking directly, peacefully, into every watching youngster's eyes, acknowledging their presence, their curiosity and, yes, their childish fears about nighttime monsters and falling down bathtub drains.
After chatting, very calmly, Rogers greets the mailman -- they like each other -- then takes a toy train to an imaginary land to meet puppet royalty. After that much excitement Rogers visits a vegetable stand to learn its workings. How can an old TV show survive on 304 stations reaching 96 percent of American households without flatulence jokes? The key is as simple as the gentle sincerity that oozes from every pore of this revered relic. Sincerity? On television? It's so crazy it just might work. It has for nearly 1,000 episodes, so many, in fact, that Rogers wore out 10 sweaters hand-knitted by his own mom. The host, who says it's a privilege to be trusted by children, has even become a parent model to some. He will now make classroom videos combating prejudice. Rogers believes that very calm, very predictable routines, though painfully boring to addled adult minds, provide comfort and security essential to growing preschoolers amid rapid social, even family, changes. He describes a mysterious "holy ground" between TV performer and audience members. Countless times viewers have recalled to him invaluable life-changing messages they got from his programs, messages Rogers never put in. He worries, as do we, about the invisible, inadvertent messages viewers may see in more violent TV fare.
Meanwhile, our little people (and some of the larger ones) have lived in -- and will continue to live in -- his Neighborhood.
Thank you Mr. Rogers.
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