Mister Rogers isn't going to be our neighbor anymore.
Fred Rogers, the slow-speaking, soothing star of PBS's "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood," says he will tape his last episode next month, although the show will live on in reruns.
The final original episode will air sometime in August.
This might come as a shock to those of you who were raised in Mister Rogers' Neighborhood of Make-Believe. Imagine the jolt it gave the folks at PBS. Rogers only told them last Friday and they had to scramble to notify their station execs before the story broke over the weekend in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, to which Rogers had given the exclusive. (Rogers, who was born about 40 miles outside Pittsburgh, tapes "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" at the city's PBS station WQED.)
That's because Rogers' Family Communications, which produces the longest-running children's program in TV history, doesn't want a big fuss made about Rogers' exit. Its executives want the program to keep airing in reruns for years and years. Monday, they emphasized that Rogers isn't retiring, he's moving on to other things, including writing books and public speaking.
PBS CEO Pat Mitchell said that shortly after she took the job in February, Rogers hinted he was getting kind of tired of the gig, which is understandable given that the 72-year-old was writing the scripts, the songs and the lyrics, starring and doing the puppet voices on most episodes.
So when he called it quits, Mitchell says she wasn't completely surprised, "but nonetheless I was sad," she told The TV Column. "You like to think that something like 'Mister Rogers' goes on forever -- and there are so many programs it will go on, if not forever, for a long time."
But here is a surprise: PBS doesn't own the "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" library. Mister Rogers does. Mister Rogers is a lot shrewder than he seems at first glance. For at least the past several years, PBS has negotiated for broadcast rights on a year-by-year basis. Mitchell said Monday that Rogers had given her his word he remains committed to PBS.
When that final fresh episode airs in August, Rogers will have put on his zip-up sweater and sung "It's a beautiful day in this neighborhood" on national television nearly 1,000 times.
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