By Matt Pascarella
Whether you have kids, or you were a kid, you’ve probably seen “Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood”. It was a regular for my brother and I in the early 1990s so I thought it would be fun to see “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?”, a documentary release in 2018 that talks about the children’s television star through interviews with cast members, guests, friends and family.
The documentary begins with early footage of Rogers on what would later become “Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood”. Rogers was all set to go into seminary and become a minister after college but decided to go into this ‘new’ medium called television. Rogers was a quiet, kind man who felt it was a responsibility of his to use the mass media, “to help children through some of the difficult modulations of life.” He believed television was a tool and he wanted his focus to be with children.
A resident of Pennsylvania, he started a show out of WQED Pittsburgh called “The Children’s Corner”, which later evolved into “Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood”. Children liked Rogers immediately. His son, Jim Rogers, said his dad’s inner child never went away; this made it easier for Fred Rogers to interact and relate to children.
Early on, Rogers found television hard, but it got easier when he created characters like Daniel Tiger by accident, when he put a puppet through a paper clock and began talking in a high voice.
This documentary features personal stories of interactions between Rogers and children and demonstrates how welcoming and accepting both sides were towards each other.
In 1968, the “Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood” aired its first episode. Each episode had a message and aimed to teach a lesson, even if the lesson was a tough one. Some of the subjects talked about were divorce, children getting lost, segregation and death.
When President Nixon wanted to cut funding to PBS, Rogers argued before the US Senate for $20 million and won. After this, Fred Rogers and “Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood” really took off. Rogers even tried a start a different show where he interacted with adults, but it didn’t go as well as “Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood.”
Friends and co-workers talk about Rogers personality and say he was the same on TV as he was in real life. He was someone who was truly about acceptance, kindness and love.
At his final commencement address to Dartmouth College, Rogers defined ‘you are special’ as you don’t have to do anything sensational for people to love you.
It was said in the documentary that Rogers never forgot how vulnerable it was to be a kid.
“Children have deep feelings, just like everybody does. Our striving to understand those feelings and better respond to them is the most important task in the world.”
This was a mildly interesting film and brought back nostalgia, as someone who watched the show as a child. However, there was more than one part where it dragged on and was boring. I felt, the entire documentary a little on the long side. While Fred Rogers was an amazing person, this documentary was only ok. If you really liked “Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood” and are interested in learning about Fred Rogers, I’d recommend it. If not, this documentary probably isn’t for you.