The series had its genesis in 1953, when public television station WQED debuted The Children's Corner, a program featuring Rogers as puppeteer and Josie Carey as host, in an unscripted live television program. It was this program where many of the puppets, characters and music used in the later series were developed, such as King Friday XIII, and Curious X the Owl. It was also the time when Rogers began wearing his famous sneakers, as he found them to be quieter than his work shoes while he was moving about behind the set. The show won a Sylvania Award for best children's show, and was briefly broadcast nationally on the NBC Television Network.
Rogers moved to Toronto, Ontario in 1961 to work on a new series based on The Children's Corner which was called Misterogers, a 15-minute program on CBC Television. Misterogers' aired on CBC for about 4 years and a number of the set pieces that he would take with him back to the US, such as the trolley and castle, were created for the Canadian program by CBC designers and in collaboration with producer Bruce Attridge. Most importantly, Rogers appeared on camera in the new show rather than only appearing through puppets or characters. Fred Rainsberry, head of Children's Programming at CBC, persuaded Rogers to appear on camera in the new show (which he named after Rogers) after seeing him interact with children. Ernie Coombs, one of the Americans whom Rogers brought with him to help develop the CBC show, would remain with CBC, after Rogers returned to the US. Coombs first appeared as Mr. Dressup in the CBC program Butternut Square, conceived and produced by Attridge. Coombs then helped to develop what became Mr. Dressup which continued for several decades.
In 1966, Rogers acquired the rights to his program from the CBC and moved the show to WQED in Pittsburgh, where he had worked on The Children's Corner. He renamed the show Misterogers' Neighborhood, which initially aired regionally in the northeastern US through EEN, including educational stations in Boston, Washington, D.C., and New York City. The 100 episodes of the half-hour show incorporated the "Neighborhood of Make-Believe" segments from the CBC episodes with additional reality-based opening and closing material produced in Pittsburgh. The series was cancelled in 1967 due to lack of funding, but an outpouring of public response prompted a search for new funding.
In 1967, The Sears Roebuck Foundation provided funding for the program, which enabled them to be seen nationwide on National Educational Television; taping began in October 1967 for the first national season. The first national broadcast of Misterogers' Neighborhood appeared on most NET stations on February 19, 1968. In 1970, when PBS replaced NET, it also inherited this program. Around the same time the show had a slight title change, to the more-familiar Mister Rogers' Neighborhood.
The show was in production from February 19, 1968 to February 20, 1976, and again from August 27, 1979 to August 31, 2001. The studio in Pittsburgh where the series was taped was later renamed "The Fred Rogers Studio", in honor of Rogers himself.
During each half-hour segment, Rogers speaks directly to the viewer about various issues, taking the viewer on tours of factories, demonstrating experiments, crafts, and music, and interacting with his friends. Rogers also made a point to simply behave naturally on camera rather than acting out a character, stating that "One of the greatest gifts you can give anybody is the gift of your honest self. I also believe that kids can spot a phony a mile away." The half-hour episodes were punctuated by a puppet segment chronicling occurrences in the Neighborhood of Make-Believe. Another segment of the show consisted of Rogers going to different places from around the neighborhood, where he interviews people to talk about their work and other contributions that is focusing on the theme relating to the episode, such as Brockett's Bakery, Bob Trow's Workshop, and Negri's Music Shop. In one episode, Rogers took the show behind-the-scenes on the set of The Incredible Hulk, which aired on CBS from 1978 to 1982.
At the start of each episode, the show's logo appears as the camera pans slowly over a model of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, while the "Neighborhood Trolley" crosses a couple of streets from left to right as the text reads "Mister Rogers Talks About...", as the camera goes from the neighborhood to inside the Rogers' television house. From 1979 to 1981, an alternate version of the opening sequence was used. Usually, the camera goes from the neighborhood to out on the porch of the Rogers' television house, where the viewers see Fred Rogers coming for a visit before he enters the house. This is the same model electric trolley that later in the program will transport viewers into the Neighborhood of Make-Believe. After the camera goes from the neighborhood to inside the Rogers' television house, Fred Rogers is seen coming home with his jacket on, singing "Won't You Be My Neighbor?". He goes into the closet door by taking off his jacket, and hanging it up, and grabs a cardigan zipper sweater to put on. After that, he takes his dress shoes off, and grabs a pair of blue sneakers to put on. One of Rogers' sweaters now hangs in the Smithsonian Institution, a testament to the cultural influence of his simple daily ritual.
At the end of each episode, Rogers sang "It's Such a Good Feeling" when he took off a pair of blue sneakers as he says "You're alive" in a higher toned voice, and grabs his dress shoes to put it back on, and then, he snaps his fingers two times. After that, Rogers goes into the closet door by taking off his cardigan zipper sweater, and hanging it up, and grabs his jacket to put it back on. Before the closing credits, Rogers got ready to go out the door by reminding the viewers: "You always make each day a special day. You know how: By just your being you/yourself. There's only one person in the whole world that's like you, and that's you. And people can like you just/exactly the way you are. I'll be back next time. Bye-bye!". During the closing credits, which is complete with the show's logo and the episode number, the camera would perform a reversed version of the opening sequence's pan shot, while the "Neighborhood Trolley" crosses a couple of streets from right to left.
Starting in 1979, episodes were grouped into week-long series, with each series focused on a particular topic. Rogers' monologues throughout the week explore various facets of the topic, and the ongoing story from the Neighborhood of Make-Believe serves as illustration.
Rogers covered a broad range of topics over the years, and the series did not shy away from issues that other children's programming avoided. In fact, Rogers endeared himself to many when, on March 23, 1970, he dealt with the death of one of his pet goldfish. The series also dealt with competition, divorce, and war. Rogers returned to the topic of anger regularly and focused on peaceful ways of dealing with angry feelings.
Mister Rogers always made a clear distinction between the realistic world of his television neighborhood and the fantasy world of Make-Believe. He often discussed what was going to happen in Make-Believe before the next fantasy segment was shown ("Let's pretend that Prince Tuesday has been having scary dreams..."), and sometimes acted out bits of Make-Believe with models on a table before the camera transitioned to the live-action puppet rendition. The miniature motorized trolley which was known in character form as "Trolley", with its accompanying fast-paced piano theme music, was the only element that appeared regularly in both the realistic world and Make-Believe: it was used to transport viewers from one realm to the other. Rogers, however, was mentioned from time to time in Make-Believe, particularly by Mr. McFeely, who appeared occasionally in the Make-Believe segments and seemed to form a link between the two worlds. The idea of the trolley came from Rogers. When he was young, there had been lots of trolleys operating in Pittsburgh and he liked riding on them. This reality/fantasy distinction put Rogers' series in sharp contrast with other children's series, such as Sesame Street and Captain Kangaroo, which freely mixed realistic and fantastic elements.
The series featured "Picture Picture", a rear-projection motion picture and slide projector, whose screen is encased with a picture frame. In early episodes, Picture Picture would show various films or slides at Mister Rogers' command; after the material was presented, Mister Rogers would thank Picture Picture, in which it will return a "You're Welcome" on its screen. After 1970, Picture Picture no longer operated magically, becoming merely a projector; Mister Rogers would insert a film, slides or videotape through a slot on the side, then show the material using a wired remote control. When Picture Picture was not used, a different painting would be displayed on its screen. Often it would display the words "Hello" or "Hi" at the opening.
The series was also notable for its use of jazz-inspired music, mostly arranged and performed by Johnny Costa, until Costa's death in 1996, when he was succeeded by Michael Musicz for the remainder of the series. The music was unique in its simplicity and flow that blended with the series' sketches and features. The music was usually played live during taping. Lyrics and melodies were written and sung by Rogers, who created more than 200 original songs.
When Fred Rogers died in 2003, PBS's website provided suggestions to parents on how to respond to children who ask about Rogers' death.
Beginning September 3, 2007, some PBS affiliates began replacing the show with new programs such as Super Why!, WordGirl and WordWorld. In June 2008, PBS announced that, beginning in late 2008, it would stop broadcasting Mister Rogers' Neighborhood as part of its daily syndication lineup to member stations, instead airing the program only once a week over the weekend. Milwaukee PBS, for example, still carries the show once a week, on Sunday, over its primary HD/SD channel. Beginning on September 1, 2008, the Neighborhood program was replaced by new programming such as Martha Speaks, Sid the Science Kid, and an update of The Electric Company. However, individual member stations have the option of airing the Neighborhood independently of the PBS syndicated feed, with series home WQED in particular continuing to air the series daily until 2010. There was a campaign in 2008 and 2009 to urge PBS and all member stations to bring the show back seven days a week.
In July 2011, during the annual Television Critics Association summer press tour, it was announced that a new animated spinoff series, Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood, was in production. The show debuted on most PBS stations on September 3, 2012. The series features Daniel Tiger (the four-year-old son of Daniel Striped Tiger) as a host of the series, which also features characters of the Neighborhood of Make-Believe all grown older, with the children now having families of their own.
The song "Won't You Be My Neighbor?" was written by Fred Rogers in 1967 and was used as the opening theme for each episode of the show.
In the first three seasons of the show, when new episodes were constantly being produced, each show ended with the song "Tomorrow", which was written by Rogers' former colleague, Josie Carey. Starting with Season 4 in 1971, "Tomorrow" was used only Monday through Thursday episodes, and a new closing song, which is titled as "The Weekend Song", which was only used on Friday episodes, as he wouldn't be back again on Monday.
Eventually, the "Tomorrow" song was removed entirely due to copyright issues, and by 1973, Rogers sang "It's Such a Good Feeling" at the end of each episode. Prior to 1973, the original version of "It's Such a Good Feeling" was used as part of Mister Rogers general repertoire of songs. When "It's Such a Good Feeling" became the closing theme for Mister Rogers' Neighborhood in 1973, it is basically a rewrite of "The Weekend Song" at the end, by only using the first four lines: "And I'll be back when the day is new, and I'll have more ideas for you. And you'll have things you'll want to talk about, I will too". This was only used on Monday through Thursday episodes. But on Friday episodes, they changed it to "week" instead of "day". On early episodes of this season, the song was originally written as "When tomorrow is new".
Musical directors for the series:Johnny Costa (1968–1996)
Michael Moricz, who took over as music director after Costa's death and served until the end of the series in 2001
In addition to arranging and directing the music heard on Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, Costa, along with other musicians, performed almost all the background music heard on the series, including the show's recognizable main theme, the trolley whistle, Mr. McFeeley's frenetic speedy delivery piano plonks, the vibraphone flute-toots (played on a synthesizer) as Fred fed his fish, dreamy celesta lines, incidental music, and Rogers' entrance and exit tunes. Each day an episode was taped, Costa and his ensemble played live in the studio for the filming. Musicians who played in this ensemble were:Johnny Costa - Piano, Celesta, Synthesizer, & Trolley Whistle
Joe Negri - Guitar
Carl McVicker Jr. - Double Bass
Bobby Rawsthorne - Drums & Percussion
Even after Costa's death in 1996, much of the music heard on the program continued to be Costa's and his name continued to be listed in the show's closing credits as one of its Musical Directors.
The first broadcast of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood was on the National Educational Television network on February 19, 1968; the color NET logo appeared on a model building at the beginning and end of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood from 1969 to 1970. When NET closed its doors, the series moved to PBS, even though episodes as late at 1971 were still copyrighted by and produced for NET.
The series' first season (1968) consisted of 130 episodes, produced in black-and-white. For seasons 2-8 (1969–75), the show produced 65 new color episodes each year. By the end of season 8, this meant there was a library of 455 color episodes which could be repeated indefinitely, and it was decided to wrap up production of the series. As a consequence, season 9 (1976) consisted of only five episodes. These five new episodes (which aired the final week of original episodes of the so-called "first series") featured Mister Rogers in his workshop, watching scenes of past episodes of his series, which he recorded on videocassettes and kept on the shelf in his workshop. On the Friday episode of that week (February 20, 1976), he reminded viewers that they, too, could watch many of those old episodes beginning the following week. Two other episodes were produced and aired as specials: a Christmas show in December 1977 and a "springtime" show in the spring of 1978.
In 1979, it was decided to resume production of the series, with an eye towards "freshening up" the show by producing 15 new episodes per year. These "second series" episodes would be mixed in with the already-airing cycle of repeats from the so-called "first series" (i.e., the color episodes of seasons 2-9, produced from 1969 to 1976).
Mister Rogers' Neighborhood produced approximately 15 new episodes a year between 1979 and 1993. As well, there were occasional "Mister Rogers Talks to Parents" specials, which featured panelists discussing ways in which parents could talk to their children about the issues discussed on Mister Rogers' Neighborhood. These specials were usually aired on weekends, just prior to the airing of a new batch of Monday-to-Friday episodes.
Beginning in 1994, the production schedule was changed so that 10 new episodes a year were produced instead of 15. Shortly thereafter, as of August 11, 1995, the episodes from the "first series" (1969–1975) were withdrawn from the repeat schedule, since there were over 200 "second series" episodes available for broadcast, and many of the first series episodes had become outdated. The show's final years varied the number of episodes produced per season: season 26 (1995/96) consisted of 20 episodes, season 27 (1997) produced 10 episodes, seasons 28 and 29 (1998 and 1999) both contained 15 episodes, and season 30 (2000) reverted to 10 episodes. The final season, 2001's season 31, which was taped the month before it was broadcast, consisted of 5 episodes only, centering on the theme "Celebrate The Arts".
A few episodes from the "first series" are available for viewing in the Paley Center for Media, including the first episode of the series and the first color episode. A complete collection of episodes, including more than 900 videotapes and scripts from the show along with other promotional materials produced by Rogers or his Family Communications Inc. production company, exists in the University of Pittsburgh's Mister Rogers' Neighborhood Archives located in the Elizabeth Nesbitt Room in the university's School of Information Sciences Building.
When PBS began re-airing the first 460 color episodes of the series in 1976, some of the earliest color episodes from 1969 and 1970 were re-edited with new voice-overs or footage. For example, in one 1970 episode where Mister Rogers demonstrates the noise-proof ear protectors that airport workers use on the tarmac, the film footage used featured a worker directing a United Airlines jet with its stylized "U" logo—which wasn't introduced until 1974. All of the episodes revised from the first series also included an extra segment following the closing credits, mentioning the episode number and additional companies that provided funding since these episodes originally aired, even though they had not provided funding at the time of original production.
As of 2013, almost all of the 1979–2001 "second series" episodes are still in active rotation on a number of PBS stations. The only exception is the week-long "Conflict" series (episodes #1521–#1525), first aired during the week of November 7–11, 1983 to coincide with ABC's airing of the television film The Day After, and designed for children to cope with the aftereffects of that film. The series/story arc covered the topics of war, bombs, and an arms race. The "Conflict" series was last aired on PBS during the week of April 1–5, 1996.
Only a few episodes of the series have been released to DVD by Anchor Bay Entertainment, although some earlier compilation-based releases were issued on VHS by Playhouse Video during the mid-1980s. 100 episodes have subsequently been released as part of Amazon Video.
Characters on the series include:Mr. McFeely (David Newell) the delivery man, named for Fred Rogers' maternal grandfather
Neighbor Aber (Chuck Aber)
Lady Aberlin (Betty Aberlin)
Chef Brockett (Don Brockett)
Tony Chiroldes (Tony Chiroldes)
Officer Clemmons (François Clemmons)
Emily the Poetry Lady (Emily Jacobson) (in early episodes)
Pilot Ito (Yoshi Ito)
Mrs. McFeely (Betsy Nadas)
Handyman Negri (Joe Negri)
Miss Paulificate (Audrey Roth)
Mayor Maggie (Maggie Stewart)
Other regular puppeteers includedMichael Horton
Lenny Meledandri (1980–2001)
The human characters who appeared in the Neighborhood of Make-Believe were mostly imaginary versions of people who lived in Mr. Rogers' "real" neighborhood. For example, Joe "Handyman" Negri is a jazz-guitarist who has taught music at several Pittsburgh universities and who operates the musical-instrument shop on Rogers' street. The non-make-believe version of Betty Aberlin was an actress. Audrey Roth operated a janitorial service in the real neighborhood, but was royal phone operator "Miss Paulifficate" in Make-Believe. Only Mr. McFeely, Mrs. McFeely, and Chef Brockett appeared substantially the same way in both Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood and the Neighborhood of Make-Believe.
The "Neighborhood of Make-Believe" is the fictional kingdom visited by Mr. Rogers during the show. Characters in the Neighborhood of Make-Believe were portrayed by both hand puppets and actors.Anna Platypus (Carole Switala)
Betty Okonak Templeton-Jones (Michael Horton)
Bob Dog (Bob Trow)
Collette (Fred Rogers)
Cornflake S. Pecially (Fred Rogers)
Cousin Mary Owl (Mary Rawson)
Cousin Steven Owl (Stephen Lee)
Daniel Striped Tiger (Fred Rogers)
Donkey Hodie (Fred Rogers)
Dr. Duckbill Platypus (Bill Barker)
Edgar Cooke (Fred Rogers)
Elsie Jean Platypus (Bill Barker)
Grandpere (Fred Rogers)
Harriett Elizabeth Cow (Robert Trow)
Henrietta Pussycat (Fred Rogers)
H.J. Elephant III (Charles R. Aber)
Hula Mouse (Tony Chiroldes)
Ino A. Horse (Fred Rogers)
James Michael Jones (Michael Horton)
King Friday XIII (Fred Rogers)
Lady Elaine Fairchilde (Fred Rogers)
Mrs. Frogg (Fred Rogers and later Hedda Sharapan)
Prince Tuesday (Fred Michael, Charles Altman, Carole Switala, and Lenny Meledandri)
Princess Margeret H. Lizard (Fred Rogers)
Purple Panda (David Nohling and Matt Meko)
Queen Sara Saturday (Fred Rogers)
Robert Troll (Bob Trow)
Tadpole Frogg (voiced by Fred Rogers)
X the Owl (Fred Rogers)
Michael Keaton made his first television role as a volunteer in 1975. He played an acrobat in a troupe called The Flying Zookeenies that performed for King Friday's birthday and was also in charge of running the Trolley.
Thirteen in-series "operas" took place during the course of the series within the Make-Believe segments. Many of them feature American baritone John Reardon as a main character. The operas would encompass the entire episode, and would be seen after a brief introduction by Mr. Rogers.
- Babysitter Opera (1968)
- Campsite Opera (1968)
- Teddy Bear/Whaling Ship Opera (1969)
- "Pineapples and Tomatoes" (1970)
- "Monkey's Uncle" (1971)
- "Snow People and Warm Pussycat" (1972)
- "Potato Bugs and Cows" (1973)
- "All in the Laundry" (1974)
- "Key to Otherland" (1975)
- "Windstorm in Bubbleland" (1980)
- "Spoon Mountain" (1982)
- "A Granddad for Daniel" (1984)
- "A Star for Kitty" (1986)
Additionally, a play, Josephine The Short-Necked Giraffe, first aired in 1989 as a tribute to the late John Reardon.
Guests on the series ranged from cellist Yo-Yo Ma to actor and bodybuilder Lou Ferrigno of TV's The Incredible Hulk. (In a 2001 piece where celebrities were asked about their heroes, Rogers cited Ma as one of his heroes.) A 1968 visit by electronic music pioneer Bruce Haack resurfaced in the 2004 documentary Haack: King of Techno.
Guests on Mister Rogers' Neighborhood were often surprised to find that although Rogers was just as gentle and patient in life as on television, he was nevertheless a perfectionist who did not allow "shoddy" ad-libbing; he believed that children were thoughtful people who deserved programming as good as anything produced for adults on television.
Rogers appeared as a guest on some other series. On the children's animated cartoon series Arthur, for example, Rogers plays himself as an aardvark like Arthur. Later on, Arthur appears as a guest in hand-puppet form in a 1999 episode of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood in the Neighborhood of Make-Believe. Bill Nye, host of a science-themed program, and Rogers also exchanged appearances on each other's series, as did Rogers and Captain Kangaroo. Rogers additionally appeared in an episode of Sesame Street, where he explains to Big Bird that even if one loses a running race such as the one Big Bird had run against his friend "Snuffy", no hard feelings threaten to break the two of them apart. Big Bird himself also appeared in one episode of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood in the Neighborhood of Make-Believe.First series (1968–1976): 1 * 2 * 3 * 4 * 5 * 6 * 7 * 8 * 9
Second series (1979–2001): 10 * 11 * 12 * 13 * 14 * 15 * 16 * 17 * 18 * 19 * 20 * 21 * 22 * 23 * 24 * 25 * 26 * 27 * 28 * 29 * 30 * 31
A prime time Christmas special, Christmastime with Mister Rogers, first aired in 1977. This special had François Clemmons introducing a storyteller and flutist friend to Rogers. They filmed a couple of narrated segments of the stories François' friend told. The special also had the Neighborhood of Make-Believe segment which shows how they celebrated Christmas. The trolley had a banner on the roof that said "Merry Christmas" on one side, and "Happy Hannukah" on the other. This special was aired every Christmas season until 1982. This special's opening and close have Rogers walking through a real neighborhood while the titles roll rather than the model neighborhood used in the series.
In 1994, Rogers created another one-time special for PBS called Fred Rogers' Heroes which consisted of documentary portraits of four real-life people whose work helped make their communities better. Rogers, uncharacteristically dressed in a suit and tie, hosted in wraparound segments which did not use the "Neighborhood" set.
For a time Rogers produced specials for the parents as a precursor to the subject of the week on the Neighborhood called "Mister Rogers Talks To Parents About [topic]". Rogers didn't host those specials, though; other people like Joan Lunden, who hosted the Conflict special, and other news announcers played MC duties in front of a gallery of parents while Rogers answered questions from them. These specials were made to prepare the parents for any questions the children might ask after watching the episodes on that topic of the week.Idlewild and Soak Zone, an amusement park near Rogers' hometown of Latrobe, Pennsylvania has an attraction called "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood of Make-Believe" featuring a life-size trolley ride, designed by Rogers. This was shut down in 2014 to reopen as Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood in 2015
The planetarium show "The Sky Above Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" is a computer-animated adaptation of the television show for preschool-aged children.
After three years as a traveling exhibit, the Children's Museum of Pittsburgh had Welcome to Mister Rogers' Neighborhood installed as a permanent exhibit in 2004.
A kiosk containing artifacts used during the series is located on Concourse C of Pittsburgh International Airport, near the children's play area.
A children's play area at Monroeville Mall in the Pittsburgh suburb of Monroeville was named for the television show.
The Mister Rogers' Neighborhood Archives at the University of Pittsburgh's School of Information Sciences is an academic resource and collection that contains correspondence, scripts, props, puppets, fan mail, 911 videotapes (3 episodes are missing, presumed wiped), and scholarly articles that show the cultural impact of Fred Rogers' work.
A statue of Fred Rogers exists on the North Shore of the Allegheny River near Heinz Field at the surviving footing of the Manchester Bridge.
The music of the show was interpreted by an eclectic mix of modern artists for the 2005 album Songs From the Neighborhood: The Music of Mister Rogers.
The YouTube show Pittsburgh Dad uses a piano theme song inspired by the jazz music constantly heard on Mister Rogers' Neighborhood.
A famous skit from Saturday Night Live is titled "Mr. Robinson's Neighborhood", an obvious parody of "Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood" set in a housing complex neighborhood and starring comedians Eddie Murphy (as the title character) and Gilbert Gottfried (as a parody of Mr. McFeely, "Mr. Speedy"). Mister Rogers was actually first briefly parodied on the same show by Dan Aykroyd in a mock film trailer called "Dr. Jekyll and Mister Rogers".
The musical project Symphony of Science, in association with PBS Digital Studios, created a music video called "Garden of Your Mind" from clips of the show, using spoken words of Rogers pitch-corrected spoken words to create a song.
The 2012 series Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood, produced by The Fred Rogers Company, is based on characters from Mister Rogers' Neighborhood and the Neighborhood of Make-Believe.
The original trolley is held on display at the Canadian Broadcasting Centre in Toronto.