Just out of college and headed for a career in music, Fred Rogers happened to catch an episode of what passed for children’s television in the 1950s – grotesquely grinning hosts, raucous improvised dialogue, and broad, pie-in-the-face humor. Appalled, Rogers vowed to counteract such programming with his own shows He started with the low-budget Children’s Corner, where he perfected his familiar puppet characters King Friday, Daniel Tiger, X the Owl, and Henrietta Pussycat.
Next came Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, which first appeared on Canadian television, but on May 22, 1967, it premiered in Rogers’ native Pennsylvania on WQED Pittsburgh. The network, then known as NET (National Educational Television), eventually turned into PBS, and Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood became the longest running show it would ever broadcast. Fred Rogers’ gentle manner and habit of speaking directly to each child viewer won the hearts of preschoolers and their parents around the country, who looked forward to such features as visits to factories (“How People Make…”), singing and listening to music, and most especially the Neighborhood of Make-Believe, a safe place where puppets and their human friends talked about subjects like day care, discipline, and even divorce. Rogers died in 2003, but the Neighborhood lives on in reruns on PBS.