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A Christmas Visit From Mister Rogers

PUBLICATION: Chicago Tribune TV Week
AUTHOR: Angela Rocco DeCarlo
DATE: December 25, 1977

You don't have to be a child to appreciate Fred Rogers' talents. When he opens his program by singing "It's a beautiful day in this neighborhood," it's obvious he has the gift of perfect sensitivity in much the same way a great musician has perfect pitch or a brilliant chef exquisite tastebuds.

Adults, as well as children, respond to his special brand of niceness. It's that simpatico personality which allows Rogers, the creator and writer of the longest-running PBS children's program, "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood," (weekdays at 8:30 a.m. and Saturdays at 7:30 a.m on WTTW -- Ch. 11) to reach out to each young viewer offering comfot and security.

Rogers, a grown-up man of 49 years, seems to know what it's like to be an uncertain child filled with the fears and apprehensions involved in learning about life.

"On the Neighborhood program we've tried to provide a smorgasbord of ways a child can express how he feels and learn who he is," he said.

Whether the problem is being left alone with a new baby sitter or the fear of being washed down the bathtub drain, Rogers helps the young child get a grasp on the realities of life through the sensitive use of fantasy, practical demonstrations, and celebrity guests performing their special talents.

More than 460 segments of the Peabody Award-winning "Neighborhood" program were filmed between 1967 and 1975.

"We spent an entire year re-editing and updating the shows," said Rogers, "so we now have a complete library covering basic themes of child development."

The programs will be available not only for television replay, but for schools and institutions as well.

"This past year we've been busy with our new programs," he said. "Old Friends and New Friends" is portraitures of older persons whom Rogers says are "in touch with themselves." The initial segment deals with a priest in Mexico who has adopted over 4,000 children during the past 25 years.

And a Christmas special, titled "Christmastime with Mister Rogers," (Sunday at 6 p.m. on WTTW -- Ch. 11) combines the "Neighborhood" characters with a story of a 12-year-old ballerina who is afraid her family will not reach the Neighborhood in time to spend Christmas with her.

As is usual with Rogers' programs, the special has a message, it being that patience, giving to others, and helping one's fellows are all essential parts of the spirit and joy of Christmas.

This special is the first venture for Rogers into prime-time television, but hopefully, it won't be the last.

"If the show is well received, it may influence our sponsor, Sears, to have us do specials for other holidays such as Easter or Halloween," he said.

There are many projects Rogers would like to do. His creativity is not likely to lag now, not after being successfully involved in children's broadcasting for 25 years.

Surprisingly, a career in television was the last thing Rogers' family expected him to become involved in.

"When I graduated from college I didn't go into the seminary as I had planned," said Rogers.

"I thought I should get out into the world for a bit after being in school for so many years, so I went to New York to work as a floor manager at a major network."

After two years, Rogers returned to Pittsburgh where he became a creative force in programming in the begging public television operation.

"It was during the eight years I did a live children's program that I finally returned to my original career plan. From 1954 to 1962 I attended seminary class on my lunch hour and after eight years of study was ordained a Presbyterian minister."

Married adn the father of two teen-age sons, Rogers is conscious of the responsibility parents and adults carry in regard to the children in their lives.

"Each child is so differently endowed that I feel my job as a parent is to support whatever healthy strivings are present in each individual boy," he said.

This philosophy is evident in his on-camera personality as well.

In a medium notorious for its lack of viewer involvement, Rogers is able to establish an intimate relationship on a one-to-one basis with each individual viewer.

When Mister Rogers comes to visit, it's always a beautiful day in the neighborhood.

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