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Fred Rogers: America's Favorite Neighbor

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Fred Rogers has been America’s favorite neighbor for more than 30 years on PBS — delighting, enlightening and reassuring children with his unique television programs.

The 2004 New Year begins with the celebration of this very special American icon who served as a global voice for children and public television. FRED ROGERS: AMERICA’S FAVORITE NEIGHBOR airs on PBS Thursday, January 1, 2004, 9:30 p.m. ET. Actor Michael Keaton, a former stagehand on MISTER ROGERS’ NEIGHBORHOOD, hosts the 90-minute program. AMERICA’S FAVORITE NEIGHBOR, an intimate portrait of this reluctant TV star, is full of treasured memories, rare vintage clips and behind-the-scenes details about the life and work of Fred Rogers.

The program is a joint production of WQED Multimedia Pittsburgh and Family Communications, Inc. “This collaboration between WQED, FCI and PBS was created due to the overwhelming response from the millions of people touched by Fred’s life,” said Robert Petrilli, WQED’s SVP & COO. “I was privileged to have known Fred and honored to have been a part of this project.”


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The documentary follows Rogers’ life from his early years in the small town of Latrobe, Pennsylvania, to his early days in television as a floor manager at NBC in New York, and then to the city of Pittsburgh, where Rogers helped start the first community-owned television station, WQED.

“We all have only one life to live on earth,” said Rogers. “And through television we have the choice of encouraging others to demean this life or to cherish it in creative, imaginative ways.” These words embody Rogers’ passion and explain the mission he worked toward throughout his life.

Rogers began producing his first children’s television program, “The Children’s Corner,” at WQED. With this program, he developed the ideas of using songs and puppets to talk to children through the mass media. He would soon incorporate these same ideas into another program — MISTER ROGERS’ NEIGHBORHOOD.

Much of the material in FRED ROGERS: AMERICA’S FAVORITE NEIGHBOR is told directly through Rogers’ simple yet powerful words in taped interview segments. In the program, Rogers explains how he came to work in children’s television and what he thought about as he looked into the camera lens during the tapings of MISTER ROGERS NEIGHBORHOOD. Viewers learn the reason why Mister Rogers came to wear sneakers on the studio set and how the “Neighborhood of Make Believe” came to be.

The documentary emphasizes the importance of music in Rogers’ life and how it is carried over into his programs. Aside from being a children’s program host, Rogers was a father, an ordained minister, puppeteer, scriptwriter, lyricist and composer. For every taping of the NEIGHBORHOOD, he would perform the opening song “It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood…” and close by singing “It’s Such A Good Feeling.”

The program also includes clips from Rogers’ appearances on “The Arsenio Hall Show” and SESAME STREET, Eddie Murphy’s notorious spoof on “Saturday Night Live,” various award ceremonies and remembrances from colleagues and friends.

Fred Rogers passed away on February 27, 2003, after a brief battle with stomach cancer. His legacy carries on as MISTER ROGERS’ NEIGHBORHOOD continues to air on PBS and also through community projects, including the renewal of the Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood Sweater Drive in conjunction with the national premiere of AMERICA’S FAVORITE NEIGHBOR.

Underwriters: PNC Financial Services, Eat’n Park, The Heinz Endowments, Public Television Viewers and PBS. Producers: WQED Multimedia Pittsburgh (www.wqed.org) and Family Communications, Inc. (www.fci.org). Format: CC Stereo

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