Mister Rogers, never one to bow to peer pressure, is finally jumping on a bandwagon. The video bandwagon.
PBS' popular Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, now in its 27th year, has been released in four video compilations: "Love," "Kindness" (with Broadway's Tommy Tune), "Making Music" (with Rogers' favorite Yo Yo Ma) and "Circus Fun." The videos offer some of Rogers' most popular shows, with newly produced introductory and transitional segments.
While it's no surprise that more videos are expected to follow, what \o7 is\f7 interesting is how long it took for the first videos to hit stores.
From his Pittsburgh office, the not-oft interviewed Fred Rogers--yes, he really is as polite as he appears on TV--explains in his trademark quiet voice: "There's so little we've done as far as merchandising is concerned, yet people kept asking for compilations."
Rogers, who points out that he's "never made a commercial in my life and you can be sure I've been asked," adds: "The most important thing about this is \o7 everything\f7 , all the monies that come from these tapes or my books, everything, goes into making more programs, books and records." Rogers founded his production company, Family Productions Inc., many years ago.
Originally a music major at Rollins University in central Florida, Rogers and his wife, Joanne, a concert pianist, moved to New York in 1951, where he was an NBC gofer and later a network floor manager.
"Then I heard educational television was starting in Pittsburgh," he recalls, remembering that his friends chided him, "You're in line to be a director at a network and you're applying to be in a place for shows that aren't on the air yet!"
But Rogers took the job anyway. "I had this feeling it was going to be a helpful thing, and I put my hat in the ring and I was one of the first six people to start WQED, the first community sponsored TV station in the country."
When the burgeoning network's schedule was being developed, "nobody wanted to do a children's program, so along with my other duties I took on the children's program," he says. The show, "The Children's Corner," went on air in 1954, five years before Rogers became a father (his two sons are now married). That show lasted seven years.
"I was always interested in children," he says. Attending seminary on his lunch hour, he completed his studies in eight years and became an ordained Presbyterian minister. "One of the courses I had to take was a counseling course, and I had to work with someone once a week and I asked if I could work with a child."
Rogers' interest in children grew, and he went on to earn a master's degree in child development. "I realized that everything I was interested in, television, music, the puppetry, drama, theology, everything, was able to be focused into working with children. That was a real blessing. That's how it's been ever since."
In 1963, his 15-minute Canadian Broadcasting show "Misterrogers" was the precursor to his show today.
Rogers' hesitance to go to video is due to his avoidance of commercialism: "If a child sees me hawking something on TV and thinks that he or she had to have that in order for me to like him or her, that is anathema to me."
He says he tells children, "People can like you exactly as you are, and it doesn't have to do with anything on the outside, what you do, what you have, the pigment of your skin or where you live. It has to do with what's inside of you."
There have been 650 episodes of talking to kids, and the earliest shows still hold up. "I think what we deal with are eternal issues, not just passing things. We deal with things children are always concerned with." He cites abandonment, separation and return, and anger.
"We did a whole week on 'The Neighborhood' on divorce," he says. "If you had told me that 25 years ago, I never dreamed it would be possible.
You never know what you'll be called upon to do, and we do it, so long as the focus is to be helpful to children."
Of his shows, he says, "What would be fun--when I fly off to heaven--is for them to play the whole library through, back to back."
\o7 "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" airs daily at 8:30 a.m. on KCET, 9 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. on KOCE; 10 a.m. on KPBS and 3 p.m. \f7 on\o7 KVCR. This week's new shows tackle the topic "Fast and Slow." The videos are currently available in stores for $10 each. For ages 2 to 6.\f7