Mister Rogers -- Podcast appreciation

The latest Tank Riot podcast is an outstanding appreciation of Mister Rogers, possibly the nicest, most genuine guy in American history -- a man so nice that when his car was stolen, the thieves returned it once they figured out whose car it was; a man so nice that he was able to stop a Burger King ad that used a soundalike by publicly declaring that he was "disappointed" in them. Rogers saved public TV and was critical in the fight to legalize VCRs, too. This is a really great hour of audio -- the Tank Riot guys really know a lot about the subject are are filled with genuine affection for him (I defy you to listen to his Congressional testimony without getting a tear in your eye).

Mister Rogers! The team takes a look at the much maligned, but very important and wonderful children's television personality. We discuss his Supreme Court appearance, his contribution to TV and the VCR, his great guests (Bruce Haack) and his neighborhood friends (Chuck Aber, Robert Trow, Betty Aberlin, Don Brockett, John Costa, Keith David, David Newell, Joe Negri) and more!
Mister Rogers: Tank Riot: Episode 67


  1. I still don’t actually know who he is. I mean, a kid’s TV host, obviously. I come across references to him frequently enough, though.

    They don’t have him in Australia. I vote Mr. Humphrey B. Bear as the kid’s TV icon of niceness for Australia. Until ’96 when they changed the damn song. Then I got bitter.

    Anyway, sorry for being off-topic. I’ll make a mental note to YouTube this Rogers fellow.

  2. Maligned? Who on earth would malign this man and WHY???

    I can’t imagine any reason I’d watch the show once I passed the target age group, but I’ve never heard of anybody claiming Fred Rogers was anything other than the loving, gentle, caring man he appeared to be.

  3. He’s one of my all-time heroes as well.

    I’m so glad I had him in my formative years, rather than whatever commercially-driven childrens’ programming they have now.

    I only learned about his championing of fair use later, but it doesn’t surprise me in the least. After all, sharing is good.

  4. I’d like to put this out here ahead of time:

    I can’t find the video online, but a retrospective show about Mr. Rogers had a clip of him trying to put up a pup tent during taping. It was a mess, with poles and fabric all over the place–he just couldn’t get the thing built. Incredibly, incredibly frustrated.

    And he didn’t swear. Not “damn”, not even “darn.” Where anyone else would’ve let out at least one expletive, he kept it to “Gosh.” There was no Mr. Rogers character, there was just Mr. Rogers.

  5. #5:

    I’ve lived in Pittsburgh my whole life (where Mr. Rogers is from) and The Westboro Baptist Church came to protest his funeral because he didn’t openly condemn homosexuality on his show.

    I think there were about a dozen people or so. There was a counter-protest to Westboro Baptist. There were over 150 people.

    I don’t know if there were any incidents, but this town is awful protective of Fred Rogers.

  6. His books are amazing too.
    Short stories, ideas, quotes, thoughts…

    “The World According to Mister Rogers: Important Things to Remember”

  7. I’m stealing someone else’s story, but I have a friend who belonged to the same UU church as Rogers for a while, and she says she was witness to the only time Rogers EVER got mad.

    In short: The congregation was debating building an entry ramp, and during the debate, someone else suggested that, since the church didn’t have any members who needed the ramp, it wasn’t the best use of the funds. Reportedly, Fred rose, shaking, and pointing his finger, said:

    “You don’t know WHO is in this congregation until you open the doors to everyone.”

    As the story goes, they built the ramp.

    It’s surely apocrypha, and just as surely clothed in the usual embellishment of the beloved cultural icon. But hearing this story, I’ve never been so proud to be a member of the last Mr. Rogers generation. May his memory live in our hearts forever.

  8. Back when people still used AIM away messages to communicate (this was in the days before Twitter, in the dark ages of micro-blogging) the only two events that were universally significant were 9-11 and Mr. Rogers’ death.

  9. I lived in Misterrogers Neighborhood. At least, I went to school there; the Carnegie Mellon campus kind of wrapped around his condo building. As I recall, the studio was off of the road that ran through Panther Hollow.

    This American Life ran a sweet interview of Misterrogers. Done by FOUND Magzine’s Davey Rothbart. It began with his childhood recollection of visiting Mr. Rogers at his vacation home.

  10. @CHUMPMEAT, I’m not sure if it counts as maligning given that it’s rather tongue-in-cheek, but the WSJ published a column last year blaming my generation’s sense of entitlement on Mr. Rogers.

    And are we sure he was a UU churchgoer? He was an ordained Presbyterian minister and I thought he was a lifelong Presbyterian, although I’m not at all sure about that (not that it matters anyway–by all accounts he was a Good Person regardless of whether he was a Presbyterian, Unitarian or Veterinarian).

  11. The book I’m Proud of You: My Friendship with Fred Rogers, by Tim Madigan, is well worth reading.

    Have a box of tissues handy.

    Dagnabbit, just thinking about the man gets me sniffly.

  12. If American fundamentalist Christians followed Fred Rogers instead of Jerry Falwell, this country would be in a much better place.

    There’s a man that understood what it really meant to live as Christ did.

  13. Just to play devil’s advocate, the show was pretty bland. Not like that edgy Sesame Street and that risque Electric Company. Henrietta pussycat was particularly meow meow meow annoying. And the Lady Elane was a clear stab at … uh …

    [In the tone of Wayne and Garth] I AM NOT WORTHY! NOT WORTHY! Fred Rogers’ tie had more awesomeness than I will ever have. His routine of changing his dress shoes for house shoes has more grace than any dance move I have ever made! Fred Rogers, I bow before thee!

  14. You can be a Presbyterian and a Unitarian at the same time, just so long as the Presbyterians never find out about it.

  15. The only celebrity whose death has ever caused me to weep was Fred Rogers. Actually, I bawled. I still get choked up when I think about him, and I vow to try to be as neighbourly as possible. He was truly an inspiration.

  16. I was seeing a girl once who described the philosophical statement he made to Congress as ‘creepy’. I think she was referring to the tone of voice.

    I heartily disagreed. How can someone so sincere and thoughtful be creepy? I’m happy to have grown up with Mr. Rogers … and also Mr. Dressup.

    What DO you do with the mad that you feel?

  17. I grew up in Pittsburgh and went to daycamp with Mr. Rogers’ son one summer. I don’t remember much about him except that I went to their house once, and he (the son) was throwing firecrackers in the pool…

  18. #11 boyhowdy — Fred Rogers shaking in anger and pointing his finger at me would be enough for me to crap my pants. Kinda tells you where real power lies. Dominating others isn’t power, it’s a form of impotence (IMHO).

    Nietzsche described the fundamental drive of humans as “the will to power” but what is power? Power theory is among the most debated topics in sociology.

    In my opinion, Fred Rogers wins the Dominance game (a zero sum power game) by not playing. The typical power game is to seek power over/against others through competition or dominance. Fred Rogers shared power to/with others by means of partnership or nurturance. These contrasting strategies are often stereotyped as ‘hard’ and ‘soft’, masculine and feminine. The reality is they are just different game theoretic strategies that one can employ. However I believe that latter form to be more effective in the long run.

    (not intending to be preachy, it’s what I have to contribute)

  19. I’m stealing someone else’s story, but I have a friend who belonged to the same UU church as Rogers for a while, and she says she was witness to the only time Rogers EVER got mad.

    Sometimes I think it would be really cool to see Mr. Rogers completely hulk out just for the sheer novelty of it, but it’s probably for the best that he passed away with his “world’s calmest man” cred intact.

  20. I remember fondly watching Mr. Rogers with my daughter when she was a small child (she is 29 now!). We both remember all the characters and the Land of Make Believe. I can still hear their voices in the memories of long ago.

  21. I met Mr. Rogers as a child and I gotta say, he really affected my life. I’ve seen ‘celebrities’ most of my life, and they never measure up, yet Rogers did.

    There has been something that had happened in his studio and kids in the area were invited in to help with getting the set remade again. Everything is made of papermache and chicken wire, and once the form was made, it was easy for kids to dip the paper wads into the ‘sauce’ and stick it in the wire, while others were painting different parts of the set.

    Mr. Rogers was there talking to all the kids, telling us the secrets of Makebelieve Land, letting us know none of it was real, but that that shouldn’t keep us from believing in the truth of what he was teaching. Gentle gentle man and EXACTLY the way he was on the show. Mr. McFeely was there too (he actually told us his real name, but I don’t remember), and he was just as cool as he was on the show too.

    All in all, meeting him reminds me that there are good people still in this world…and occasionally with the crap I have to see, I need this. If there is anything authentic on television, it was him….

  22. Fred Rogers: Proof that you can be a person of religious faith and still be reasonable and tolerant of those that are different than you.

    Also, I want his train!

  23. I’m surprised that among the list of guests Gene Hackman was omitted. I recall seeing him on two episodes, assuming the role of a character in the neighborhood. There was none of his usual swagger and he seemed to recede from rather than dominate the screen. It was clear that Hackman was completely invested in the show and the world Fred Rogers had created. After watching it my opinion about Hackman was changed forever.

  24. When I first heard that speech to the Supreme Court I held back a few tears. That man is one of the greatest speakers ever. I never know much about him personally and I’m glad because in my opinion he is just simply that man.

  25. @ #27:

    I don’t think you will ever find a case of Mr. R “hulking out”. However, I always did find it amusing that George Romero got his first professional work doing segments for Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood. I hoped to find a tiny cameo in Night of the Living Dead, but I never have.

  26. Like many others I watched the show regularly as a child. Later learning he was just that great a guy in actuality too just made me admire him all the more. The world needs more people like him.

  27. My father looks a lot like him, and actually has had kids come up and ask him if he was Mr. Rogers. The physical appearance is at least in my mind, not very strong. However my dad’s a retired elementary school principal, and I think he’s able to project somehow the more abstract, good and trustworthy aspect.

    The kids and I can still sing some of the songs from Potato Bugs and Cows.

  28. You are my friend.
    You are special.
    You’re special to me.


    Typed that without thinking. It’s one of those things that if you’re of a certain age and have been exposed to American culture, you “just know” it.

    And you know he meant every word.

  29. While looking to see if there was any info about Mr. Rogers having been a UU member, there wasn’t, I learned Mr. Rogers full name was Fred McFeely Rogers. His father, James Rogers, was president of the McFeely brick company. From what I found it appears Mr. Rogers was named after his maternal grandfather Fred Brooks McFeely.

    Here’s an interesting story:

    Perhaps no story speaks more about the depths of Mister Rogers’ appeal, about his pervasive grace, than one he recounted in an Esquire magazine profile a few years ago. It seems that Fred Rogers wanted to meet Koko, the gorilla who was taught to communicate using American Sign Language. Koko had watched Mister Rogers on television. When they first encountered each other, the 280-pound gorilla instantly enfolded Fred Rogers, all 143 pounds of him, in a massive embrace.

    And then? And then Koko took off Mister Rogers’s shoes.

  30. #2

    is that the most disturbing Fear and Loathing reference ever? (the film.) or am I mistaken?


  31. he did have one flaw: if you mentioned or made fun of him on wrct he would call the school and complain. i once played the necros’ version of ‘walkin the dog’ mixed with ‘sometimes people are angry’ by rogers and heard about it…

  32. A friend of mine is a famous juggler, whose troupe appeared once on Mr. Roger’s show. He told me how Fred Rogers was indeed the same off camera as on.

    And he told me how Mr. Rogers told him, during a break in filming, “I’m so proud of you!”

    Just the thought of this guy telling a professional juggler how proud he was of him melted my heart. What a delightful man.

    I believe Fred Rogers was a bodhisattva of gentleness and compassion.

  33. The man is an American Treasure. I count myself VERY lucky to have grown up in his prime time, and for my son to have gotten to watch him too.

    Miss You Mr. R

  34. Thanks for posting this. I’m a cynical middle aged, bitter New Yorker who finds his hope in mankind revived only when in the presence (on TV) of Mr. Rogers. He actually gives meaning to the cliche, “He’s a saint.” And as you know, Joybubbles was also a devoted fan too. He once took a pilgrimage from Minneapolis to Pittsburgh just to listen to all the 3/4″ videotapes of every single episode up to that point (early 90s).

    Anyways, thanks for doing this.

  35. YRI @ 40, I think you nailed it with the “bodhisattva” comment. That is what he was.

    I cried when he died, not only because he was an important part of my childhood, but because he died in the runup to the Iraq war. It was like, exit Mr. Rogers and his power of good, enter Dick Cheney.

    Is his show available on DVD? I’d like to watch it myself, when I’m having a bad day — and I would particularly love to have it for any future children I may have.

  36. I like the fact that he was a Marine and the reason he wore sleeves was because he was covered in tattoos.

  37. I have been inside his UU church a few times. Probably walked up the Rogers Ramp.

    My favorite rogers trivia:If you watch the movie Bob Roberts, you can see the land of make believe set in the background of the studio scenes, as it was filmed int he pbs station in PGH.

    Great man, What a great show he did. everything from the land of make believe to the picture picture. I imagine few people really knew him. It seems that his military career that his outside calm was probably a result of some internal conflict.

    I will have to listen to this tonight.

  38. why is it, do you suppose, that there is such an entrenched prejudice against adult males working with or looking after small children? Apart from the sexual molestation boogie-man?

    Historically, when the healthy adult muscle was need in the field, the hunt, or the war, I suppose the old and physically unable might be teaching and tending.

    How many male primary school teachers do you know? Is something being lost here?

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