Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood isn’t big on renovation. The living room where Fred Rogers greets his young viewers as he removes his jacket and shoes and dons a sweater and sneakers still looks the way it did the day the program premiered on PBS in February 1968. For 32 years, the show’s constant cast of characters has refrained from ad-libs (every line is vetted by a psychological consultant) and the camera shots have panned from left to right, reinforcing the direction in which sentences are read.
But even in Mr. Rogers’s cozy world, change is inevitable. On Dec. 5 four-time Emmy winner Rogers, 72, will tape his last show. “I’ve felt for a long time that the best thing we could do was develop a library of tapes that can be seen over and over,” Rogers told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, his hometown paper. “I really feel we have accomplished our mission.” Adds longtime pal Bob “Captain Kangaroo” Keeshan: “It’s a rigorous schedule. Fred does so much of the conceptual work.”
Whether addressing tots’ fears of disappearing down the bathtub hole or their pain over a death, Rogers, an ordained Presbyterian minister, always came across as genuine and accepting. “He was more like a friend,” says Ashley Olsen, half of TV’s wundertwins and one of millions of kids who grew up finding comfort in his low-key lessons.
Millions more still will. After the final episode airs in August, PBS will continue showing reruns indefinitely. And Rogers, who is married to concert pianist Joanne Byrd, 72, and has two grown sons, plans to pen more children’s books and expand a Web site that showcases his parenting advice. Still, he will be missed. “There’s a gentleness and a decency about Fred Rogers,” says Michael Loman, executive producer of Sesame Street. “In today’s complex world, that’s I not so easily found.”