Friday, June 8, 2012

Mister Rogers is in the Garden of my Mind

I've got more ideas for you.

Yesterday on Facebook I posted the link to this incredible video, "Garden of Your Mind," in which clips from Mister Rogers' Neighborhood are auto-tuned into a sincerely un-ironic (I think) tribute to the show and the man himself.  I had a few more things I wanted to say about it; I thought I could just say it on a comment to my own post on Facebook, but why not turn it into a blog post?

One thing that struck me was that the video was produced by PBS itself.  I thought that was odd, since PBS has virtually erased Fred Rogers from its schedule.  Here in the Twin Cities, one episode a week (always a Friday episode, so that Mister Rogers will post-humously sing "I'll be back when the week is new," never "day") on Saturday mornings shortly before the cock crows.  I understand that we're lucky; most PBS stations don't carry Mister Rogers at all anymore.  Like many of the factories that Mister Rogers visited, the Neighborhood has more or less shut its (on-air) doors.

Beginning September 3, 2007, some PBS affiliates began replacing the show with new programs such as Super Why! and WordWorld. In June 2008, PBS announced that, beginning in the fall of 2008, it would stop transmitting Mister Rogers' Neighborhood as part of its daily syndication lineup to member stations, instead airing the program only once a week over the weekend. Milwaukee Public Television, for example, still carries the show once a week, on Sunday, over its primary HD/SD channel. Beginning on September 1, 2008, the Neighborhood program was replaced by new programming such as Martha SpeaksSid the Science Kid, and an update ofThe Electric Company. However, individual member stations have the option of airing the Neighborhood independently of the PBS syndicated feed, with series home WQED in particular continuing to air the series daily until 2010. There was a campaign in 2008 and 2009 to urge PBS and all member stations to bring the show back seven days a week.  (Source: Wikipedia)

I maintain that, given the rest of the entertainment that my generation was offered on TV and in movies, the main reason we didn't turn into complete monsters was that Mister Rogers gave half-an-hour a day of pure soul-soothing content that balanced it out.  I recently saw some "classic" episodes of Jem, G.I. Joe, and Transformers on the new cable channel The Hub.  What a bunch of garbage!  They were literally as bad as the parodies they sometimes receive on The Simpsons (Action Figure Man: The "How to Buy Action Figure Man" Episode).  What chance do the kids these days have?

Well, consider this a "How to Watch Mister Rogers' Neighborhood Guide."  The Fred Rogers Company, formerly Family Communications Inc., doesn't have the best marketing sense in the world -- only a few episodes have ever made it onto DVD -- but, through various media options, you can (supposedly) watch any episode that was ever made of the Neighborhood.  So there shouldn't be any reason (apart from inherent uncoolness) that your kids can't watch it, if you care enough to make it available.

The PBS website
Ironically again, PBS still features Mister Rogers on the "PBS Kids" section of its website.  There's games, activities, and coloring pages plentifully available, just as if any kid today knows who the hell Mister Rogers is.  But be sure to click on the "Videos" link.

The media player it uses is frustratingly uncomplicated -- there's no Play, Pause, or Stop buttons, so Ez freaks out when it's time for a potty break because he thinks he's going to miss something and I have to assure him repeatedly "We'll rewind it!  We'll rewind it!" -- but there's a surprisingly large variety of episodes to watch.  Many weeks (five episode themed cycles) are retained intact.  This is probably the best way to "test-market" Mister Rogers on your kid.  I hope you do.  Besides wondering why Mister Rogers has a "curly string" on his phone, I don't think Ez is even aware that these shows were filmed twenty or thirty years before he was born.

iTunes has a collection of ten episodes available, and you can buy and download them all together or pick-and-choose your favorites.  But just go ahead and get all ten, because "that one episode you remember most" is probably in here.  The crayon factory visit.  The visit with Koko the gorilla.  Singing "It's You I Like" on the front steps with Jeff Erlanger, the little boy in a wheelchair.  (You will cry watching that one again.)  There's one opera episode included -- I don't think those were ever anyone's favorites, but you suffered through them because Mister Rogers was so excited about doing them, and you liked Mister Rogers.  But it's there if that's your thing.  

And in typically stoic Mister Rogers fashion, the last episode he filmed before he retired in 2001 is presented, without any fanfare or big goodbyes, as the last episode in this collection.  His words to his audience at the very end, just before changing his shoes one last time, sum up the message of his entire career -- and he's so modest about it that you might not even notice.

I don't have any experience with this, but apparently all the episodes are on Amazon.

The main reason I haven't tried this out yet is because I don't understand what you're buying.  For $1.99, do you get to download a file that you can watch on your own media player on your own device?  Or does it just activate a media player on Amazon itself, and you can only watch the episode on the Amazon site?  I don't know.  Maybe I'm too old-fasioned -- I don't feel like I "own" a piece of music until I have it on vinyl, because even MP3s and iTunes files are just bits of data that could disappear like the wind -- but I haven't found a good answer to my question on Amazon.  Maybe I'll try it eventually and let you know.  

If you're going this route, it might be daunting to search out which episode(s) you want out of decades of them.  I'd recommend hitting the Neighborhood Archive site, a great resource for Mister Rogers nerd-berglers like myself.

The episodes are all listed by production code number, so just do a Google search like this to find what you're looking for:

The Archive site has a ton of information on each episode, and even screenshots of each specific scene, so you should be able to find your favorite episode(s) pretty quickly.

Your own VHS cassettes taped off of TV
Unless you're me, you probably don't have these, so I'm not sure why I mentioned it.  I've got one tape that I called "Rogers & Ross Cafe" on the label: I taped one episode of the Neighborhood, and then one episode of Bob Ross, and just kept going back and forth until the tape ran out of room.  I had this funny image in my mind of a hard-ass, square-cut guy from the 50's, who would think that Fred Rogers and Bob Ross were "unkempt hipsters" who were ruining our country, so I made that tape as a tribute to the (completely imaginary) beat poetry and cappuccino cafe in Greenwich Village that was run by Rogers and Ross.  Unfortunately our VCR now makes everyone sound like they're underwater, so it's not as fun anymore.

But guess what, folks?  I've saved the best for last.  I said that I thought it was strange that PBS itself produced that Mister Rogers Remix video -- but I've got a conspiratorial guess as to why they did.

This fall (2012), PBS is launching Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood, a cartoon produced by the creator of Blue's Clues, which follows the adventures of the next generation of kids from the Neighborhood of Make-Believe.  For instance, Daniel is Daniel Striped Tiger's son, O the Owl is X's nephew, and so on.  Again, the Neighborhood Archive has the best details (so far) about the new show.

I think (hope) that the Remix video is PBS's first "lob" into the realm of bringing Mister Rogers back to our consciousness.  It's hard to get too excited -- it's just a cartoon, after all -- but that same anticipatory excitement wasn't dashed last year with The Muppets.  Will this be the year Mister Rogers is "back?"

I hope so.

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