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Where Is Mister Rogers When We Need Him in Washington Again?
February 12, 2018  | By David Bianculli  | 7 comments

Next Monday, Feb. 12, is the golden anniversary of the premiere of the landmark public television children’s series Mister Rogers’ Neighborhoood. But today, a week earlier, President Donald Trump has announced his budget plans to eliminate PBS from the federal budget.

The two events are not unrelated. It was almost 50 years ago that Washington debated taking funding from public broadcasting for the first time — and the champion who saved the day then was Fred Rogers, host of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.

It’s really not much of a surprise that President Trump has followed through on last year’s threats to eliminate all funding for the National Endowment for the Humanities and National Endowment for the Arts, as well as all federal funding for PBS. What’s a bigger surprise is that Washington keeps trying this from time to time, despite the laughably miniscule amounts it would save, and how vastly those same amounts can help keep public media alive and vital.

Today, the most visible champion to use as Exhibit A against such shortsighted policies would be longtime PBS documentary filmmaker Ken Burns. For decades, it was Sesame Street feathery figurehead Big Bird.

But in 1969, when national public TV was in its infancy, the champion was a then-new children’s TV host name Fred Rogers, whose program, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, had premiered only the year before. The Senate was threatening to cut $20 million in funding for public TV when what would become PBS was just getting started, and Rogers flew to Washington to testify before John Pastore and his Senate Subcommittee on Communications, arguing why public TV needs and deserves federal support.

Pastore was a gruff senator who had led an earlier investigation into violence on TV, and almost single-handedly put an end to ABC’s The Untouchables. But against the soft-spoken Fred Rogers, the senator more than met his match, and public TV got its funding.

Watch this live TV clip from 1969, and wish, along with me, that today’s television hosts and elected officials could talk as honestly, and listen as intently:

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Sep 25, 2023   |  Reply
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Apr 28, 2022   |  Reply
Thanks,David. You have long championed Fred. Tom Hanks,America's Dad, is slated to portray Fred in a long-overdue bio pic. After his role as Walt Disney,Hanks will only need to play Jim Henson for a trifecta of important grown ups in children's entertainment. But if the story could be played on a smaller scale,I'd select Tom Amandes,who co-starred in Everwood and played a shrink in Parenthood. The resemblance & demeanor is so obvious,I think even Hanks would agree. Some have suggested Michael Keaton,too,as he actually worked on the show,and since Michael has bounced back into the spotlight,he certainly has the acting chops to portray Fred. In any event,more discussion about this icon is needed more than ever.
I had a friend who had an office job and watched Fred many times because an entire day went by with no contact with someone who cared about him. Fred would always look right at the camera and remind him of his uniqueness. Worked for this guy.
Feb 17, 2018   |  Reply
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