A Wonderful Day in the Neighborhood
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because there was a time when quiet, calm and kind was cool. And it had a TV show.
By Zane Simon
Welcome, neighbor, welcome (again) to the neighborhood.
That’s what Fred Rogers would say. Who? None other than one of America’s most beloved children’s entertainers, who is the subject of not only one but two upcoming biopics. Television’s most memorable soft-spoken entertainer is about to re-enter public consciousness in film form, and in a big way.
The first project, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, was penned by Alexis Jolly, a writer on The Ellen Degeneres Show. It’s been kept under tight wraps since its pickup by Treehouse Pictures, and perhaps because of that, the second movie is drawing a bit more attention.
I’m Proud of You, based on the 2012 memoir by longtime friend and journalist Tim Madigan, is tentatively scheduled to be directed by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, the team that brought audiences the breakout hit Little Miss Sunshine. The duo will be teaming up with Big Beach Films, who are responsible for developing not only Little Miss Sunshine, but Everything Is Illuminated, along with a string of less notable indie dramedies.
Television’s most memorable soft-spoken entertainer is about to re-enter public consciousness in film form, and in a big way.
It’s not hard to understand why Hollywood came calling.
Rogers, who greeted children each weekday from 1963 to 2004, was a Presbyterian minister and a musician by education. His calm, understanding nature was the trademark of a man who firmly believed that the person he was on camera should be the same as the one he was off camera. And Fred Rogers’ relationship with the screen is somewhat unique in that he entered television because, in his own words, he “hated it so, and I thought there’s some way of using this fabulous instrument to nurture those who would watch and listen.”
Starting as a puppeteer and production assistant at NBC, and then at WQED in Pittsburgh, he eventually moved on to his own show in Canada. The almost entirely puppet-driven show was called Misterogers, a name dreamed up by producers at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. After bringing his show back to the U.S., he expanded its approach into a more open and exploratory format that would allow him to cover the wide range of topics and guests that he would eventually bring on.
He was known for answering every piece of fan mail he received, unusual for a television host. It was part of his morning routine, which also included a daily nude swim and a strict vegetarian breakfast. He was renowned for being one of the driving forces behind public television funding, and the push to allow home recording of broadcast TV shows. His statements in the 1969 Senate Subcommittee on Communications were seen as singularly instrumental in more than doubling the government budget for public television stations.
Even after his death a decade ago at age 74, he has continued to be a point of comfort to many around the U.S. And it’s not just through the rebroadcasts of his children’s show. Several of his quotes have become messages of succor to many in times of tragedy, most notably this clip about finding helpers, and another about helping children deal with tragic events.
Of course, neither biopic may get it right. New York Magazine TV critic Matt Zoller Seitz worries that I’m Proud of You in particular may be too saccharine and stray too far into ”magical kids’ show host teaching the hero how to be a better person,” rather than giving insight into who Mr. Rogers was away from the camera. Says Seitz, ”An actual Mr. Rogers biopic could be potentially more interesting, though of course it’ll have to avoid the pitfalls of the form — the highlight reel aspect.”
That Rogers is being recognized at all in an age where reality TV rules and screaming passes for polite discourse would probably please none other than Mr. Rogers himself, especially if the movies are nice.
- Zane Simon, OZY Author Contact Zane Simon