If you remember King Friday and the Trolley and Mr McFeely, you might want to visit a local theater if you can find “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?”, An insightful and entertaining look at Fred Rogers and his PBS TV show. Arrive early before the wheelchair section fills up.
His show was based at WQED, channel 13 in Pittsburgh, PA. The film reminds us of the role Mr Rogers played in securing government funding for PBS by testifying in front of the US Senate in 1969
The movie tries to paint Richard Nixon and the Republicans wanting to smother the infant PBS, but Senator Pastore was a Democrat from Rhode Island. Keep in mind Democrats controlled both the House and Senate in 1969. Contrary to the widely repeated narrative, Nixon supported permanent funding of CPB by a 2% excise tax on radios and TVs, with a government match over $50 million. This proposal had two goals – to pry NET away from the Ford Foundation and keep the budget of CPB away from politics. The idea presented in the film that he wanted to kill PBS to spend the $10 million on the Vietnam war is a preposterous fabrication.
As a child, I watched the show for only one reason – to watch the trolley. As soon as the trolley went into the “Land of Make Believe”, I went outside to play in the Land of Reality.
It was quite the contrast going to my friend’s houses where Dad would come home from the steel mill, knock back a six pack of Iron City Beer, and beat up his wife. My Pittsburgh was very different than Fred Rogers’ and his land of make believe. I did not dislike him or the show, he just seemed unfamiliar with the world around him. Early in the film, it discussed his friendship with several childhood development psychologists, including Dr. Benjamin Spock and Margaret McFarland.
Rather than introduce responsible critics who look at Mr Rogers as the motivation behind telling kids they have to do nothing to earn love and respect and should earn self esteem trophies just for breathing, the criticisms are portrayed only as being the “god hates fags” protestors at the 2003 memorial service.