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‘Mister Rogers’ special marks 50th anniversary of children’s TV series

The documentary “Mister Rogers: It’s You I Like” celebrates the 50th anniversary of the iconic show.

Fred Rogers changed TV culture.

With his half-hour educational children’s TV series “Mister Rogers Neighborhood,” he was able to enter the daily life of Americans and teach valuable lessons.

While the series is aimed primarily at preschool ages 2 to 5, it is certainly for all ages.

Rogers is back in the special “Mister Rogers: It’s You I Like,” which will premiere at 7 p.m. Tuesday, March 6, on New Mexico PBS. It is in celebration of the show’s 50th anniversary.

“It’s been fun, honestly, to look back at a lot of clips as an adult,” says Ellen Doherty, executive producer. “I remember watching the show as a kid. It was interesting to think about the choices that Fred Rogers was making as he was putting together the show, to see the care he took and the subtle changes.”

As part of the 50th anniversary celebration of the series, NM PBS will be holding a “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood Sweater Drive” in Albuquerque, Rio Rancho through the entire month of March.

New Mexico PBS encourages everyone to come together as a community and, young or old, donate a new or gently worn sweater or outer garment, to help children and adults in our communities.

Sweaters can be donated to the Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood Sweater Drive at Bank of the West locations in Albuquerque, Rio Rancho, and Cedar Crest. In Santa Fe, Del Norte Credit Union will be taking sweater donations.

“I had the opportunity of meeting Fred Rogers as a student at my first PBS station,” says Franz Joachim, general manager and CEO of New Mexico PBS. “The student crew spent the day telling snarky jokes about Mr. Rogers and his sweater and his shoes, but when Mr. Rogers – the real Mr. Rogers – walked into the room, we all became awestruck 4-year-olds. He was exactly how he is on television – warm, kind, gentle, and would look you straight in the eye, and really listened when speaking with you. It’s a memory I cherish. I’m very glad that New Mexico PBS is not only able to help facilitate reaching out to those in need in our communities, but to also celebrate Fred Rogers’ message of being kind to one another, by putting words into action, and sharing his warmth and generosity of spirit by helping our fellow New Mexicans.”

Yo-Yo Ma and son Nicholas appeared on “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.” (Courtesy of Matt Bulvony)

In the documentary, there are appearances by Judd Apatow, Joyce DiDonato, Whoopi Goldberg, Chris Kratt, John Lithgow, Yo-Yo Ma and son Nicholas Ma, Itzhak Perlman, Sarah Silverman, Esperanza Spalding and Caroll Spinney.

“Esperanza was also influenced by the show,” Doherty says. “She told me that she saw Yo-Yo Ma on the show when she was growing up and that inspired her to become a musician.”

The show was broadcast from Feb. 19, 1968, to Feb. 20, 1976, and again from Aug. 20, 1979, to Aug. 31, 2001. The final episode was taped on Dec. 1, 2000. The studio in Pittsburgh where the series was taped was later renamed the Fred Rogers Studio.

Also featured in the documentary is David Newell, who played the beloved character Mr. McFeely.

Newell also assumed many behind-the-scenes responsibilities for the series.

Having been with the series since its creation in 1967, he was properties manager, associate producer and director of public relations for Family Communications Inc., producer of the series.

“From Day One, my main job was to be his assistant and help get props and costumes and such,” he says. “Fred never memorized the script. It was quite fascinating to see him create. The show definitely changed my life.”