Mister Rogers & Me
Airs Monday, March 17, 2014 at 9 p.m. on KPBS TV
Friday, March 14, 2014
Credit: Courtesy of Benjamin Wagner
Benjamin Wagner first met MISTER ROGERS’ NEIGHBORHOOD creator and star, Fred Rogers, at Rogers’ summer home on Nantucket, Massachusetts. His mother rented the cottage next door, so Mister Rogers really was his neighbor. On the afternoon of their first meeting, “America’s Favorite Neighbor” asked the young journalist about his job as an MTV News producer. Wagner felt exposed and embarrassed, a PBS mind in a jump-cut, sound-bit MTV world. Mister Rogers said warmly, “I feel so strongly that deep and simple is far more essential than complex.” Later, Rogers told Wagner, "Spread the message, Benjamin.”
"When I was a boy I used to think that strong meant having big muscles, great physical power; but the longer I live, the more I realize that real strength has much more to do with what is not seen. Real strength has to do with helping others." - Fred Rogers
After Rogers’ death in 2003, Wagner and his brother, Christofer, set out to meet some of Mister Rogers’ neighbors to find out more about the man himself, what he meant by “deep and simple,” and with whom in our junk food culture those values endure. The brothers’ travels led them to Durham, North Carolina, where Mister Rogers' friend, mystic, activist and author of “Deep & Simple,” Bo Lozoff, shared three core tenants of a deeper life.
In Boston, Campaign For Commercial-Free Childhood founder – and one-time NEIGHBORHOOD puppeteer – Dr. Susan Linn detailed the dangers of media over-exposure. In Virginia, the two met “The Simple Faith of Mister Rogers” author Amy Hollingsworth whose groundbreaking, faith-oriented interview with Rogers informed the origins of his on-camera ministry.
In Washington, D.C., MEET THE PRESS host Tim Russert shared his tale of meeting Mister Rogers on Nantucket, and spoke to how deep and simple values hold up in the nation’s capital. Later, NPR’s Susan Stamberg – with whom Mister Rogers produced numerous television specials in the ‘80s – related her deeply moving experiences with the icon.
Back in New York, “Arthur” author Marc Brown explained how Rogers inspired his entrée into children’s programming. NICK NEWS host, Linda Ellerbee, amplified the challenges facing the modern media programmer. And “I'm Proud of You” author Tim Madigan shared the lesson he learned from his relationship with Mister Rogers: friendship comes from the least expected sources.
On Nantucket, photographer Beverly Hall shared her memories of being Mister Rogers' actual neighbor -- surprise visits, tiny gestures, and quiet moments -- and recalls the day MISTER ROGERS' NEIGHBORHOOD visited hers. And back in Rogers’ adoptive hometown of Pittsburgh, THIS AMERICAN LIFE contributor Davy Rothbart shares how his two encounters with Rogers continue to inspire an appreciation of reflective moments (even as they elude him).
In the end, the brothers come to know more than just the man and his luminous legacy. Their deeply-personal journey explores the roots of Mister Rogers' values, unmasks the forces acting against depth and simplicity, and helps them to develop the means to lead deeper, simpler lives. The result is detailed in the charming and philosophical documentary "Mister Rogers & Me."
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