How he built a relationship

ARCHIVE- How he built a relationship

Simple but deep

Don’t be fooled by what appears on the surface to be a simple television show. There‘s a reason for everything Mister Rogers does, from taking off his jacket and putting on a sweater to using the Neighborhood Trolley to travel to Make-Believe.


This isn’t a “show.” It’s a “television visit” with Mister Rogers, who spent years learning about children, and working directly with them.

Some joked Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood was the first “reality tv” because unlike most television shows, it is honest. It moves in real time and doesn’t cover up its mistakes. Deliberately calm and unhurried, the pace and honesty sets the tone for this time together – that’s the best atmosphere for sharing ideas, thoughts and feelings.


Right from the start, from the moment Mister Rogers enters, it’s real time. He comes through the door welcoming us with “Won’t you be my neighbor?” Then he takes the time to walk to the closet, methodically taking off his jacket and hanging it up, putting on his sweater and sneakers – all before he starts talking with us. With that ritual, he’s giving us time to settle in before our “visit” officially begins.

Television is considered a mass medium, designed to reach a large audience. A visit to “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” made television a personal medium. When Mister Rogers looked into the television camera he was talking to only one person. And  everything he did was grounded in respect for the individual needs, feelings and inner dramas of each child watching.  

Inclusion” was superfluous to his vocabulary, because inclusion was embedded in the lived world of his television neighborhood.
**Quotes like these definitely need attribution

"Let's look together"

“What do you see?  Take a long look.” That’s Mister Rogers’ way of inviting us to participate in discovering something with him. Each day he brings something new to show…only one thing. And the camera deliberately stays focused on it. Let’s have a long quiet look at it. No quick edits here. That long look is an invitation to be engaged, to focus, to be curious.


There’s lots of quiet time, too. Fred Rogers used to say there’s not enough quiet in the world, so he wanted to give children silence within the program itself. It’s no wonder TV Guide once described Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood as “an oasis of quiet amid the clamor of children’s television.”


The clear message with that time, pacing, and silence is that what we as the viewer bring to the experience is important too. This is indeed a “visit” between neighbors.

“Come along with me”

Through the rituals and routines in this television Neighborhood children know what’s coming next, so they’re ready for it. That’s because Mister Rogers “takes us by the hand,” and tells us where he’s going. There are no unexpected surprises. All the transitions – from room to room, from place to place in the neighborhood, and especially to Make-Believe – are handled with purpose and care. Mister Rogers prepares children for what’s ahead, and afterwards reflects on where we’ve been and what we’ve learned.


It is especially important that Make-Believe has a clear transition because young children tend to confuse reality and fantasy. Mister Rogers starts it off by giving us a sense of what to expect from the puppet story and then sends the Trolley on its way to Make-Believe. On Trolley’s return, he reflects on the story and invites us to wonder about what might happen next.


It’s all intentional. This is the way young children learn best – when a caring adult takes the time to tell them what to expect and helps them think about it afterwards. It’s these rituals and routines that children come to trust. And trust is the foundation for building relationship. 


“I’ll be back.”

Goodbyes are hard for children, but the visit must end. So when it’s time for Mister Rogers to leave, he warmly prepares his viewers with care. Closing the circle, ending as he began, he sings as he changes his shoes and puts on his jacket. And he never leaves without a loving affirmation, “You’ve made this day a special day, by just your being you” and the assurance that “I’ll be back next time.”

Fred Rogers is the Dalai Lama of television.

Robert Bianco article: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette   Sunday, March 15, 1998

“I’ve met a lot of stars on the TV beat, but a deservedly beloved Pittsburgh star is the only performer I can say truly taught me something about doing my job — and maybe about living my life.


Years ago, I spent a day on the set of “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.”  The scene they were shooting was simple. Fred Rogers was supposed to sit at a table, drink a glass of juice and then move on to another part of the set.  When he finished shooting the scene, however, Rogers realized he couldn’t finish the juice in the time allotted. So he asked for another, non-see-through glass, so children wouldn’t see him leaving a half-filled glass on the table.


The director objected, saying kids would never notice, and it wouldn’t make any difference if they did.  But Rogers said wasting juice sent the wrong message to his audience, and then simply repeated his request, patiently but firmly, and in a tone that made it clear he would not change his mind.  He got his glass.


There’s a lot of Fred Rogers boiled down in that story: his attention to detail, his dedication to the work, his sense of responsibility for its effects, his moral authority, his willingness to exercise power, and his skill at doing so graciously.