Mister Rogers Cornered a Market from Up North
by Keith Gatling | 23 months ago
OK, I'm willing to bet that we all knew that Mister Rogers' first name was Fred. I'm also willing to bet that a good number of us knew that he was from the Pittsburgh area (Let's hear it for Pittsburgh! That's where my daughter lives!). But how many of us knew that the show that became Mister Rogers' Neighborhood started out as a Canadian show called Misterogers?
That's what I thought.
But I knew that. Not just because I love delving into trivia, but because I remember watching it when it was a Canadian show.
No, I didn't live in Canada. I grew up in North Jersey, but Misterogers, The Friendly Giant, and Noggin the Nog were a group of shows that came to our local "Educational Television" station, WNET-Channel 13, by way of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. I call it the "Canadian Block."
So how did the quiet boy from Pittsburgh come to be doing a show in Canada for the CBC? The same way that Bob Homme from Wisconsin ended up doing The Friendly Giant for them. They were both recruited from the States by Fred Rainsberry, who was the head of Children's Programming. The Friendly Giant started out as a local Wisconsin show, and became a Canadian staple that ran from 1958 to 1985. The show that Fred Rogers was recruited for was based on the songs and puppets he had created for a local Pittsburgh show called The Children's Corner. On that show, Rogers was never seen; he was always behind the scenes, working the puppets that would interact with the host, Josie Carey. That show featured many of the same puppets we remember Mister Rogers for: Daniel Striped Tiger, X the Owl, King Friday XIII, and others. When he went to Canada, he took the puppets with him, and figured that he'd still be behind the scenes; but after seeing him interact with children, Fred Rainsberry convinced him to be on-camera as well, and named the new show after him.
This Canadian show was only 15 minutes long, as was The Friendly Giant, so they could both fit into a half-hour slot.
One day, I noticed that the show was no longer called Misterogers, but was called Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, and was now a whole half-hour long (a whole half-hour?). What happened?
Very simply, after four years, Fred had gotten homesick. Canada was nice, but he wanted to go back to Pittsburgh. So he arranged to get the rights to the new show, as well as the new sets, and took the whole thing to WQED there, where it became Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, and ran for 31 seasons, until 2001.
Oh...and by the way...if you want to see an episode of The Children's Corner from 1960, just click here.