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Mr. Rogers says goodbye -- for now

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Spending time in 'Mister Rogers' Neighborhood'


(CNN) -- After 34 years of "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood," Fred Rogers, the pioneering children's TV host, is still not ready to say goodbye to his work.

Yes, the last original "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" airs on PBS on Friday (it was taped last December). But Rogers says he will still try to reach and teach children through his Web site.

And at the end of his final show, Rogers promises viewers -- just as he does at the end of every other show -- that he will be back.

It's what he's done for hundreds of episodes, so why mess with a good thing?

Rogers, 73, has been doing what he wants for years. His slow-paced show is an alternate universe to most of today's quick-edit cartoon children's programming.

RESOURCES
Message Board: Mr. Rogers retires
 
TIME.com: I was Mister Rogers' neighbor
 
 

But he looks at it as more than entertainment; it's a chance to reach young people and give them a foundation for a good life.

"I believe that those of us who are the producers and purveyors of television -- or video games or newspapers or any mass media -- I believe that we are the servants of this nation," Rogers told CNN's Jeff Greenfield.

That's why he got into television in the first place.

"I got into television because I hated it so," he said. "And I thought there was some way of using this fabulous instrument to be of nurture to those who would watch and listen."

A cardigan sweater and comfortable shoes

That was back in the late 1960s. The first "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" aired on Pittsburgh's WQED in 1967. A year later, PBS picked it up.

Up until the end, the show was taped at WQED, and until the end it started with Mr. Rogers donning a cardigan sweater and comfortable shoes as he enters his home in the Neighborhood of Make-Believe.

Through the years, Rogers has featured artists ranging from cellist Yo-Yo Ma to bodybuilder-actor Lou Ferrigno. He has dealt with the death of pets and divorce, while teaching children to love themselves and others. His recurring characters include Mr. McFeely and Lady Elaine Fairchilde.

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"Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" won loads of recognition, including four Emmys and a lifetime achievement award. A cardigan sweater belonging to Rogers hangs in the Smithsonian.

Those sweaters became Rogers' identifying characteristic. He credits his mom for the fashion statement that says, more than anything else, "Won't you be my neighbor?"

"My mother made a sweater a month for as many years as I knew her," Rogers said. "And every Christmas she would give this extended family of ours a sweater.

"She would say, 'What kind do you all want next year?' " said Rogers. "She said, 'I know what kind you want, Freddy. You want the one with the zipper up the front.' "

Innocent touches

An ordained Presbyterian minister, Rogers' command of innocence won him thousands of young fans.

"I do think that young children can spot a phony a mile away," he says.

And it also made him the butt of parody by adults like comedian Eddie Murphy, who played his own version of Mister Rogers on "Saturday Night Live."

Rogers knows for a fact that Murphy meant no harm with his humor. In fact, they met once.

"He just put his arms around me and said, 'The real Mister Rogers,' " says Rogers.

On the last show, Rogers enters his home and dons his red zip-up sweater and trades his loafers for a pair of comfy blue sneakers.

The finale ends a weeklong tribute to art, with Rogers leafing through a stack of drawings kids made of the Neighborhood Trolley "to see how different people draw the same thing."

It's a simple message of diversity that will be aired on hundreds of "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" reruns on PBS, and Rogers hopes kids who watch it will take it with them as they grow into adults.

"We all long to be lovable and capable of loving," he says. "And whatever we can do through the Neighborhood or anything else to reflect that and to encourage people to be in touch with that, then I think that's our ministry."







RELATED SITES:
• PBS: 'Mister Rogers' Neighborhood'
• Family Communications, Inc. - Homepage

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