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C2E2 - Day 3: A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood with David Newell Panel

If you were part of the PBS generation, or were just alive for the last 40 years or so, you remember Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood. I was so excited for this panel that you wouldn’t believe. David Newell or Mr. McFeely the deliveryman with the utmost speed told expectedly heart-oozing tales about working on the show. He regaled us with memories of Fred Rogers as well as some of his work on other programs which led to a new animated show on PBS, Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, based off a character Rogers was the puppeteer for on The Children’s Corner.

Let me preface by saying I was doing church tears the whole time: desperately batting my eyes with a crumpled tissue, trying to be cool when realizing that I don’t see anyone else having this issue.

Normally I hate educational television because who wants to learn and be entertained, but Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood dealt with fundamental childhood development from the mundane subjects of understanding time, cleaning up and that you simply can’t fall down the drain, to complex issues of death, divorce and people with disabilities. He did so with a straightforward clarity that was personable and borderline philosophical.


 

 He was a mover and a shaker so pretty much all my inside photos look like this

David Newell discussed the history of the show from its origins in Canada (which this one obstinate teen who simply refused to grasp it could have started anywhere other than the U.S.) as well as how Mr. Rogers’ background in children’s education helped inform the way he approached television. He would map out episodes with intricate planning but allowed room for (slight) improvisation or things that would be discovered during taping. One of those clips was of Chicago folk singer, Ella Jenkins, teaching a clapping game that Mr. Rogers couldn’t follow, showing kids not to get frustrated and couldn’t grasp it because even adults are capable of making mistakes too.

There was a girl telling Mr. Newell, “I thought it was such a boring show when I was a kid, but I kept watching for some reason.” A lot of children’s television these days is about animated graphics, over-stimulation and keeping them entertained constantly, but it doesn’t engage them on a normal human level. Newell kept discussing the importance of their audience who is about pre-school age, that don’t understand the difference between reality and fantasy so it was important that Fred Rogers made this distinction with the Neighborhood of Make-Believe separated by a trolley ride from his home. Though it’s important for kids to deal with elevated emotions, Rogers understood that much younger children need a gentler voice.

But there were still things that could be taken in by older kids, the concept of an organized routine is much more realized in this pace: he creates a daily, repetitive sequence of tasks that enables children to reiterate the consistency in their own schedule. I can definitely attest to that as I remember mornings as a kid, always running late, putting on my shoes with Mr. Rogers. He actually taught me to tie my shoes when nobody else had the patience to teach me.

Fred Rogers was known for having people pause and considering how long a minute or even mere seconds actually are on his show and his famous Emmys acceptance speech which moved even the most jaded of audiences.

I’m Irish-Catholic so we have a tendency of saying things like this too often of our mothers and our priests, but Fred Rogers was the closest thing to a living saint. And he was a Presbyterian so that makes it double rare. For all of our desperation to find the truth or rather the ugliness inside people, you’ll be damned to find anyone who will say otherwise about him. His legacy will hopefully be continued in the new show, Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, to provide kids with a voice that is compassionate, patient and approaching difficulties with an affable sense of humor and a song or two.

 

David Newell was such a softie. He’s the other kind of “total dad” character that can tell endless stories and wants to meet everyone to hear their connection to the show. He told the panel how one person came to the signing on bended knee with Newell’s high school class yearbook that belonged to the man’s mother that she never got signed by him in high school. A very modest “who knows how I got here!” kind of guy.

The other person of the Fred Rogers Foundation had drafted a random panel-goer to make sure Newell didn’t get too caught up in signing after the panel and miss his flight. 


He brought King Friday XIII and Lady Elaine!

 

I didn’t talk much with him because like most people I’m awkward especially around strangers but I asked him if we could take a photo with his “Speedy Delivery” hat and he said “Oh of course!” and instead put it on my head.

I was beyond ecstatic and the whole panel totally made up for what an awful day I had. I’m pretty sure the drafted volunteer thought I was weird, he kept asking about how good of a time I was having. It was like reliving my childhood, only now my socks match.

 

Freakin’. Awesome.

(I have no idea why l have open fists, l just never know what to do with my hands).


Other articles on Fred Rogers:

http://www.mentalfloss.com/blogs/archives/5943

(Although he was red-green colorblind, not blue-yellow as it states in the list. Meaning he could never see the exact color of his famous red cardigan.)

http://www.nytimes.com/2001/04/10/arts/still-around-neighborhood-mister-rogers-ends-production-but-mr-rogers-keeps-busy.html?pagewanted=all&src=pm