September 4, 2001 -- Last Friday, public broadcasting stations across the country aired the last original episode of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood. After 33 years, the series finished neither with a bang nor with a syrupy-sweet ending, but rather with Fred Rogers's trademark closing—"see you next time"—promising to return to television next week.

And he will, of course—with about 1,000 episodes from the past three decades already canned, Rogers's neighborhood will be a staple for yet another generation of developing minds. Last Friday's episodes are no exception; producers plan on working them into the mix alongside his other vintage episodes.

Rogers was unlike any other children's television show host. Though he always spoke in a soft, gentle voice, he never talked down to his audience. He was never patronizing, rarely repeated himself, and always extended the appropriate courtesies and pleasantries to his audience. More often than not, this gave children the feeling that he was actually talking with them, not simply at them. Rogers never sidestepped tough issues, such as divorce, anger, and other events and emotions that children encounter. In one late-1960s episode, he even candidly dealt with the issue of assassination in a way that his audience could recognize and understand.
His sets were simple and unchanging, not flashy and randomly moving like so many other children's programs. Rogers worked to hold the child's attention, not to simply occupy him for the hour while mother cooked lunch or did the wash. And once he had his audience's attention, Rogers would actively try to teach his viewers something. Often, these lessons came in the form of small science experiments; other times, they dealt with the arts and appreciation thereof; and still other times, they centered on creativity, ingenuity, and the learning process. It is perhaps a fitting tribute to Rogers, therefore, that this week's programming line-up centers on learning and the process of discovery.
Rogers also spotlighted industry, showing video tours of factories and workplaces and talking about all of the goods produced there. More popular factory tours included the production of crayons, toothpaste, backpacks, soup, clothing, and sneakers. He showed that production has value, that useful things come from factories, and that those who produce are important, contributing individuals whose work benefits us all.
And, perhaps most importantly, Rogers always made children feel unique, with the oft-repeated mantra: "You've made this day a special day just by being you. You are the only person like you in this whole world. And people can like you just because you're you." Even with his premium on community (after all, he did always stress that we live in a "neighborhood"), this outward and persistent reminder of the uniqueness of the individual is something that can be embraced by all children, especially those who feel as if they do not fit in at school, on the playground, or around their brothers or sisters.
While taking leave from broadcasting, Rogers is not simply going to pasture. "Fred is not retiring," says a recent press release from his production company, Family Communications. "He is expanding his neighborhood with endeavors that will continue to build a brighter tomorrow for future generations of children." Among these endeavors are various book projects and the operation of a website ( www.misterrogers.org ), which provides information for parents and teachers about education in the formative years.
So, neighbor, we will see you next time—on the Net and forever in syndication—celebrating and conveying the values of discovery, production, and the uniqueness of the individual for generations to come.

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