PITTSBURGH — The first episode of “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” made its national debut on Feb. 19, 1968. The show would go on to be a quiet powerhouse in children’s programming despite the calm and humble nature of its creator.
Fred Rogers began his television career at NBC in New York City, but it wasn’t until the debut of “The Children’s Corner” on WQED in 1954 that he first reached out to children in Pittsburgh.
“The Children’s Corner” was hosted by Josie Carey, as Rogers worked behind the scenes to develop many of the puppet personalities that Rogers would become famous for: Daniel Striped Tiger, King Friday XIII, Lady Elaine Fairchilde and X the Owl. Rogers also wrote music for the show.
The Canadian Broadcasting Corp. contracted Rogers to create and host a new 15-minute episodic show called “Misterogers” in 1963. The show was made in Toronto until Rogers moved back to Pittsburgh, bringing with him many of the sets and props, and the program was picked up by National Education Television (which would later become PBS).
On Sept. 21, 1967, Rogers recorded the first full episode of the new “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” at WQED. The first national broadcast of that episode on Feb. 19, 1968, set into motion one of the greatest and most honored legacies in the history of television.
Rogers would record more than 900 episodes over the next 31 years, coming out of retirement to soothe children in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks in 2001.
The Television Critics Association honored Rogers with a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Daytime Emmy Awards in 1997. During his now-famous acceptance speech, Rogers invited the audience to remember those people who “have loved us into being.” What followed was perhaps one of the most powerful 10 seconds of any award broadcast, as Rogers turned his attention to his wristwatch and quietly marked the time.
Fred Rogers died of stomach cancer on Feb. 27, 2003.
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