Fred Rogers, the creator and host of the children?s TV show, Mister Rogers? Neighborhood, died in 2003 of stomach cancer, just a little more than two years after he stopped filming new episodes of his show. But Mister Rogers, his on-air persona for 40 years, died this past September, slain by the hand of PBS programmers who removed his show from the daily menu of kid?s programming sent to PBS affiliates.
Of course, PBS claims that Mister Rogers isn?t dead, and technically he isn?t. They still send him out on the weekend feed, so many local stations are running him once a week. There is a pale shadow of his neighborhood on the PBS Web site, and the network claims it will expand that online content, someday. But the fact remains that if you have to find the weekend schedule online and program your video recorder to get a mere 30 minutes per week, or have a high-speed Internet connection to view the few snippets on the Web site, then Mister Rogers might as well be dead.
The death of Fred Rogers a few years ago was a tragedy for the Rogers family and for his many friends in his adopted hometown of Pittsburgh. But it didn?t change very much for his audience. We knew with absolute certainty that the spirit of Fred Rogers had simply left the Neighborhood of Make-Believe for that mysterious realm known as Someplace Else and was now spreading peace, love, and understanding on an infinite scale. (And, yes, I know I just made a backhanded case for the canonization of St. Fred, and so be it.) Fred?s physical death wasn?t that hard for us to take because he had left us a monumental gift?his hundreds of hours of humane, artful, and relentlessly life-affirming shows.