In some ways, I cannot believe that anyone is trying to revamp Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, the classic TV show that just wouldn’t seem complete without the kind smile and comfy sweater of the man himself. In other ways, I’m shocked it took networks this long come out with a Mr. Rogers‘ remake. After all, that’s what the entertainment industry does. They find ways to turn classic things into obnoxious versions of themselves.
Apparently though, the new television show from the Fred Rogers Production Company took such a long time because they wanted to get everything just right. The show has been in development for six years. And with all that hard work and dedication, the geniuses have come up with Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood.
The concept is based on Mr. Rogers’ old puppets. It focuses on the next generation, except they’re all animated. The star of the program is a red-sweater-wearing Daniel Tiger, son of Daniel Striped Tiger. Then there’s O the Owl, nephew of X the Owl. There’s Katarina Kittycat, daughter of Henrietta Pussycat.
In an interesting move, Katarina’s dad will not be around very often, which leads to difficulty and hurt feelings for little kitten. This storyline is the type of thing that producers believe make the show a successful Rogers’ revamp. They deal with emotions and feelings and difficult life experiences that kids might go through. As executive producer Kevin Morrison told the New York Times,
“What you saw in Fred was that he talked about feelings, he talked about difficult things. The death of a goldfish was not a discussion of the alphabet. It was a discussion of life. It was social and emotional, not cognitive based.”
To be fair to the show, they will be one of few who aren’t trying to work counting, shapes and alphabets into their program. Many of the newer kids television shows are either devoid of lessons at all, or they’re dedicated to forcing learning down the throats of unsuspecting toddlers. Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood could fill that gap by dealing strictly with emotional issues.
All that being said, producers could have created a new show that dealt with the same types of problems, without bring Mr. Rogers and his legacy into the issue at all. There’s still something sad about trading on the man’s fame, especially using a cartoon world of make-believe that I don’t think Mr. Rogers would have really appreciated or embraced.
Mr. Rogers’ widow, Joanne Rogers, admitted that she had to be persuaded into the idea of doing a cartoon. And she still seems to realize that fans of her husband might not be thrilled with the changes. However, a new generation of consumers much be reached. She said, “I think mothers and dads and grandparents will deal with their feelings of loss. And if they watch their little ones watching it, I think they’ll be led by that. And I think the little ones are going to like it.”
Personally, I wish the Fred Rogers Company would have let Mr. Rogers, his neighborhood and his world of make-believe stay where they belong, in his original program. I wish they would’ve built something completely new. This just feels like its treading the memory of one of the greats. And I don’t think they it will do justice to the kind and gentle man in the sweater.