Friday, March 23, 2012

Mister Rogers & Me

Deep and simple is far more essential than shallow and complex.

Deep and simple. That is the message.

If you're a regular reader of the Neighborhood Archive, you're likely aware that this past Tuesday marked the release of the highly-anticiapted documentary from the Wagner brothers, Mister Rogers & Me. Based on title alone, this film may seem like nothing more than another Fred Rogers biography with a focus on one man's relationship with the beloved children's television icon. Let me assure you, this could not be further from the truth.

Mister Rogers & Me focuses little on the man and much on his message.

Deep and simple.

Back in 2003, producer Benjamin Wagner was told by Fred Rogers to "spread the message" -- and he has done just that. Through conversations with a variety of notable individuals, the message of "deep and simple" is solidified in those of us who grew up with regular visits to the Neighborhood and we are reminded of the authenticity of Fred Rogers -- both on and off the camera.

Certainly, Mister Rogers & Me is more than just another documentary. It is a challenge to better ourselves and to recognize the importance of what is deep and simple -- to appreciate every second and every moment, every person and every meeting, that we are blessed to experience.

While my focus on the Neighborhood Archive is mostly centered around the pop culture aspect of Fred Rogers' career, Mister Rogers & Me pinpoints the true crux of it all. The Neighborhood sets have been dismantled and the film has stopped rolling. Through time, Mister Rogers' Neighborhood will fade into the television history books, but the message will remain.

This is why I do what I do. While I certainly enjoy detailing Fred Rogers' career from a cultural sense, it is my appreciation of his message that inspired my work to begin with. All of the music, the books, the toys, and the shows mean nothing without Fred's message as their foundation. As a husband, a father, and an educator, it is my hope that my message is the same.

Deep and simple is far more essential than shallow and complex.

Mister Rogers & Me
is currently available on Amazon, iTunes, and at

For more on Mister Rogers & Me, take a listen to the Neighborhood Archive podcast with special guest, Benjamin Wagner.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Tunnel Vision

If you've ever visited Pittsburgh, you're likely aware of the tunnels that lead to the city from the outlying areas. You're driving through the tunnel's darkness when the sunlight appears and the city is revealed -- unseen from the other side. Here's a YouTube video that shows exactly what I'm talking about (although seeing it in person is much better). NOTE: You may want to knock the volume down some if there are kids in the room as there's a little bit of un-neighborly language in this video.

Taking a look at the intro to Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood again, something caught my attention that I hadn't noticed before. As Daniel boards the Trolley and travels into his neighborhood, he takes a similar path to the one traveled in Pittsburgh.

Look for yourself in the opening seconds of the DTN intro.

While I have no verification that this similarity is intentional, I have to think that it is clearly a subtle nod to Pittsburgh.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Thoughts on Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood

With the debut of Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood quickly approaching and the recent release of a sneak peek by PBS, I wanted to weigh in with my thoughts about the show and what it could offer to today's generation of kids.

Over the past several months, based on opinions shared in the comments on this blog and on the message board, it appears that a majority of Neighborhood Archive readers are somewhat skeptical of (if not completely turned off by) what they know and have seen of Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood. Common thoughts tend to focus on it not being anything like the original Neighborhood program and some even go as far as to say this program is an insult to Fred Rogers himself. To those with an opinion anywhere in that spectrum, let me offer you some food for thought.

One of my favorite movies has always been the Karate Kid. I saw it in the theater with my dad when I was a kid and have always ranked it among my favorites. A few years ago, when it was announced that the Karate Kid was going to be redone, I was excited by the possibilities but let down but the final product. As a life-long fan, Jaden Smith's version did nothing for me as an adult. But in my mid-thirties, I realized I was not the target audience. Considering young kids love Jaden Smith, the remake was a solid attempt at recreating a classic and it successfully appealed to the target audience it was intended for. Meanwhile, I thumbed my nose at the attempt to recreate the original. As much as I loved the original Karate Kid, any attempt to recreate it was doomed from the start and would fall short in my eyes no matter what. I didn't care for the remake...but it wasn't intended for me.

With that in the back of my mind, I feel like the same holds true for Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood and many people who grew up watching Mister Rogers. I certainly appreciate that everyone is entitled to their own opinions, but ask yourself -- have you allowed your passion for the original Neighborhood to doom this new effort from the start?

When it comes to DTN, let's not forget the target audience -- this show is aimed at today's children and not at adults hoping for a dose of nostalgia through a modern-day version of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood. Sure the animation and style seem to resemble many other popular shows of today, but in order to appeal to the target audience, that makes perfect sense. If this show connects with today's kids and carries on Fred's message at the same time, it's a job well done as far as I'm concerned.

I put the clip shared by PBS to the truest test and played it for a memeber of the intended target audience -- my four-year-old daughter. It took her less than ten seconds to fall in love with Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood and when the clip ended, she wanted more, more, more!

Sure. It's not the original Neighborhood. Nothing ever will be. Kobe Bryant will never be Michael Jordan. Justin Bieber will never be the King of Pop. And Daniel Tiger's will never be Mister Rogers' Neighborhood. It's not supposed to be. The intent, however, is to carry on the timeless message of Fred Rogers through modern means that appeal to modern kids.

Based on the reaction a three minute clip got from my daughter, this show will certainly do just that.

So with that...let's take a look at the clip shared by PBS. I'll wait until next fall to share specifics on this particular episode, but let's look at the intro. For those of you who have ever visited my other blog (which I put significantly less effort into that I do this one), you may have seen my dissection of the recent Honda commercial featuring dozens upon dozens of Ferris Bueller references. Of course, there are not nearly that many nods to the original Neighborhood in the DTN intro, but let's look at what is there...

Right off the bat, we've got several references to Mister Rogers' Neighborhood. Aside from a new-generation-Daniel, you'll notice sweaters hanging in the closet along with a few pair of sneakers. In the background is the Trolley on its track along with the familiar traffic light and fish tank. And then on the shelf are the models -- not just ones from the original NOM locations but you'll notice a model of one of the DTN buildings as well.

Daniel zips his sweater and puts on his sneakers with the toss of a shoe from one hand to the other -- all the while wearing a wristwatch just like his father, Daniel Striped Tiger, did for decades before him.

Then it's off on the Trolley with friendly waves to those he passes by -- some new faces and others more familiar.

And the theme song itself has a familiar sound in both tune and lyrics:
It's a beautiful day in the neighborhood
A beautiful day for a neighbor
Would you be mine
Could you be mine
Won't you be my neighbor
It's Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood
A land of make-believe
Won't you ride along with me
(Ride along)
It's Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood
So much to do so much to see
Won't you ride along with me
(Ride along)
I've got lots of friends for you to meet
In this land of make-believe
A friendly face on every street
Just waiting to greet you
It's a beautiful day in the neighborhood
A beautiful day for a neighbor
In Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood
On behalf of myself and my kids I say....More, more, more!