In 1975, Fred Rogers tried to leave his neighborhood. After devoting 20 years of his life to children’s programming, Rogers performed in one last episode of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood and beat a path towards adult television. Old Friends, New Friends the show Rogers created took what might be described as a Freddish approach to the interview format, featuring a lot of dead air and close-ups of human faces. Whether it was a success or not depends on who you ask, but it wasn’t popular, which left Fred Rogers with a decision to make.
Then Charles Green jumped out of his seventh-floor window in Brooklyn.
Green was 4 years old and emulating his hero, Superman. But his story was tragic. He died on impact. When Fred Rogers found out about this he took it almost personally. He hustled back to the studio at KQED in Pittsburgh and filmed a segment in which he explained superheroes and superhero powers, making it clear to his young viewers that these things were imaginary. Shortly after he took off his cape — a zip-up cardigan — he had to put it back on to unmask less responsible heroes.
The process wasn’t easy. Rogers was panicked about his return. But went back on the air anyway because he realized his work was not done. On episode seven of Finding Fred, Carvell Wallace explores how Fred Rogers came to the conclusion that he hadn’t done enough and what it means to lead a life of service.