Thursday, October 09, 2008

The Fred Rogers Center, Brian Linder & Me

Just shy of a year ago, Chris and I drove through Latrobe, Pennsylvania, looking for a sign of Mister Rogers in his hometown. We couldn't find a statue or school, didn't know his childhood adress, and didn't think visiting his grave was in keeping with the film.

We drove to the highest spot we could find, looked out over the valley, spotted Saint Vincent College shining in the distance. There, just below the twin-steepled, red-brick basilica, we could scarcely discern a muddy patch of construction where the Fred Rogers Center For Early Learning & Children's Media sat half-built.

Truth is, we'd done little more than a drive-by less than an hour prior. At the time, while we had Mrs. Rogers' blessing, we still weren't sure whether we had his Family Comminications'. We didn't want to jeopardize it by setting up a tripod and camera outside the center, so we slowed down, shot out the window, and kept going.

Fast-forward a year, and the Fred Rogers Center has officially opened its doors.

The center's mission is to advance the state of early learning and children's media by acting as a catalyst for communication, collaboration and creative change across both fields.

Moreover, the center has a new director who appears to understand just how radically the media landscape has shifted in the five years since Mister Rogers passing.

"The distinction between a child being a user and consumer [of media] has been obliterated," said Maxwell King, who became director of the center last month. "We want to provide guidance and standards" for children, parents and educators.

In a stroke of synchronicity, "Save Mister Rogers" advocate Brian Linder called yesterday.

Seems Brian -- who's frustration with PBS' decision to cease daily delivery of the show to its affiliates inspired his movement -- is finding himself drawn to the storytelling around The Neighborhood too. Specifically, he's connecting with former cast members like Neighbor Aber (Chuck Aber), Lady Aberlin (Betty Aberlin), and Handy Man Negri (Joe Negri), all of whom have terrific stories to tell.

I told him that if I had unlimited resources and time, I'd quit The MTV today, and we'd go interview all of 'em together. Brian (who works for IGN, is married and the father of twin daughters) laughed and agreed; unfortunately, resources and time are limited.

Instead, we hatched a plan to meet at the Center -- with or without cameras -- sometime soon.

"It's written into the films' epilogue anyway," I told him. "I'll send you the script."

I hope we can pull it off.