Monday, August 31, 2009

(Some Of) Mister Rogers' Neighborhood Saved

A tiny bit of sunshine snuck into my otherwise shadowy office this afternoon when my pal, Save Mister Rogers' Neighborhood founder Brian Linder sent me a quick email: "Good news for children in the virtual neighborhood!"

Last year, PBS curtailed its daily delivery of the show. Last month, they limited distribution to 26 "favorite episodes."

Today, the network formally announced Mister Rogers' foray into cyberspace.

A new neighborhood awaits preschoolers and fans of all ages at with the redesigned Mister Rogers' Neighborhood Web site, full of new activities, video clips and memorabilia. In addition, 26 favorite episodes will be part of the national PBS KIDS Saturday morning broadcast lineup beginning September 12 (check local listings) and will be available to stream online later this fall at for fans to enjoy whenever they want.

"Fred Rogers paved the way for children’s media more than 40 years ago, and we are proud to continue to work with Family Communications to ensure his legacy evolves alongside new developments in media and technology," said Sara DeWitt, Senior Director, PBS KIDS Interactive. " continues to increase in traffic, with an average of 9 million unique visitors a month. It’s clear that kids love our games, and that parents and educators view our content online as a trusted and fun learning experience."

"At Family Communications, we continue to hear from adults about what MISTER ROGERS’ NEIGHBORHOOD has meant in their lives,” said Kevin Morrison, Chief Operating Officer, Family Communications, Inc. “The core values of the series — kindness, civility, reassurance and inspiration — have helped many strive towards being the best they can be. We are excited to continue to infuse Fred Rogers’ values in new platforms with new generations of children."

Only 960 or so episodes to go!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Please Help "Mister Rogers & Me"

I first met "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" creator Fred Rogers at his summer home in Nantucket, Massachusetts, in September 2001. My mother rented the cottage next door, so Mister Rogers really was my neighbor.

My brother and I have been working on our documentary, "Mister Rogers & Me" every since.

Eight years, 4600 miles, and nearly $30,000 later, we're in the home stretch. But we need your help to make it across the finish line. We're endeavoring to raise at least $10,000 in the next 30 days to polish our rough edit into a film festival-worthy version.

What's left to do, you ask? The film currently runs 75-minutes. The structure is nearly complete, but still has gaps. Like a puzzle; we have most of the pieces, but they're not all in place. So we still have to a) secure a few more pieces of footage b) create some graphics to represent data (ex: rise in children's advertising spending) and c) place all of the rights-managed footage, b-roll, and photographs to fill in all of those holes. There's more v.o. and music to record and license, and we even plan to shoot a few more interviews.

After three years of after-hours, weekend and spare-time production, we've finally booked two weeks of steady post-production at a professional facility. By the end of the month, we expect to have an edit worthy of submission to Tribecca, Nantucket, and Aspen Film Festivals. Your contribution will fund all of the above.

You, Dear Reader, recall the back story:

On the afternoon of our first meeting, Mister Rogers asked me about my job as an MTV producer. Though I'm absolutely certain he didn't intend it, the inquiry felt like an indictment coming from one of PBS' founding fathers. At the end of our conversation, he said, "I feel so strongly that deep and simple is far more essential than complex."

The following summer, I told him how I'd thought all year about what he said.

"Spread the message, Benjamin," He said. "Spread the message."

It was only after his death in February 2003, though, that it dawned on me how to do so. Armed with an HDV camera, my brother and I set out to meet some of Mister Rogers' neighbors to find out more about the man himself, what he meant by "deep and simple," and where in our junk food culture that ethos still survives.

Our travels led us to "Meet The Press" host Tim Russert; "All Things Considered" anchor Susan Stamberg; "This American Life" contributor Davy Rothbart; "Arthur" creator Marc Brown; "Nick News" host Linda Ellerbee; mystic, author and activist, Bo Lozoff; authors Amy Hollingsworth and Tim Madigan; photographer Beverly Hall.

Three weeks ago, PBS announced that "Mister Rogers Neighborhood" airings will be reduced from daily to once a week. Now more than ever, Fred's deep and simple message must be spread.

Please help us tell the story of "Mister Rogers & Me" by contributing to our fundraiser today. There are some terrific incentives like film credits, signed Nantucket photo prints, custom songs, and an exclusive screening for your friends and family. The best incentive, though, will be knowing that you helped this most well-intended and genuine project make its way to the screen.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Mister Rogers & Wagner Bros LLC: It's Official

It's been well over a year since our lawyer (also our cousin), Bill, established Wagner Bros. LLC as an official, federally-sanctioned business. Heck, we have out own EIN (Employer Identification Number)!

Still, it took that long (plus some recent, business-oriented motivation) to make it truly official. On Saturday, I opened a Wagner Bros LLC checking account at Chase Manhattan Bank.

No single event has prompted more comments on my Facebook feed, which I consider a good thing.

I opened the account (finally) as Chris and I owe our annual LLC fee to the State of Delaware. Also, we owe a few bucks to a terrific documentary editor to-be-named-later.

Of course, "Mister Rogers & Me" has never been about making money. In fact, Chris and I have happily sunken thousands of dollars into the film over the course of the last four years. We view the project as vital, and now more than ever as PBS diminished "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" airings. So next week, we're going to announce some very big news.

Because we're going to finish this thing yet; I owe it to Mister Rogers.