Friday, March 16, 2018

Spring Break

In an interview with Fred Rogers, he once made the following comment about television:
"We don't have to have this sound and picture 24 hours a day. Turn off the Neighborhood. Turn off whatever's there. And play."
My wife and I are both school employees and our kids, of course, go to school. Spring break has arrived and, extending Fred's thoughts to other time consuming forms of media, I'll be unplugging for a week to enjoy the break with my family.

See you in a week, neighbors!

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Bob Brubach: The First Black & White Panda

After my recent converastion with Randy and Bill on Pittsburgh's 102.5 WDVE Morning Show, I received an email with the title "Info on Black & White Panda."

Interesting. What an obscure character.

Opening the email, I saw the thumbnails for the attached images and immediately knew that I was in for a treat!

The message was from Bill Brubach, the brother of Bob Brubach who appeared twice in the credits for Neighborhood episodes -- specifically episodes featuring the circus -- but I'd not yet been able to place what part he had played. Bill's email clued me in with the following details:
[Bob] was a young dancer and performer that Don Brockett and Joe Negri "discovered" in high school performances at Pittsburgh's South Hills Catholic High School (now Seton-LaSalle HS). While in high school he starred in several shows alongside Lisa Negri, Joe's daughter.
Bob was a performer in some of Don Brockett's summer stock productions at that time -- and I guess Mr. Rogers told Don that he was looking for a "dancing Panda" to accompany Purple Panda on several episodes. Don brought in my brother Bob, and he was immediately cast in the role. (We always called his role "the Dancing Panda," but I understand the show referred to his character as "Black and White Panda" on several occasions.) 
I was a few years younger than Bobby, but I remember his stories about how hot the Panda costume was, and that he was doing silly dance moves under hot lights over and over again -- but how much fun he was having doing it. 
Anyway, Bobby went on to perform in several Broadway plays, including "The Magic Show" with Doug Henning, and later as an original cast member in the Tony Award-Winning "La Cage aux Folles." His bio in the Magic Show Playbill even listed his appearance on Mister Rogers' Neighborhood among his theatrical credits!
Unfortunately, Bobby passed away on Christmas Day in 1988 at the age of 33. Even though he was so young when he died, he had lived a full and fulfilling life, touring the world as a dancer, singer and performer. He was a proud Pittsburgher and fan of Fred Rogers -- and a memorable alumnus of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood.
My thanks to Bill.

In memory of his brother Bob.

Black & White Panda.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

50 Years: Celebrate You

Mister Rogers' Neighborhood debuted nationally on February 19, 1968 -- approximately eight and a half years before I was born. I had graduated from college and completed a master's degree by the time the final Neighborhood visit initially aired in 2001.

That's a long time.

As we celebrate this 50th anniversary of the Neighborhood we've all come to love and appreciate so much, I ask you one question: "Why?"

Why was Mister Rogers' Neighborhood so important?

I'm not talking about nostalgia. I'm not talking about groundbreaking children's television.

I'm talking about you.

Why are you celebrating the Neighborhood? What's your story?

Really. Look past the puppets and the cardigan. Past Mr. McFeely and the Neighborhood of Make-Believe. What is it about Mister Rogers' Neighborhood that has struck such a worldwide chord that we're celebrating the anniversary of a program that many have labeled for years as dated, soft, and boring?

Mister Rogers presented his television neighbors with the same message during each and every Neighborhood visit: "You make each day a special day by just your being you." Despite the blemish on your cheek. Despite a few extra pounds. Despite your glasses or your nervous feeling around others. Despite your crooked teeth or your smelly feet or your single-parent household or your lack of financial stability or your self-doubt...

You are special.


This is what we all long to hear regardless of our age, gender, ethnicity, background, or nationality. If you say you don't need to hear someone you love tell you that you are special -- that you are important -- consider me first in line to say you're fooling yourself.

Everyone longs to feel valuable. Everyone longs to feel loved.

Mister Rogers' message of peace, love, acceptance, and self-worth is one that is foreign to most -- an awkward topic that is not easily discussed. Society has conditioned us toward dissatisfaction with ourselves and a constant desire to fit the mold of expectation set before us.

We should act a certain way.

Dress a certain way.

Look a certain way.

Feel a certain way.

The pastor of my church recently delivered a message including a question that hit home as I think about the value Fred Rogers placed on self-worth: "When you look in the mirror, do you see the stuff you want to change, or do you see the beauty there to be celebrated?"

As we celebrate fifty years of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, I hope you are looking in the mirror, remembering Fred Rogers' message, and celebrating you.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Pittsburgh Weekend, Neighborhood Models, News From the FRC

This past weekend, I had the pleasure of spending a few days in Pittsburgh -- one to explore the city and another to meet with several staff members from the Fred Rogers Company. Here's a rundown of two incredible days in Mister Rogers' real neighborhood.

. . .

On the first day, I met up with my friend Derek at 9:30 for a late breakfast. Those of you who know me personally know my love of The Homeless Gospel Choir.

That's Derek.

Check out his music sometime.

Derek and I scarfed down our food and coffee at Piper's Pub while we solved many of the world's problems. At Derek's recommendation, I went with the fried chicken and sausage on a waffle.

With gravy.

Although my 42-year-old arteries likely disagree, it was glorious.

From there, we were disappointed to find that the Fred Rogers statue down by the river was boxed and the site was closed for construction. Instead, we decided to spend much of the day hitting up record stores, coffee shops, and the famous Mineo's Pizza.


Near the end of the day, we found our way to the Heinz History Center to check out the Neighborhood exhibit -- a site worth seeing if you're ever in Pittsburgh. I won't pretend you're here to read about record stores and food, so here are several shots from the exhibit.


Once again, Derek...a huge thanks for taking time out of your day to hang out...

. . .

The next day was spent meeting with the fine folks of the Fred Rogers Company. More on that after you spend the next hour gazing at photos of the Neighborhood model located under glass just inside the main door to the FRC offices.

. . .

So let's get down to it. What kinds of things were discussed at the Fred Rogers Company that I can share here.

The upcoming PBS special?

It's terrific. I was able to see a portion of the special and I assure you that if your DVRs are not currently set to record on March 6th, you need to remedy this immediately! While the documentary that recently premiered at Sundance focused on the life and career of Fred Rogers, the PBS special is centered around the Neighborhood program itself. Very different and very well done!

Were there episodes of the Neighborhood -- besides the Conflict series -- that were banned from broadcast for potentially controversial reasons?

There were not. While it is widely believed that there are several chunks of episodes which were "banned" at some point over the years, I was assured that the only reason something like this may have happened would have been because there were simply more episodes than days to air them. No controversy.

Another Twitch marathon?

Hang in there.

Other methods of viewing Neighborhood episodes? Not just the ones on Amazon but all of them.

Not out of the question. Don't give up hope.

What about physical DVD copies of the episodes?

My recommendation to you would be that if you want DVDs of more than what is currently available, buy this box set of 30 episodes when it is released. If the demand for more is clear, we may see more. If not, we'll see the Neighborhood DVDs go the way of the Old School Sesame Street DVDs ... gone after just a few volumes.

. . .

The biggest news of the day, from my side of things, comes in the form of an "official" endorsement of the Neighborhood Archive by the Fred Rogers Company. At this point, it's safe to share with you all that I have been working in partnership with the FRC for a few years now as the Archive site has continued to grow. As they shared some of their plans for the near future with me, it was suggested that this cooperative effort has certainly evolved to the point of an "official" partnership with some exciting opportunities for us to collaborate in documentation of "all things Mister Rogers."

What does this mean for you?

Here's one example of things you haven't seen here before that may start popping up more often ... the pre-68 footage ... MisteRogers' Neighborhood, The Children's Corner...

Beyond that, stay tuned. :)

. . .

When I started this site just over nine years ago, I had no idea it would ever be at the point it is today. I'm continually humbled by the traffic it receives and dedicated readership that it's gained. I look forward to this official partnership with the Fred Rogers Company and eagerly anticipate sharing as much as possible with all of you!

Monday, January 29, 2018

Tom Hanks as Mister Rogers? Count Me In!

Obviously, the big news from today is the announcement that Tom Hanks will play the part of Fred Rogers in the long-time-coming biopic, You Are My Friend. For the life of me, I didn't see this writing on the wall, but as a longtime fan of Tom Hanks, this announcement was immediately intriguing.

Reading the fan response, however, this casting choice has been made to mixed reviews.

"What about Jim Parsons?" seems to be the most common argument of contention...but was that ever anything more than a rumor when talk of a biopic first hit the news a few years ago? Sure, from a visible perspective, Parsons could easily slip on the sneakers and portray a convincing Mister Rogers. I even chatted about this with a few pals on Episode 020 of the Neighborhood Archive podcast back in 2013.

But check out the fine print.

This movie doesn't seem to be a simple biographical account of Fred Rogers and his life. According to Tom Junod, the film is to be "loosely based on the article [he] wrote for Esquire 20 years ago."

His article was based on interactions with Fred at a time most would recognize as the Neighborhood's later years. With this in mind, a mid-40s Jim Parsons doesn't seem right to fill the role of a man in his late 60s; certainly not as well as a versatile actor like Tom Hanks -- a man currently close to Fred's age at that time.

Keep in mind, it doesn't seem that this film is intended to be a simple biography but rather the story of a relationship. While I'm guessing there will be plenty of flashbacks to Fred's younger years, the focal time period of this film appears to be the later years of Fred's life.

If that's the case, I'm 100% on board with the casting of Tom Hanks -- a man who has never done anything but fully immerse himself in every role he's been given.

Consider me intrigued.