In honor of its 40th anniversary on public TV, the famous Mister Rogers Neighborhood of Make-Believe set, including King Friday XIII’s castle, will be assembled for public viewing one last time, Nov. 6–8  at Pittsburgh’s WQED. Much of the large set has been warehoused …
Michael Kinsell, who planned to present himself as the next Mister Rogers at a controversial gala on Sunday in San Diego, told Current in an e-mail Thursday night that he is canceling the show. Kinsell, who said he is 18, had publicized the May 31 fundraising event as a star-studded posthumous tribute to the famous host of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.
A wayward, 6-foot stuffed gorilla arrived at WDSE-TV in Duluth, Minn. in time for the annual Kids Club Circus last week. Its former owner tried to leave it at a landfill but the gorilla was turned away (it wasn’t construction debris), and it fell from the truck into the path of a state official’s car. A state trooper somehow sensed WDSE would adopt. The star of Martha Speaks (shown at right with Sgt.
With the all-digital future arriving, if haltingly, and a bigger share of viewers likely to come through DTV multicast channels, public TV stations are reconsidering how to use their bitstream, making over their channels, and in some cases adding new services to woo audiences. The wee audience, for one. Little kids and their parents are a vital audience and constituency for public TV, and mockups of the stations’ future DTV menu often featured a dedicated channel for them. To supply it, stations had access to a 24-hour PBS Kids feed, packaged by PBS. That changed in 2005 when the network acceded to the desires of its two biggest producers for children and joined a partnership to package Sprout, a cable channel for preschoolers.
PBS Kids Island, an online amusement park located on the Raising Readers website (www.readytolearnreading.org), offers learning games created by producers of Super Why!, Word World, Sesame Street and Between the Lions, most collected from their separate sites, grouped by reading skill and divided into three levels of difficulty. On the cartoony Island, kids can choose games to play from a carousel ride and win tickets they can use to buy things from the prize booth — video downloads, printable games and coloring sheets. In their own tree house, a kid can stash or play with their prizes and display their awards. Project advisors who work with low-scoring schools eligible for federal Title 1 aid encouraged PBS to give kids the opportunity to choose activities on their own on the Island, because low-income kids don’t get to make many choices or take risks or try experiments, says Sharon Philippart, project director for Raising Readers at PBS. Parents, teachers or caregivers sign up their kids and can monitor their progress through the levels.
Debut this fall 
Jim Knox’s Wild Zoofari
Producing organizations: Jim Knox’s Wild Zoofari LLC. Producer: Rob Child. Creators: Rob Child, Jim Knox, Bruce Knox. Episodes: 14/30. Status: released on DVD 2006.
KCET in Los Angeles unveiled a multimillion-dollar initiative to help prepare kids for kindergarten by training the adults who care for them. Two new daytime talk series — one produced in English and the other in Spanish — are centerpieces of the project. Through daily broadcasts of A Place of Our Own and Los Ninos in Su Casa, KCET aims to provide skills, information and inspiration to unlicensed caregivers and enlist them in the important work of nurturing early learning skills. These friends, neighbors and relatives of parents often work in isolation and have little access to training. Shaped by input from leading educators and formative research on its target audiences, the station’s education initiative has raised $20 million so far, including the largest grant in KCET’s history—$10 million from the energy company BP.
Mister Rogers was one of the first programs that I can remember watching. I was, of course, part of the show’s target demographic back then. I can’t recall much from my preschool years, but I do know that I loved the trolley, I loved the neighborhood and I loved Fred Rogers.Like many early loves, it faded with age and distance. I moved on to programs intended for older kids: flashier, action-oriented, violent in the ways that caregivers and watchdogs lament and children adore. For the most part, I forgot about Fred and his neighborhood, reminded only on occasion by the parodies that proliferated in the ’80s as yesterday’s innocents grew into sarcasm and despair.
In a bid to expand its children’s franchise into an increasingly competitive daypart, PBS on Sept. 30 will launch Bookworm Bunch, a block of six new animated series slated for Saturday mornings. Produced by Toronto-based Nelvana Communications, Bookworm Bunch is PBS’s first offering of original children’s fare for weekends — when stations traditionally program their own selection of how-to programs and other fare. PBS created the block as a distinctive alternative to the rock ’em-sock ’em, boy-oriented fare aired by other broadcast networks on Saturdays. “It’s a tremendous thing that PBS is doing — something that’s almost revolutionary — in presenting American children with an alternative to what I call ‘toxic television,'” said Rosemary Wells, author of Timothy Goes to School, one of six children’s books to be adapted for TV in the new PBS Kids block.
International stardom has not been easy for Tinky Winky, the Teletubby recently “outed” by the Rev. Jerry Falwell as a gay role-model for children. First there was a big flap in England, shortly after the show’s 1997 debut, over the dismissal of the actor playing Tinky Winky. Producers said he had been too rambunctious on the set. But the actor apparently endeared himself to viewers by flamboyantly waving the now-notorious red handbag, and did not go quietly. The Sun, Britain’s largest tabloid, launched a campaign to reinstate the actor, but to no avail.
Cecily Truett and Larry Lancit rolled the dice. In the spring of 1991, they took their production company and its best known product, and laid them at the feet of GKN Securities Corp., a small investment firm, which organized the initial public offering of their production company. By then, the Lancits had filled a trophy case with awards as producers of Reading Rainbow. But Lancit Media Productions’ earnings were barely enough to scrape by. It was certainly not enough to expand.
Over the hills and far away, Teletubbies come to play. In Teletubbyland, a lush green landscape of undulating hills spotted with clumps of bright flowers, the world is safe and fun — a place to explore and learn through play. We know this because the sun baby, who rises over the set at the beginning of each episode, gurgles, coos and shrieks with pleasure at the adventures of the Teletubbies, four alien yet adorable, toddlerlike beings who live there, cared for and entertained by otherworldly gadgets. Teletubbies, the groundbreaking BBC children’s series that’s prompted both an outcry and a massive consumer craze since its debut last March debut in Britain, is about to arrive in the PBS schedule, April 6. The series is based on the premise — already much-debated in Britain — that very young children are watching television but don’t understand it, so they might as well have a show that’s designed for them.
Teletubbies haven’t officially landed in the U.S. public TV schedule yet, but they’ve already roused controversy in Britain and landed a great big licensing deal over here. Hasbro, makers of Playskool Baby and other major toy brands, will introduce a range of Teletubbies products–soft toys, figures, games, puzzles, bath toys and other items–by next fall. “It was important to find a partner who understands that young children need to be nurtured, not exploited,” said Kenn Viselman, president of the itsy bitsy Entertainment Co., which holds licensing rights to Teletubbies in the U.S. and Canada. Teletubbies, the children’s TV program that sparked both a craze and outrage in Britain with its debut on BBC2 this year, will begin airing on PBS’s Ready to Learn Service in April. If the British response to the show is any indication of what to expect from U.S. audiences, brace yourselves for a consumer grabfest of purple dinosaur proportions.
You probably wouldn’t want one. Not if you knew what they’re like. Leave them alone and they’ll rip your couch, dig up your garden, growl at your kids. This is the word on Jack Russell terriers, like the zippy, smart little dog that stars in Wishbone on PBS. Wishbone is so amazingly cute that many children demand a doggie just like him, and thousands of adults want one, too.
The late George Gerbner, a leading scholar of TV program content, wrote this article for the 40th anniversary of Mister Rogers Neighborhood, but it served the additional purpose of explaining why he founded the Cultural Environment Movement in 1996 after leaving the University of Pennsylvania, where he was dean of the Annenberg School of Communication. The article appeared in Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood: Children, Television and Fred Rogers, a collection of diverse essays published by the University of Pittsburgh Press. There is a story about a mother who said to her child, “I wish you would change your behavior.” The child said, “That’s all right, Mother; Mr. Rogers loves me as I am.” Forty years in children’s television — with an approach that is so different from so many other programs— is an event of historic significance.
Probably the most famous congressional testimony delivered on behalf of CPB appropriations came from Fred Rogers on May 2, 1969. The young writer/producer/host of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood made common cause with Sen. John Pastore (D-R.I.), who chaired the Senate Commerce Committee’s communications subcommittee. Public broadcasting was seeking an appropriation of $20 million, and the Nixon White House was proposing half as much. Margaret Mary Kimmel and Mark Collins narrate the scene in their book, The Wonder of It All: Fred Rogers and the Story of an Icon (PDF, scroll to page 20). “It’s a strange moment in the hallowed halls of the Senate,” Kimmel and Collins write — “a grown man reciting a child’s song to other grown men, but by now they feel as if they, too, are complicit in Rogers’ mission.”