‘Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood’ Went Nuclear and PBS Wasn’t Here for It

For generations of people, the words “It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood” instantly feel like a warm blanket, thanks to memories of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. For decades, he and his show were a source of great comfort, even from thorny issues like divorce. 

There was nary a topic Rogers shied away from because he knew children would have questions about scary things in the news. And in the 1980s, one of the scariest topics was nuclear war. Mister Rogers tackled that too, much to the dismay of PBS.

Fred Rogers smiling on 'Mister Rogers' Neighborhood'
Fred Rogers | Bettmann/Getty Images

Why Mister Rogers was important

Rogers was a Presbyterian minister from Pittsburgh who began to reach out to children via a local program in 1954, according to The New York Times, and that show grew into Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, which began in 1968. The show tackled tough issues immediately when Senator Robert Kennedy was assassinated that year while campaigning for president. 

The show was picked up by PBS in 1971, giving it a national audience. The show seemed to be an unlikely success from the get-go, with its spare production values and its host’s unfailing kindness. Throughout the show’s run, some viewers assumed it must all be an act. No one could possibly be that nice in real life, could they?

But by all accounts, Rogers wasn’t pretending. He said, “‘The world is not always a kind place. That’s something all children learn for themselves, whether we want them to or not, but it’s something they really need our help to understand.” Rogers kept communicating that message for decades, even when it wasn’t easy. 

Mister Rogers took on the cold war

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In 1983, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood decided it had to deal with the ongoing cold war between the United States and what was then the Soviet Union. Nuclear war had been a looming threat for decades, but fears peaked again in the early 1980s, with continued talks of an arms race.

Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood explored the issue in 1983 through his Neighborhood of Make-Believe segments with puppets. According to Grunge, the episodes involved King Friday finding a package that indicated their neighbor was building bombs, so King Friday orders his kingdom to prepare for war. As it turns out, the supplies turned out to be for building bridges, not bombs.

PBS pulled the segments in 1996, according to Fandom, although they occasionally resurface online. PBS removes these segments from YouTube due to copyright issues. 

Mister Rogers still makes news, long after his death

Mister Rogers, who died in 2003, has been featured in the news frequently lately, partly because of the acclaimed documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor and the film It’s a Beautiful Day, for which Tom Hanks received an Oscar nomination for playing Mister Rogers. However, Rogers and his show tend to make news when the headlines get scary, as they have during the pandemic.

According to ABC News, “Mr. Rogers” began trending on Twitter recently after Former Vice President Joe Biden was compared to Pennsylvania’s beloved Mr. Rogers. It’s no surprise Mr. Rodgers still makes his way in the trends and headlines today, especially when people can see aspects of him in other public figures they admire.