Tuned In: 'Mister Rogers' fan launches Web site to save daily episodes

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When Brian Linder read on Post-Gazette.com three weeks ago about PBS ending its practice of feeding "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" episodes to member stations on a daily basis this fall, he didn't have to be told twice what to do with the mad that he felt, to paraphrase one of Fred Rogers' songs.

Linder sprang into action, launching the Web site SaveMisterRogers.com and an associated Facebook group that had 450 members as of yesterday morning.

Linder -- who works from his Columbia, S.C., home as a senior editor for the movie page of the Web site IGN.com -- has twin 18-month-old daughters.

  

"I've been looking forward to introducing them to ['Mister Rogers' Neighborhood'] for a long time, since before they were born," said Linder, 32. "It was such a formative thing for me in my own childhood."

In May PBS told member stations it would send them one episode of the "Neighborhood" per week beginning in September. Stations also have the option of stockpiling episodes over the summer and scheduling them on their own. Pittsburgh's WQED will continue to air the "Neighborhood" daily, but Linder's PBS station in South Carolina will relegate daily episodes to a digital subchannel available over-the-air on digital TVs and on cable but not via satellite. Linder subscribes to a satellite service.

"We can't get it without a rabbit ear antenna, which I'm gonna go get," said Linder, 32. "I never thought I'd go back to rabbit ears, but I'm going to go out and buy that stuff and find a way to hook it up.

"It's an inconvenience for us, but I know a lot of areas where it's going to be dropped altogether, at least that's the plan," he said. "I hope we can change that."

Linder's grassroots effort is simple: He's encouraging "Neighborhood" fans to contact their local affiliates to request that they air the program daily.

"I'd love for us to call every local member station in the country that's currently airing the program and say, 'We think this needs to stay on the air for the sake of the children,' " Linder said on Tuesday. "I've been really surprised at the number of program directors -- and I've talked to 10 so far, so a handful of them -- who just don't have the information [about PBS dropping the show from its daily feed]. I feel like I know more about it and have been educating some of the program directors about this situation."

On the Web site, Linder also encourages viewers to contact PBS to protest the decision.

PBS Kids spokeswoman Jill Corderman e-mailed a lengthy statement about PBS's continued support for the "Neighborhood," noting there are plans to "preserve 'Mister Rogers' Neighborhood' content and make it available on demand through Web streaming so families can access it 24/7." Read PBS's full statement in Tuned In Journal at post-gazette.com/tv.

Kevin Morrison, chief operating officer for Rogers' Oakland-based Family Communications Inc., said requesting that PBS member stations continue to carry the "Neighborhood" is the most effective approach.

"Obviously we're pleased people want to see 'Mister Rogers' Neighborhood.' Why wouldn't we be?" Morrison said. "The right thing to do is to talk to your local PBS station. If that's what they're encouraging people to do, they're doing the right thing."

Linder brushes off any suggestion that his efforts are about nostalgia alone.

"This guy is a national treasure," he said of Rogers. "It's a shame for them to treat it like a museum piece because he's so relevant still. ... As long as children need to be nurtured, then there is a place for this program because there's nothing else like it."

Linder is right, of course. While animation is great and live-action interstitials between animated shows are better than nothing, none of these attempts at a replacement can compare to the value of a daily dose of the gentle grace of Fred Rogers.

In addition to all this Mister Rogers love online, Sci Fi Channel borrowed -- licensed from FCI -- Rogers' song "It's a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood" for use in amusing promos for the third season of "Eureka." In the spot (available here: video.scifi.com/player/?id=274150), the show's stars dance through the fictional town of Eureka, singing Rogers' classic tune.

WQED programming

WQED's reliance on the same musty, old Britcoms on Saturday night always baffled me until WQED program director Chris Fennimore explained why he keeps the same shows on the air year after year.

It's because people watch them. Fennimore said WQED's Saturday prime-time lineup is the channel's second most popular night of the week, behind "Antiques Roadshow" Mondays.

When WQED inherited Britcoms from WQEX -- after WQED started simulcasting on WQEX in 1997 -- Fennimore put together a WQED Saturday night schedule featuring these WQEX castoffs. WQED signed two-year contracts for the shows, and after the first two years, the ratings were still so big (by WQED standards) that Fennimore said he'd "get kicked out of the programmer's club" if he didn't bring them back.

And so it's gone ever since, with "Keeping up Appearances," "Are You Being Served" and "As Time Goes By" joined by a rotating roster of shows in the 9:30 p.m. time slot. Fennimore said he's changed out the 9:30 shows because they don't get as high ratings as the others.

"To the Manor Born" gave way to "Waiting for God," which will be replaced next month by the 1980 classic "Yes, Minister." Two years from now, the slot will likely go to its sequel series, "Yes, Prime Minister."

Another factor that goes into selecting the shows: finding series that have enough episodes so each episode airs only twice over the course of two years.

More WQED news

At last week's WQED Multimedia board meeting, the company was more than $435,000 below its budgeted break-even as of May 31, although the June 30 number improved to $318,000 below break-even with promises that by the end of the fiscal year in September the company will be in the black.

It was also announced that Karen Farmer-White, vice president of education, is leaving WQED after seven years. WQED president George Miles said he's evaluating the education department and what its needs will be for the future.

WQED now has its own YouTube.com channel at YouTube.com/WQEDPittsburgh.

Upcoming WQED programs of local interest include:

• This month WQED's Neighborhood Channel features the nostalgic theme "The Way We Were" -- a Pittsburgh favorite -- with telecasts of "Things That Aren't There Anymore," "Stuff That's Gone" and "Kennywood Memories."

• "Manfred Honeck: Pittsburgh's New Maestro" (8 p.m. Sept. 18), a profile of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra's new music director.

• "Strange Pennsylvania" (8 p.m. Sept. 25), a new "Dave & Dave" statewide oddities.

• "A Ride Along the Lincoln Highway" (8 p.m. Oct. 29), producer Rick Sebak's latest national special for PBS.

• "On Q" (7:30 p.m. weekdays) returns with live episodes Sept. 29 with a week of reports devoted to the 250th anniversary of Pittsburgh's founding.

Executive director of engineering and operations Paul Byers reported to the board that with the switch to digital in February 2009, the reach of WQEX will grow from 1.7 million viewers in analog to 2.8 million viewers in digital due to a combination of the digital signal carrying further and maximized transmission power. WQED will grow from about 2.8 million viewers in analog to 3.2 million viewers in digital.

New to KDKA

Dave Trygar, a freelancer with a meteorology degree from Penn State, replaces Dennis Bowman as an occasional on-air presence on KDKA-TV now that Bowman is full time in the mornings and at noon on Channel 2. Trygar previously worked at WCMH in Columbus, Ohio; WFMJ in Youngstown; and WBRE in Wilkes-Barre.

'Mad Men' scores

AMC's "Mad Men" got off to a strong second-season start Sunday, doubling its average audience from its first season. Sunday's premiere drew 1.9 million viewers, up from the 915,000 the series averaged in its first year. Viewers interested in seeing the 1962 White House tour by Jacqueline Kennedy, as featured in the "Mad Men" season premiere, can watch it at AMCTV.com.

TV Q&A

This week's TV Q&A responds to questions about "The Middleman," "Flashpoint" and a Pittsburgher's unwavering love of local news hotties. Read it at post-gazette.com/tv in the lower right corner.

Tuned In Podcast

This week Post-Gazette staff writer Tim McNulty and I chat about the season premiere of "Mad Men" and preview episode two. Subscribe or listen at post-gazette.com/podcast.


Contact TV editor Rob Owen at rowen@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1112. Read the Tuned In Journal blog at post-gazette.com/tv .


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