The presence of Fred Rogers seems to be fading from Pittsburgh

Idlewild and SoakZone to replace Mister Rogers Neighborhood of Make-Believe ride


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Ask Ryan Stephens if he knows who Mister Rogers is and his 4-year-old head shakes from side to side. Ask him about Daniel Tiger and that head changes direction, as he nods up and down.

The Fred Rogers Company remains relevant among young children, producing hit television shows such as "Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood" and "Peg + Cat." But what of Fred Rogers himself?

Idlewild and SoakZone announced Wednesday that the Mister Rogers' Neighborhood of Make-Believe ride has ended its run and will be revamped for 2015 with the new theme of "Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood," PBS's successor program to "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood," in the same location.

The move at the Ligonier amusement park mirrors the fate of "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" on PBS, where it was downgraded from daily airings to weekends in 2009 with some stations not carrying the show at all.

A Mister Rogers exhibit that had been part of the Children's Museum of Pittsburgh since 1998 was disassembled in 2011 to make room for a new MakeShop exhibit, with its components moved to different locations around the museum. A traveling Mister Rogers exhibit that was given to the Louisiana Children's Museum after Hurricane Katrina was modified in 2012, with pieces of the exhibit used as part of a literacy room.

"Today's children don't have the memories of Mister Rogers that 20-year-olds, 30-year-olds, 40-year-olds do," said Julia Bland, CEO of the Louisiana Children's Museum in New Orleans.

There's a lot to admire about Mister Rogers, said Jackie Stephens of Center, having lunch with son Ryan and daughter Kaylee, 5, in the Children's Museum cafeteria Wednesday afternoon.

But it's just not something that her children have run across in popular culture, where the show doesn't quite fit in among the frenetic "Yo Gabba Gabba" series of today's children's television.

"He's a lot more slow paced than the world is today," she said. "He's much more about taking his time and explaining something."

The decision to remove the old Neighborhood of Make-Believe ride -- which opened in 1989 and featured animatronic versions of King Friday XIII, X the Owl, the Platypus family and Daniel Striped Tiger -- was a mutual decision between Idlewild and the Fred Rogers Company, said company CEO Bill Isler.

Given that the ride needed to be refurbished, the South Side-based Fred Rogers Company is happy to still have a presence at Idlewild, he said. "Obviously Mister Rogers is not on the air and Daniel Tiger is," he said. Mr. Isler did note that "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" is available for streaming on Amazon Prime, and that Amazon has been "very, very happy" with the demand for the show. Limited episodes are also available for streaming through PBSkids.org.

When the "Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood"-themed attraction opens in 2015 it will include a live-action show featuring Daniel and other characters from the PBS Kids series. Jeff Croushore, Idlewild public relations manager, said the common thread between the late Fred Rogers' show and "Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood" is the trolley. So, the new attraction will retain that feature.

"The Fred Rogers Company has moved forward with the new series, and kids really identify with the new series," Mr. Croushore said. "Of course everyone in the region loves 'Mister Rogers' Neighborhood' but we wanted to reach out to the kids of today."

The decision wasn't particularly popular on Wednesday with parents at the Children's Museum. They lamented the decision to change the ride.

“They certainly keep other historical figures up around here just because they meant something to someone,” said Lindsey Diehl, of Markleysburg, Fayette County, as her 6-year-old, Josey, excitedly pointed to the Mister Rogers puppets nearby. “Why is he less important than Andy Warhol?”

Mister Rogers does live on in Pittsburgh through a statue on the North Shore that debuted in 2009. An exhibit at the Heinz History Center is in the works, said Mr. Isler, with items from the set that were given to the museum after the Fred Rogers Company moved out of the WQED studios last year.


TV writer Rob Owen: rowen@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2582. Read the Tuned In Journal blog at post-gazette.com/tv. Follow RobOwenTV on Twitter or Facebook. Anya Sostek: asostek@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1308. First Published March 13, 2014 10:30 AM

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