Less 'Mister Rogers' in PBS's future

Stations will get 1 episode a week

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After celebrating 40 years of national broadcasts in February, "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" will be removed from PBS' weekday program service this fall.

Currently, PBS beams the "Neighborhood" to member stations as part of its children's programming block Monday through Friday. Individual stations can choose not to air it, but a majority of PBS stations still do, said executives at Oakland-based Family Communications Inc., the company founded by Fred Rogers to produce the series.

PBS estimates that last month the show was carried by 63 percent of its member stations, covering 79 percent of American TV households.

Come fall, PBS stations won't receive the show daily; one episode per week will be sent.

The move comes five years after Mr. Rogers died in February 2003 of stomach cancer at age 74. Production of the "Neighborhood" had ended in December 2000 and the last original episodes aired in August 2001.

Over the summer, stations that still want to play the "Neighborhood" Monday through Friday will have an opportunity to receive a season's worth of episodes to stockpile. But receiving and scheduling those episodes requires a concerted effort some stations won't be willing to make.

"All programming decisions for PBS stations are local decisions. It's not up to PBS or [Family Communications] to tell them what they're going to play," said Family Communications chief operating officer Kevin Morrison.

"I know that many parents will be disappointed to hear this. ... The right thing to do at this stage is to contact your local PBS station and tell them what your children like to watch."

A WQED Multimedia spokeswoman said Pittsburgh's PBS station will continue to carry the "Neighborhood" Monday through Friday come fall. That's to be expected -- WQED has long been home to the program, which was produced in one of the station's studios.

Other stations may find a spot for the "Neighborhood" in their schedules, but it's unlikely that all the stations that currently carry the show Monday through Friday will continue to do so. Some PBS stations simply run what PBS provides daily without modifications.

"Because it is out of production, we felt this was a bit more of a reasonable distribution plan for us," said PBS spokeswoman Jill Corderman.

"The amount of programming that's coming in is not lightening up," she said. "Martha Speaks," based on the book series, and a new show from the Jim Henson Co. will debut on PBS this fall and an update of "The Electric Company" is expected to premiere in January. "We're trying to find the best fit for everything and give stations access to our legacy pieces like 'Mister Rogers' and give them an option that they can air it but also make room for new [programs]."

Ms. Corderman said new "Neighborhood" content is available at the subscription Web site PBSKidsPlay.org. Guides to the "Neighborhood" for teachers (PBS.org/teachers) and parents (PBS.org/parents) also remain available online. Some episodes of the long-running series have been released on DVD.

The nonprofit Family Communications will derive similar income from license fees in 2008-09 under the new delivery arrangement for "Neighborhood" episodes as the company received in the 2007-08 TV season, Mr. Morrison said. License fees for reruns are significantly lower than for original episodes.

Even as Family Communications tries to keep the "Neighborhood" in the public consciousness, the company continues to develop new programming.

"Family Communications has already said that it intends to stay in the business of providing quality television for preschoolers through PBS, and we're now at an advanced stage in that effort," Mr. Morrison said. "We'll be presenting some new ideas to PBS this summer."

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


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