Picks and Pans Review: Talking With...

updated 02/02/1998 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 02/02/1998 AT 01:00 AM EST

>Mister Rogers


IN THE 30 YEARS THAT FRED ROGERS HAS BEEN GENTLY welcoming small fry into Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, his revered weekday children's show (which premiered Feb. 19, 1968 on PBS), some things have never changed. Among them: an emphasis on what Rogers, 69, and an ordained Presbyterian minister, likes to call "the quiet, the slow, the little, the reflective. How much children can teach adults about wonder and simple joys!" he says.

OK, in that spirit we wondered about a few simple things ourselves—like Mister Rogers's omnipresent sweaters. Which does he prefer: buttoned or zippered? "All of mine are zippered," says the amiable host, whose mother, Nancy, a homemaker, used to knit every one of his TV cardigans—including the bright red one that now hangs in Washington's Smithsonian Institution—until she died in 1981. Rogers tapes his show in Pittsburgh, where he lives with his wife, Joanne Byrd, 69, a concert pianist. (They have two sons, James, 38, and John, 36, and two grandchildren, 8 and 4.)

And what gives with those sneakers? Like Jerry Seinfeld, Rogers must have a closetful of them by now. He demurs: "Oh, you must remember, we're a PBS program. I wear them until they wear out."

On his show he treads very lightly. Yes, there was that weeklong segment on divorce in 1981. But don't expect a primer on human cloning. "It's not something preschool children should be concerned about," says Rogers, who's apologetically unhip. The Spice Girls? Hanson? "I don't know who that is," he says. "I hope they don't feel offended."

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