TV Special Honors Mr. Rogers's Legacy

updated 12/29/2003 at 12:00 AM EST

originally published 12/29/2003 5:42PM

A TV documentary honoring Fred Rogers, one of America's favorite small-screen heroes, who died this past February at age 74, will air New Year's Day evening on PBS and celebrate the gentle host of "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood," reports the Associated Press.

"Fred Rogers: America's Favorite Neighbor" will focus on Rogers's early years in Latrobe, Pa., his start in TV with NBC in New York and his work in founding WQED in Pittsburgh, the first community-owned TV station. He also, as the show details, possessed an uncanny ability to view the world from the perspective of a youngster.

"I really think it was a gift," his widow Joanne Rogers says, as quoted by AP. "He had a gift for being able to see through a child's eyes."

Speaking to The Washington Post about the special, David Newell, who played the harried deliveryman Mr. McFeely on "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" since the show first began in 1968, says: "It's a nice way of introducing people to the adult Fred."

He adds: "A lot of adults don't understand the 'Neighborhood' at first viewing. This explains a lot of why he does what he does on television. It gives the essence of Fred Rogers in a short time."

"Batman" actor Michael Keaton, who worked as a stagehand in the late 1970s for WQED, narrates the documentary.

"I knew Fred Rogers and worked with Fred Rogers, and he was essentially the same guy off camera as he was on camera," Keaton, 52, says in the documentary, according to The Post.

"We obviously didn't know back then that 'Neighborhood' would become the longest-running program on public television," continues the actor. "It was a simple, old-fashioned production that everybody really enjoyed working on."

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