COLUMBIA -- When Columbia father Brian Linder heard that after 40 years of charming youngsters, "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" was entering semi-retirement, he sprang into action faster than Speedy Delivery with a campaign to encourage viewers to contact their local stations.
PBS announced in June that it was dropping the famous cardigan-wearing character created by Fred Rogers from its daily syndicated feed. Instead, it will offer one weekend episode. Stations have the option to stockpile the episodes and air them as they please or pull the show's daily airings altogether.
Linder has a morning tradition with his twin 1-year-old daughters, Zoe and Grace. They watch Mister Rogers together after breakfast before he goes to work as a writer for IGNmovies.com.
"The show was a big deal for me growing up, but my girls now have gotten into it," he said. "It's one of the few shows (he and his wife, Carrie) let them watch. Over the past six months or so, they seem to have really fallen in love with the show."
Using the Internet to spread message
At first, Linder turned to Facebook to spread his message. The page has nearly 4,000 friends who want to make sure their beloved show remains on air daily for the next wave of children to enjoy.
As the Facebook page began to grow, Linder wondered if he needed to branch out. So he launched savemisterrogers.com, where visitors can keep up with the latest news and get information on how to contact PBS and their local stations.
To Linder's relief, South Carolina's public broadcasting network, ETV, will continue daily airings of "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood," but is moving them to its digital South Carolina Channel starting Monday. The show's daily spot on the basic channel will be filled by the literacy show "Between the Lions."
"We really do understand the affection for the program," ETV vice president of communications Catherine Christman said. "We are very respectful of that. Our challenge is to allow enough space in our programming to present children today with not only the classics but new programming as well."
Linder's satellite TV lineup doesn't include the South Carolina Channel, so he'll have to switch to digital cable, but he said the hassle is worth it.
"I just really believe that there is something unique that this guy did that no other program has ever offered. There is a nurturing and special type of communication. There's nothing like it today."
Rogers, who died in 2003, did develop a unique way to reach children. His quiet persona is very different from many of the high-energy animated characters in new shows.
"First of all, we do know that Mister Rogers was very successful in teaching children a variety of lessons, from how to solve conflicts with friends and how to be nice to your siblings," said Rebekah Richert, a cognitive development researcher and assistant professor at the University of California.
"One thing that Mister Rogers did very well was he talked at the camera as if he was talking to the children. This method helps children learn."
According to Linder, savemisterrogers.com has about 2,000 visitors a day. It has attracted the attention of Fred Rogers' widow, Joanne, who wrote, "I am thrilled to know about this movement! There should be room for ageless, valuable programming on the PBS menu for the people who care what their young children are given to watch. In my opinion, `The Neighborhood' is needed now more than ever. I thank you with all my heart."
Even though Linder is pleased that he will be able to continue his morning tradition with his children, he remains dedicated to the cause. Despite its dated look the show stopped filming in 2001 he believes Mister Rogers still has many important lessons to impart to today's viewers.
"There are some segments that are visually dated to adults that are watching, but children aren't going to notice that the drapes are out of date or the haircuts are out of style. (The show) offers the nurturing elements. Those things are timeless."