Mister Rogers: He wasn't edgy but he was sincere

My family may have played a small role in Fred Rogers' declining ratings. When our children were growing up, we watched "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" - but not for very long. Though it has been some years - our girls are 13, 16 and 24 - I recollect that the girls had a greater love for "Sesame Street." It was faster paced, the characters were funnier - at least I thought so - and there were double-entendres that adults could appreciate.

Sesame Street was edgier or as edgy as a good kids show ought to get. And Mister Rogers. He was simply sincere.

But as with a lot of programming on PBS that we don't watch frequently or at all, I was glad Mister Rogers was there for my kids, your kids, others people's kids. He loved children, you could tell. And there would be times - not often - that I would sit in front of the television and watch him all by myself, basking in his caring.

During those times, Mister Rogers reached me with his little song, "It's a beautiful day in the neighborhood." I grew up in a beautiful neighborhood. My kids have, too. Sometimes it's easy to forget that or to fail to appreciate it. If I have a problem in my neighborhood, like the time I locked myself out of the house while in my underwear, I know that the neighbors to my right and to my left will help me without first calling the police.

Wait, that's edgy humor. Let me put it this way. I know that the neighbors to my right and left and down the street will buy my kids' Girl Scout cookies. And in return when their kids are working on a merit badge in journalism, I'll help that child. The people I live amongst have Mister Rogers values.

I was trying to get to work early this morning, but when I saw that Mister Rogers had died I stopped in my tracks and watched every second of the Today show's tribute.

I learned that he died of stomach cancer. I wondered if he had suffered. That would have been cruel.

He had two sons. What would it have been like to have been his boy? Did he ever raise his voice at them, spank them, tell them to go play in traffic, even just once? I hope one or both of them finds the strength to eulogize him, because they knew him as we couldn't.

There was tape of Mister Rogers slipping on his sneakers. He had no shoe contract that I know of. Bet he could have gotten rich just off of that. Glad he didn't.

He recorded public service announcements telling parents how to help their children deal with the anniversary of the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11. I don't remember seeing them, but I know Fred Rogers would know exactly what to say to our children. And that I didn't.

An article that I have in front of me charts the decline in the ratings for "Mister Rogers." It says they peaked in 1985-86 when about 8 percent of all households with televisions tuned in. By the 1999-200 season, viewership had fallen to 2.7 percent. Mister Rogers last new show aired in August 2001.

Even at its low ebb, 3.6 million people were watching Mister Rogers. But lots of other kids grew up and moved on to shows like MTV's "Real World" and "The Osbournes." I've watched the former and it makes my stomach turn. I haven't ever seen the latter, but have heard enough to know it isn't for me.

Even so, my kids watch them both. We let them. Forbidden fruit is far too tempting, we believe.

But my kids are good kids. And I believe they are because of what Mister Rogers represents. "I feel the greatest gift we can give to anybody is the gift of our honest self," Fred Rogers once said.

God bless you, Mister Rogers. It's hard to believe that you're in a better place than the one you created for our children. But I hope that you are.