Jonah, I’m with you on Mr. Rogers. I didn’t care for his program as a kid, but as an adult — and especially as a parent — I really came to value what he stood for. Children’s programming these days is so frenetic, artless and stylistically coarse, and as I’ve complained before, so much of it is one long commercial for toys and related products. I don’t recall that Mr. Rogers ever licensed his name for marketing purposes. By happenstance, I spent a half hour last night watching a great videocassette sent to me by WAFB Channel 9 in Baton Rouge (thanks, y’all), a special commemorating Buckskin Bill, the local kiddie show host, who was on Channel 9 for something like 40 years. Of course it was a wonderful nostalgia trip for me (up with the Monday Morning March!), but it was also instructive to me as the father of a small boy.
It’s hard to overestimate how much kids from the Baton Rouge area loved Buckskin Bill, and what a big part of our lives he was. How much we trusted him. Yet as is obvious from the old tapes, his program was extremely low-tech, and very gentle. There is no place for a Buckskin Bill in a Spongebob Squarepants world. Yeah, yeah, it’s pathetic to listen to older people sit around whining about how they don’t make ‘em like they used to anymore, but I really do believe it’s a huge loss for children that contemporary TV has formatted their brains to require jolts of manic entertainment, such that a Mr. Rogers or a Buckskin Bill comes off not as comforting but dull.