One of PBS’ most famous and influential personalities of all-time, Fred Rogers, will be returning to the public broadcast network in 2019.
PBS has secured rights to Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, this summer’s hit documentary about the late Rogers and his iconic children’s show, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. It will air the doc on Independent Lens “early next year,” PBS president and CEO Paula Kerger said today at the Television Critics Association’s summer press tour in Los Angeles.
“It’s an extraordinarily uplifting piece,” Kerger said of the documentary, which has already made $20 million at the box office this summer.
“That quiet man in the red cardigan … really caught fire this year,” which marks the 50th anniversary of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood’s national television debut, said Kerger. “It feels like there is a Fred Rogers moment that is really tremendously important and resonant.”
In March, PBS aired its own one-hour documentary about Rogers, entitled Mister Rogers: It’s You I Like. And Tom Hanks is set to play Rogers in an upcoming movie about his life, You Are My Friend.
“The American people view public television as an extension of their community, a valued source of information and education. … Parents trust us with the most previous par of their life: their children,” said Kerger. “Nobody understood this better than Fred Rogers.”
Rogers’ legacy at PBS, where Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood aired through 2001 before his death two years later, lives on in the network’s hit series Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood. That series was created by Rogers’ protégé, Angela Santomero, who “reimagined it for this generation,” said Kerger.
In other PBS news from press tour, the company has named Perry Simon named chief programming executive and gm for PBS. The former BBC America GM and Viacom Productions president, whom Kerger called “an accomplished leader,” will start in late September.
The position has been open since February, when Beth Hoppe departed to become ABC News’ svp for long-form programming.
Simon has a strong drama background, but PBS is interested in programming of all genres. “We’re obviously looking for now and compelling drama, but we’re also looking for a range of programs that we don’t see in other places,” said Kerger.
One of Simon’s tasks will be to find something that will replicate the success of Downton Abbey, which ran for six seasons.
“We’re always looking for that new something,” said Kerger, who called Downton “lightning in a bottle … but I think lightning strikes more than once.”