PBS Chief Paula Kerger Talks ‘Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood,’ Exec and On-Air Diversity

Paula Kerger, President and CEO of
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Fifty years after the show first premiered, “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” is having a moment — fueled in part by Morgan Neville’s documentary “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?”

PBS has been promoting the anniversary of Rogers’ signature children’s show this year. Speaking at the Television Critics Association’s summer press tour Monday, PBS CEO Paula Kerger discussed how Rogers has continued to have an impact on the public broadcaster and American culture long after his death.

“The range of people that have come up to me to tell me these unbelievable Fred Rogers stories and how Fred had made a difference in their life is quite extraordinary,” Kerger said. “If there’s a way, that even by that storytelling, we can help bring people together, I think that’s a very powerful thing.”

PBS is currently home to “Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood,” an animated children’s series from the Fred Rogers Company and Angela Santomero, featuring characters created by Rogers. Kerger spoke about the effect that Rogers’ legacy through that show, as well as that of original “Sesame Street” producer Joan Cooney, still has on PBS.

“Joan Cooney with ‘Sesame Street,’ Fred Rogers, these were people that realized that this was a medium that could be used for entertainment purposes in quite a powerful way and that reached into every home across the country that had access to television,” she said. “So we are trying to remind families of the power of the work that we do.”

Kerger announced Monday that Neville’s film will air on PBS next year as part of the “Independent Lens” documentary series. “It’s been interesting from my perspective, looking across at all of the things that we do in public broadcasting,” Kerger said. “We are a variety service, which is both a blessing and sometimes a curse because we have a little bit of a lot, and the thing that seems to have really caught fire this year is that quiet man in a red cardigan. And it’s been so amazing to see the stories about him. We already had one documentary about Fred on public broadcasting.”

Kerger also spoke Monday to PBS’ diversity — in its executive ranks and on its air.

“We always try to be reflective of the communities that we serve, and so this is something that we pay attention to quite carefully both in front of and behind the camera,” Kerger asked, responding to a question that made reference to embattled CBS CEO Leslie Moonves. “So if you look at the range of programs that we are bringing to the press tour, if you look at our ongoing schedule, if you look frankly even at our children’s programming, we are very mindful and purposeful about how we try to make sure that people can see themselves reflected in the work that we do.”