Finding Fred: A deep dive into the magic of Mister Rogers

January 9th, 2020 By Marisa Jackels

Close up of a person tying a bow in the black laces of their light brown leather shoes.

Are you a good person? What does that mean and what does that look like? How do we make sense of the world around us for ourselves – and our children?

These are just a few of the questions posed in Finding Fred, one of the newest podcasts from iHeartMedia and Fatherly. In it, we follow along with Carvell Wallace – New York Times bestselling author, memoirist, and podcaster – as he explores the nuances and lessons of the beloved children’s show, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.

Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood was not a simple show,” reads the podcast description from Fatherly. “And Fred Rogers was not a simple man. He was radical. Spiritual. Revolutionary. Maybe even subversive. On Finding Fred, Carvell Wallace […] dives into the work of an idiosyncratic and profound thinker, asking what a beloved children’s show host can teach us about surviving and thriving in today’s chaotic world.”

In fact, it may just be “today’s chaotic world” that has prompted the comeback of Mister Rogers in popular culture. With the critically acclaimed documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor released in March 2018, and the more recent A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood starring Tom Hanks, the podcast is the cherry on top of a growing array of efforts to tell Mr. Rogers’ story.

“He slowed the pace down. And that gave him the opportunity to express his love and care for other people, and reach out and touch our hearts as well.”

It is a welcome addition. The podcast provides a unique medium to explore the facets of what makes Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood so timeless, and includes interviews from Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood cast member Francois Clemmons, Rogers biographer Maxwell King, several of the show’s producers, as well as authors and journalists impacted by the program. Wallace proves to be a fitting guide through it all, with his background in covering race, arts, culture and film lending itself to unique perspectives on the culture-shifting, sometimes controversial decisions of Fred Rogers. (Not to mention he has a voice like butter.)

The podcast itself takes on a similar soothing cadence to that of Mr. Rogers’ show. The questions and thoughts are given to you andante – walking tempo; enough that it wouldn’t be the best choice if you’re feeling sleepy on the road. Listening feels like taking a breath, a pause.

Sometimes this cadence can be a little uncomfortable, much like Mr. Rogers speaking can sound “too slow,” which they just so happen to talk about in Episode 2, “Break Don’t Bend.” “They called it Fred time,” says George Wirth, A Presbyterian minister and a close friend of Fred Rogers. “He slowed the pace down. And that gave him the opportunity to express his love and care for other people, and reach out and touch our hearts as well.”

In this, the podcast achieves a similar effect as Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood itself. It takes a slow, deep dive into who Fred Rogers was. He was a minister with a unique mission, “to minister to families through mass media,” a husband and a father, a dear friend who looked at the television cameras and pictured sitting down with one person: you.

This is why the movies, podcasts, photos, and interviews continue to be relevant despite the peak of the Mr. Rogers series coming almost 50 years ago. His programs teach a deeply personal lesson that never grows old: how to be a good neighbor within your relationships, your family, your country, and the world.

In this, Finding Fred is not just for fans of the show Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. It’s for anyone interested in learning more about what makes us human: empathy, feelings, anger, forgiveness, love. In the ten, half-hour episodes, we are allowed a more intimate understanding of how a quiet minister was able to make such a powerful impact through puppets and putting on shoes. By learning more about who Fred Rogers was, we are able to grasp more firmly the characteristics that made he and the show great – and ask ourselves how we too can be a better neighbor.

You can listen to Finding Fred on any podcast app, or find it here.

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