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Mr. Rogers 'hated' TV -- so 45 years ago, he changed it

Fred Rogers created "Mister Rogers Neighborhood" to give kids an alternative to "demeaning" TV.
Fred Rogers created "Mister Rogers Neighborhood" to give kids an alternative to "demeaning" TV.Jim Judkis / Today

We all have our complaints when it comes to the state of things on the boob tube. But whether we're bothered by too much reality programming, too much violence, not enough educational content or just the overall quality of all of it, most of us never really do anything about it.

Sure, we might flip the channel or even get so tired of it that we -- gasp! -- just turn the TV off. What we don't do is fix it. 

Of course, we can't all be like Mister Rogers.

When Fred Rogers decided that he "hated" what the small screen had to offer, he did something about it.

"I got into television because I saw people throwing pies at each other's faces, and that to me was such demeaning behavior. And if there's anything that bothers me, it's one person demeaning another," he confessed to Amy Hollingsworth, author of "The Simple Faith of Mister Rogers." "That really makes me mad!"

Those of us who grew up with Rogers' gentle presence might have a hard time imagining him so angry, but we benefited from that anger all the same.

On Feb. 19 1968, "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" premiered nationwide and introduced children to a different sort of television show -- one focused on boosting self-esteem, understanding challenges unique to childhood and satisfying the sense of curiosity kids of all ages possess.

That's a tall order for a modest show, but thanks the minister-turned-songwriter-turned-puppeteer-turned-TV-changer at the helm, "Mister Rogers Neighborhood" did all that and more.

From his upbeat greeting -- complete with song, sweater switcheroo and shoe change -- to his candid way of engaging a national audience as though he was speaking to just one child, to his willingness to tackle tough topics in an anything-but-tough manner, Mister Rogers found a way to make a difference using the medium he originally found so offensive.

The change went beyond his own show. In 1969, while still relatively new to the national spotlight, Rogers went to Washington to fight for funds to keep the Corporation for Public Broadcasting in business.

His impassioned plea to Congress, memorialized in a now-viral video, gave no-nonsense Senator John O. Pastore goose bumps.

"Looks like you just earned the $20 million," Pastore said when it was over.

That money would eventually go toward quality programming far beyond the "Neighborhood."

Now, 45 years after Mister Rogers first became a household name, television still features scenes the he would have no doubt find "demeaning" and -- let's face it -- far worse than pies to the face, but it also carries on his legacy by offering kids many alternatives.

What are your favorite memories from"Mister Rogers' Neighborhood"? Tell us on our Facebook page.

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