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'Mister Rogers' To Tape Final Shows

PITTSBURGH (AP) — It's a sad day in the neighborhood. Longtime children's TV host Fred Rogers plans to introduce his last new neighbor next year, his production company announced Saturday.

The 71-year-old host and creator of ``Mister Rogers' Neighborhood'' will shoot the final episode of the show in 2001, but he won't be hanging up his cardigan just yet.

After 50 years in television and 33 years as the show's host, Rogers is turning his attention to his Web sites, publications and special museum programs. And he'll still provide gentle advice in reruns.

``Fred is not retiring,'' said his production company, Family Communications.

Rogers has produced almost 1,000 programs and averaged about 10 new episodes in each of the last few years.

Most shows now broadcast on Public Broadcasting Service stations are repeats, said George Miles, president of WQED in Pittsburgh, the station where the show is taped.

``Many of the programs go back many number of years, but the messages are the same,'' Miles said.

The show has gained a wide audience among children and parents who appreciate its simple lessons and Rogers' soothing manner.

Rogers has taught children how to share, how to deal with anger and even how not to fear the bathtub by assuring them they'll never go down the drain.

David Newell, who plays ``Speedy Delivery'' man Mr. McFeely on the show, said Rogers always wrote new episodes hoping future audiences could continue to learn from them.

``He would take subjects such as a new baby or sibling rivalry or dealing with angry feelings — subjects that are timeless. Every generation can use help with those subjects,'' Newell said. ``We did a week on divorce. We did a week on going to school which we repeat every year.''

During the Persian Gulf War, Rogers told youngsters that ``all children shall be well taken care of in this neighborhood and beyond — in times of war and in times of peace,'' and he asked parents to promise their children they would always be safe.

Rogers' television career began in 1951 when he was hired as an assistant producer for NBC. He worked in Pittsburgh television as a puppeteer and producer on ``The Children's Corner,'' which introduced many of the characters that would become Neighborhood regulars, including Daniel Striped Tiger, King Friday XIII, X the Owl and Lady Elaine Fairchilde.

``Mister Rogers' Neighborhood'' first aired on WQED in 1967, and PBS began distributing it nationally the following year.


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