It’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is based on a Esquire story by writer Tom Junod, who profiled the iconic children’s show host in 1998. From his Pittsburgh-based public television studio, Fred Rogers gave millions of children a hopeful look at what a walkable, connected community was supposed to look like, from city workers who were on a first-name basis with constituents, to an entire transit-oriented Neighborhood of Make Believe accessible by a chirpy trolley.
For all its utopian vision, Rogers also explained complicated and often weighty urban topics to his young audience. Architecture is demystified by a visit to Maya Lin’s studio where she’s making “small models of big things she’s working on.” A trip to the local fire station is complete with Rogers being strapped into a gurney by first responders to show kids what could happen in an emergency. It’s reminiscent of his “look for the helpers” advice for helping kids deal with trauma that often goes viral after tragic events.
The content was geared to adults, too, as Rogers tackled major issues that cities were facing at the time. In 1969, Rogers’ character shared a kiddie pool with Officer Clemmons as anti-segregation protests rocked public pools across the country. The gesture was more than symbolic. Pittsburgh actor François Clemmons became the first African American to play a recurring character on a children’s television show, a role he played for 25 years.