How often does a documentary about public television become a theatrical hit? A profile of Fred Rogers, the popular 2018 film “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” (7 p.m., HBO) reveals some of the spiritual and intellectual depth and substance behind the gentle sweater-wearing television host and puppeteer.
Rogers, who inspired, educated and consoled a generation of young children, was preparing for the ministry when he discovered the power of television.
While he saw children’s programming as his calling and his series “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” as his pulpit, he never preached.
The stop-motion children’s series “Davey and Goliath” spoke about God and discussed biblical elements, but Rogers tweaked the script, replacing “love thy neighbor as thyself” with “won’t you be my neighbor?”
Watching this film made me reflect on how series like “Mister Rogers” and “Sesame Street” invite everybody, while others succeed by exclusivity.
Some such shows suggest a clubhouse. The price of admission to the old “Mickey Mouse Club” was being subjected to a bombardment of advertising for Disney movies, theme parks and toys. Rogers recoiled from the notion of children as easy targets for marketers.
Late-night television adapted elements of a nightclub the jazz band, the comedy monologue, repeated refrains and inside jokes to create an exclusive atmosphere. Viewers were invited to personally identify with Johnny, Dave, Jay or Conan and slip into slumber safe in the assumption that you were in on the joke(s) that others simply didn’t get.
The rise of cable news also encouraged a form of tribal identity.
“The O’Reilly Factor” offered its fans a chance to enter the “No Spin Zone,” a familiar, safe space where viewers’ beliefs were buttressed. Often, Rachel Maddow’s MSNBC show has had the air of an exclusive classroom where she instructs her doting students in the manner of Miss Jean Brodie.
Glenn Beck and Alex Jones, fringe masters of disinformation and cockamamie cabals, project a tinfoil-hat outsider vibe, offering “truths” that set one apart from mere “sheeple.”
Back in 2007, the hosts of the clubby morning show “Fox and Friends” found fault with Rogers, arguing that his emphasis on offering unquestioning love and emotional support to every child had resulted in a generation of snowflakes and wimps. One even called Rogers, a lifelong registered Republican and ordained Presbyterian minister, “evil.” That speaks volumes about the exclusivity of that club.
Since its premiere last year, “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” has become the highest-grossing biographic documentary of all time.
- Pregame and regional coverage of something called the Alliance of American Football (7 p.m., CBS).
- The Houston Rockets host the Oklahoma City Thunder in NBA action (7:30 p.m., ABC).
- A sensitive child can’t escape her father’s shadow in the 2019 drama “Victoria Gotti: My Father’s Daughter” (7 p.m., Lifetime, TV-14).
- A bookstore owner tangles with a developer in the 2019 romance “The Story of Us” (7 p.m., Hallmark, TV-G).
- “Planet Earth: Dynasties” (8 p.m., BBC America, Sundance, TV-PG) spotlights the painted wolf.
- Tales of murder and emotional betrayal unfold on the premiere of the six-part series “Heart of Darkness” (8 p.m., ID).
- Musical guest Halsey hosts “Saturday Night Live” (10:30 p.m., NBC, TV-14).
Unfaithfully yours on “The Simpsons” (7 p.m., Fox, TV-PG) ... Candid camera work on “America’s Funniest Home Videos” (7 p.m., ABC, r, TV-PG) ... A Valentine’s Day row on “Bob’s Burgers” (7:30 p.m., Fox, TV-PG).
Stewie builds a robot on “Family Guy” (8 p.m., Fox, TV-14) ... Two hours of “Shark Tank” (8 p.m. and 9 p.m., ABC, r, TV-PG) ... Closed-circuit celebrity on “The Cool Kids” (8:30 p.m., Fox, r, TV-14) ... “Dateline” (9 p.m., NBC).