Mister Rogers' Neighborhood was among the most famous, enduring, and fondly-remembered children's television shows. Host Fred Rogers used his gentle charm and mannerisms to communicate with his audience of children. Topics centered on nearly every conceivable matter of concern to children, ranging from everyday fears related to going to sleep, getting immunizations and disappointment about not getting one's way to losing a loved one to death and physical handicaps. One of his strong beliefs was to not talk down to, patronize, or belittle his child audience when dealing with material.
Rogers used simple songs and, on nearly every show, segments from the Neighborhood of Make-Believe to make his point. The fantasy neighborhood was inhabited by puppet characters including King Friday XIII, Lady Elaine Fairchild and Daniel Striped Tiger. (Rogers also supplied the voices of many of the puppet characters.)
The program was taped at WQED-TV in Pittsburgh; first-run shows were produced from 1968 to 1976, at which time production was suspended until August 20, 1979. New programs were taped through 2001 for broadcast alongside the original 460 episodes, the most notable coming in 1991 with Rogers' shows focusing on calming children's fears during the Persian Gulf War.
In episode #1482, "Mister Rogers Visits An Art Museum", King Friday had announced an art contest for the best painting of the Land of Make Believe. When Henrietta Pussycat gets wind of Big Bird coming to enter the contest, she becomes jealous of his friendship with her best friend X the Owl. Big Bird appears in episode #1483 (the next episode) entitled "Mister Rogers Talks About Competition," which originally aired on June 3, 1981.
Prior to Big Bird's arrival, Queen Saturday wonders how big their visitor is, and when informed of his size, she hopes that he's tame. Handyman Joe Negri assures her that not only is he tame, but "he's even featured on television a lot." Big Bird arrives with his painting and is welcomed by the many signs and pictures which X posted around his tree. He realizes right away that Henrietta is not very welcoming, but assures her that he's just passing through and would never take her best friend.
Handyman Negri leads Big Bird over to King Friday's castle where they are greeted by Lady Elaine. Looking to take advantage in the contest, she tells Big Bird that his painting is too large to be submitted for consideration. The king, however, dismisses this point and welcomes Big Bird into his kingdom. After King Friday invites him into his bubble room, he asks if he's related to the cassowary (a flightless bird). Big Bird replies that he's actually a golden condor and he enters the castle.
Caroll Spinney agreed to appear in the episode as Big Bird after some dialogue with Fred Rogers; when Spinney originally received the script for the show he saw it required him to remove the costume and discuss the inner-workings of the Big Bird puppet. Spinney protested, as he didn't believe in ruining the illusion of Big Bird for the children. Rogers agreed, but only under the stipulation that Big Bird’s appearance was restricted to the fantasy segments of the "Neighborhood of Make-Believe," as he didn’t believe in perpetuating the deceitful blur of real and pretend to children that occurred when presenting the character as real in the "real world."
While Sesame Street Unpaved mentions that Rogers understood Spinney's concern over showing the children how Big Bird works, Spinney said at some of his book signings (promoting his autobiography, The Wisdom of Big Bird) that he and Fred Rogers argued over the phone for roughly twenty minutes over whether or not to have him tell the kids how he performs Big Bird.
In the same episode, Rogers still throws a disguised punch back at Spinney by putting on a tall giraffe costume shortly before Big Bird's appearance, stating to the child viewer "When you see big make-believe creatures in parades or in plays or on television, you can know that the people inside are just pretending to be something else." He adds "Sometimes of course there are machines inside of them too, that make them move. But they're just pretend."
This episode was one of the many episodes of the show released on DVD in 2010, as part of Amazon.com's "burn-on-demand" service.
- In an appearance on The Electric Company, Fargo North has trouble determining where he's seen Big Bird before, and finally assumes that the bird is Mr. Rogers.
- In an Ernie and Bert sketch, Bert is writing a letter to Mr. Rogers before Ernie blows it away with his fan.
- In Follow That Bird, newscaster Chevy Chase recites the opening lines from the Mister Rogers' Neighborhood theme song as he does the weather forecast.
- In Sesame Street Episode 2622, it is revealed that Shelley the Turtle's shell has a TV inside so he would never missed this favorite show.
- In a Sesame Street sketch, Cookie Monster tries to get Prairie Dawn's cookie. In one of their imaginary situations, Cookie makes her look the other way by claiming Mr. Rogers is behind her.
- In "Georgie Must Die" of Dinosaurs, one of the fictional street signs seen on the Georgie's set reads "Georgie's Neighborhood."
- In "Too Good to Be True" of Aliens in the Family, Snizzy's transformation/duplicate machine has a dial that goes from mean to the highest of nice, Mr. Rogers. As the transformation is about to finish, a few bars from the theme song was played.
- In "I Gotta Be Me" from Bear in the Big Blue House, Bear dons a grayish sweater and tells us that "It's a beautiful day in the neighborhood" (doing a Fred Rogers imitation). Some music plays that sounds reminiscent of the theme of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood and he suggests that maybe he should get a pair of sneakers.
- Detective Big Bird decides to take a case from Mr. Maestro, despite the fact that "Mr. Rogers" was about to start in Big Bird Discovers the Orchestra.
- During Elmo's 2001 appearance on Hollywood Squares, he fields a question about Mister Rogers and sings some of the theme song.
- Mr. Rogers is one of a long list of celebrities Kermit calls for help during It's a Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie.
- In Sesame Street Episode 3787, Telly Monster takes Chuckie home to watch the program as it always makes him feel better.
- The 30th Annual Daytime Emmy Awards featured a montage of songs from Mister Rogers' Neighborhood as sung by Wayne Brady, Elmo, Zoe, Grover, Rosita and Big Bird.
- In Episode 4088 of Sesame Street, broadcast two years after Fred Rogers' death, the Fairy Balloon Person (Richard Kind) announces that someone in Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood wants a balloon: "I'll bet it's a beautiful day there."
- In issue #1 of The Treasure of Peg-Leg Wilson, Scooter calls Ninja Rogers "Mister Rogers" when he apologizes to him for not having any open slots for him to perform his tap dance on The Muppet Show.