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You Might Have Mr. Rogers to Thank For Your Movie Collection

I love movies. I watch them, I write about them… heck, I even work at a movie theater these days. Among my various duties therein, such as selling tickets, hosting screenings, and programming film projectors, is managing said theater’s Twitter account. I like to take pride in my particular cinema’s eclectic tastes, so on what would have been Fred Rogers’ 87th birthday, I set out to do something slightly off-the-cuff and different: write a short tweet extolling the man’s important contribution to film.

“Contribution to film?” you might ask suspiciously. “Mr. Rogers was never in any film!” And your suspicion would be accurate. Fred Rogers never acted in a movie, even though he won 4 Emmys and a Peabody for his iconic children’s program ‘Mr Rogers’ Neighborhood’. And he never filmed in Hollywood, preferring to work in his home state of Pennsylvania and nearby-ish Toronto. Fred was a TV man through and through, singlemindedly focused and determined to revamp an industry that he felt was lacking in values and moral fiber. Mr. Rogers didn’t really have any connections to movies or the movie industry at all.

… Unless you enjoy the ability to watch movies at home, a contemporary technology that may have been stifled and banned if not for Fred Rogers.

Back in the 70s, the TV studios tried to kill VCR and Betamax technology, arguing that people owning a self-recorded copy of their television works were participating in copyright infringement. The lawsuit, put into motion by Universal Studios against Sony, went all the way to the Supreme Court. A judgment against Sony would have essentially banned the VCR and ended legal home recording.

Even though such a judgment may have eventually helped Fred financially as the star of a popular kids TV show, he testified in Congress AGAINST Universal, forcefully arguing that home recording was a beneficial tool and would be a boon for families who wanted to watch educational programming (such as his show) together but whose schedules didn’t allow for it. After retiring, the Court was hugely conflicted while considering its verdict and several justices switched sides during the decision-making process. It ultimately sided with Sony in a tight 5-4 ruling, categorizing home recordings of television shows as “fair use”. Many close followers of the case were quoted as saying that Rogers’ testimony was a huge lift to Sony’s side and the majority decision even quoted him in its legal explanation. That was how powerful and respected a figure the man in the cardigan sweater was. The ruling ultimately led to the massive popularity of the VCR and, with it, the enormous home video market that followed.

I still haven’t written that tweet and there’s a good chance I won’t. Fred Rogers’ advocacy and charity just does not lend itself well to pithy witticisms and is much more suitable a full-length appreciation, which I have attempted here in my own small way. There are plenty of reasons to admire and love Fred Rogers and “I like movies” should be somewhere on that list. Because if not for Fred Rogers, a man who never worked on a movie set in his life, you might just be living in a world without Hulu, Netflix, DVR, TiVo, DVDs, Blu-Rays, and on and on.

So we movie fans are indebted to you for that, Fred, among so many other things. Happy birthday, neighbor. We miss you.

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The Author

Gabriel Ruzin

Gabriel Ruzin

Gabriel is a genre film lover, giddy in the presence of beauty and awesomeness, cranky in the presence of artless junk. His first movie memory is watching Khan die in STAR TREK II as a 4-year-old (true story). Gabriel started his online writing 'career' a few years back on a WP blog before graduating to writing for a few bonafide movie sites, including serving as an editor for two. The Coen brothers, Terry Gilliam, and David Fincher are among his favorite directors. He co-hosted the Telluride Horror Show in 2011, 2012, and will host again in 2013. In the midst of writing a book on THE TWILIGHT ZONE for Applause Books. Film trivia whiz. Facial hair artiste.