Happy Birthday, Mr. Rogers!

March 20 is Fred Rogers’ birthday. He would have been 90 today.

We’ve been celebrating the man and his show over the past few weeks with documentaries and trivia but I thought it might be nice to look at one of best remembered and most beloved moments of Rogers’ entire career … the day he testified before the United States Senate Subcommittee on Communications to challenge the cuts for public broadcasting. If you haven’t viewed this video, take a few minutes to do so. Mister Rogers was an iconic television personality who will never be forgotten. His program has educated and entertained children for fifty years now and will be available for generations to come. But this gentle, impassioned plea on behalf of public broadcasting is legendary and a prime example of why Fred Rogers is revered by those of us in the industry.

RIP Gene Wilder (1933-2016)

Late yesterday, I discovered the sad news that Gene Wilder had died. The beloved actor passed away Sunday in his Stamford, Connecticut home from complications from Alzheimer’s disease.

Like most, I remember Wilder as the titular eccentric chocolatier in the 1971 film Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory and from his exceptional roles in multiple Mel Brooks movies (The Producers, Young Frankenstein, Blazing Saddles). As a film buff, I even take note of his appearances in feature films like Bonnie and Clyde and The Little Prince. Plus, he was a perfect comedic partner for the late Richard Pryor in movies like Silver Streak and Stir Crazy, among others.

However – and the reason I’m mentioning him in a blog about public broadcasting – I will always fondly recall Gene Wilder as the voice of the heroic Letterman on the 1970s kids show The Electric Company. You remember: “Faster than a rolling O – Stronger than silent E – Able to leap capital T in a single bound! It’s a word, it’s a plan…it’s Letterman!” Yes, that Letterman! The wonderful animated “Adventures Of Letterman” wasn’t even an initial part of the show but debuted in season two. Moreover, Gene Wilder wasn’t even the sole voice of the character (apparently early installments used different voice actors) yet became singularly associated with Letterman by bestowing an affable, easy-going everyman demeanor on the hero.

Personally, I’m thankful for this oft-forgotten PBS connection. Gene Wilder was a fantastic talent and he will be sorely missed. But he leaves behind a tremendous legacy of film, television and more.

Sherlock BC (Before Cumberbatch)

I just discovered that today, November 3, is the late Jeremy Brett’s birthday.

For those unaware that Sherlock Holmes had a PBS presence before Benedict Cumberbatch, Jeremy Brett played Doyle’s super sleuth in several series which aired on Mystery! beginning in the mid-80s. Brett embodied Holmes for a generation of PBS viewers and was perhaps one of the most recognizable and more popular faces from Mystery! in that decade (along with John Thaw’s Inspector Morse and Leo McKern’s Rumpole of the Bailey).

Sadly, we lost Brett in 1995 at the age of 61. I think it’s safe to say he remains the quintessential Sherlock Holmes for many UNC-TV fans.