Why A Controversial Mister Rogers Episode Was Banned

When it comes to children's television programs, Mister Rogers' Neighborhood ran longer than most. It's a unique program, in that you appreciate it as a child, scoff at it as you grow, then appreciate it all over again as an adult. Let's face it: Fred Rogers had a lot of good points to make. He's arguably one of the best portrayals of non-toxic masculinity ever to grace TV screens.

Mister Rogers had no problem pushing the boundaries of social thought during the less tolerant times of the 20th century, such as when he invited a Black police officer to share his pool in an episode that aired in 1969. Segregation had only recently been abolished — legally, anyway — and Black Americans were still being treated as less than citizens. At the time that episode aired, it caused quite a stir, because many white Americans wouldn't have done such a thing. The world should've been ready for Rogers to push some very real buttons but, even then, one story arc of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood was considered too controversial to be aired.

The episode in question is actually a short series of five segments — a week's worth — known as the "Conflict Series" that, according to Quartz, originally aired on PBS in 1983. Here's what was going on at that time: The Cold War between the United States and Russia had been rising in tension for decades.

The banned episode from the Cold War

International tensions ratcheted up in 1983 when Reagan proposed the Strategic Defense Initiative and U.S. troops invaded Grenada. Things were looking to pop off. Of all of Fred Rogers's qualities, preeminent among them was honesty with his young audience. He was never one to hide the truth — even, perhaps especially, difficult truth. As the global diplomatic situation seemed to be disintegrating, he created a five-episode series of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood that told children about war in a language that they could understand.

King Friday, the fictional monarch of the "Neighborhood of Make-Believe," and his son, Prince Tuesday, found a package meant for another character. The monarch (a puppet performed and voiced by Rogers himself) wrongly assumes the package is evidence that Corney, the neighborhood's beaver, is stockpiling bombs. This is all thanks to a history lesson they'd learned about war. King Friday pulls a U.S. maneuver (or Russian, depending on which side you're looking from), and orders his kingdom to start funneling funds into preparing for war. The show goes through a storyline that involves misunderstandings, diplomacy, and the irrational paranoia that leaders face in times of potential armed conflict. In the end, the monarchy learns that Corney's package was actually supplies needed to build a bridge. Bridge, not bomb.

The episodes emerged on YouTube for a short while in 2017 before being removed by PBS for copyright violations.