For American kids, it was always ‘A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood’

New film starring Tom Hanks commemorates 'Mr. Rogers'

Today's expression: Get down to business
Explore more: Lesson #216
December 16, 2019:

Over the course of 31 years and over 900 half-hour episodes, Fred Rogers was a friendly television neighbor and mentor to generations of American children, who knew him as simply "Mr. Rogers." A new movie, starring Tom Hanks as Mr. Rogers, explores the impact he had on children. He wasn't afraid to confront topics big and small and always spoke to children on their level. Plus, learn the English phrase "get down to business."

Be your best self in English

Move confidently through the English-speaking world

Listen

  • Learning speed
  • Full speed

Learn

TranscriptActivitiesDig deeperYour turn
No translationsEspañol中文FrançaisPortuguês日本語ItalianoDeutschTürkçePolski

Tom Hanks perfectly channels an icon of American childhood, Mr. Rogers

Hi there, welcome once again to Plain English, your recipe for success. I’m Jeff; the producer of this fine program is JR; and this is episode number 216. You can find all the episode resources for this program at PlainEnglish.com/216.

Coming up today: We’re going to take a trip back in time to when we were all little kids. And by “we,” I mean, anyone who grew up in the United States between 1968 and 2001. In a remarkable thirty-one-year span, Fred Rogers hosted a television program for children called “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood.” I watched it; we all watched it. We grew up with Mr. Rogers. And now, several years after his death, he is portrayed on the big screen by none other than Tom Hanks in the new movie called “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood.” Mr. Rogers is a very quotable guy, so I had no trouble selecting a quote for this week. And our English expression is “to get down to business.” Now it is time for us to get down to business—the very serious business of children’s TV.


Tom Hanks plays American icon Mr. Rogers perfectly

“Won’t you be my neighbor?” This simple question is one that generations of American children recognize as the gentle invitation they received from Fred Rogers, the host of a television program called “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood.” The theme song asks, “Won’t you be my neighbor?” and it always asserts that it’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood. That is the title of a new movie starring Tom Hanks as Mr. Rogers: “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood.”

Before we talk about the movie, I want to tell you a bit about the show. I watched Mr. Rogers as a kid. Everyone I knew watched it. He was the television neighbor to generations of kids, in an era before YouTube, in an era before cable television and the fragmented media we have today. Over a thirty-one-year run—spanning from 1968 to 2001—Mr. Rogers looked into the camera and spoke directly to children as equals in 912 half-hour episodes. Nine-hundred twelve episodes! He didn’t talk down to them—to us—and he didn’t sound like a typical adult.

He invented a little world called Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood and he invited all the country’s children to be his neighbor. And as our neighbor, he educated us, comforted us, and taught us how to experience and handle the difficult world around us.

Let me give you an example. What does it mean when someone has to go to the hospital? Many of us are born in hospitals, but as children we don’t really know what it means when an adult has to go to a hospital. This is the type of topic that Mr. Rogers would explore on the show. Why can that person not be at home? Is that person going to die? Is that person permanently broken? Why is everyone acting so differently when someone is in the hospital? Mr. Rogers would look us right in the eye and he would explain to us in words we could understand what it meant when an adult had to go to the hospital. He wouldn’t sugarcoat it. He wouldn’t lie, like so many adults do, and say everything will be okay. But he would explain it with compassion and he would talk to us about how we should feel and react to a situation like this. He would tell us what it feels like to be the person in the hospital and what other adults are probably thinking and feeling.

And so it would go, week in and week out. He talked about war. He talked about assassination. He talked about divorce. He also talked about why some people use wheelchairs; he invited a quadriplegic on the show to explain how he uses his wheelchair. He talked about people’s talents, and why it was important to nurture and develop your own talents; why it was good to have dreams and ambitions; why different people have different types of talents; and why we should all accept people as they are. And he addressed things of burning importance to children: is it possible to fall down the drain of a bathtub? Should you be afraid of getting a haircut? How does a clock know what time it is?

Here’s how a typical show would go. The show would open with an animated view of a neighborhood, and you would see a trolley go by from left to right. After the opening, Mr. Rogers would walk in the door of his living-room set, as if he were just getting back from work. He would see you and say hello. He’d take off his suit coat and hang it up in the closet; he was always wearing a dress shirt and tie underneath. He’d then put on a cardigan sweater and approach the camera. He’d sit on a bench, chatting with you the whole time, and take off his dress shoes and put on his sneakers, resting each foot on the opposite knee as he tied his shoes.

And then he would get down to business, talking about the main topic. He’d often show you a picture, or bring a prop. Once he walked with a cane and showed off a bandaged ankle, and talked about what it meant to be injured. You get the idea. A variety of other characters made regulary appearances on the show, including puppets and the mailman. He encouraged us to use our imaginations and always took us to “The Land of Make-Believe,” where it was safe to pretend and explore our imaginations.

The movie, “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” was released on Thanksgiving weekend here in the US, starring Tom Hanks as Mr. Rogers. It wasn’t a typical biopic; in fact, Mr. Rogers wasn’t even the main character. Instead, it tells the story of an investigative journalist for “Esquire” magazine, Lloyd Vogel. He’s assigned to write a puff piece—a light-hearted, not-so-serious short article about Mr. Rogers. He resents the assignment; he thinks he’s too good an investigative reporter to be writing about a children’s TV host.

But he develops an unlikely friendship with his interview subject. Instead of delivering his short puff piece, he wrote what became a very famous article about how Mr. Rogers connected with people of all types; how he nurtured the talents of his young viewers; how he encouraged them to find their place in the world. And at the same time, the grown-up writer himself learned important lessons from the children’s TV host.

You can read the article today—the article that was the source material for the movie, and I’ll link to it at this point in the transcript online.

Esquire: Can You Say … Hero? Fred Rogers has been doing the same small good thing for a very long time


The movie is very good. You don’t need to know about Mr. Rogers to enjoy it; like I said, it’s only partly about him. But I do need to tell you that Mr. Rogers is an institution with American children. Everyone loved him; everyone who watched him, loved him. He was on the air from the late 1960s until the early 2000s, but I would say, if you have an American colleague or friend who is between the ages of, say, 30 and 50, you should ask that person whether they watched Mr. Rogers as a kid or not.

Honestly. It didn’t matter where you were, what your family was like. Kids everywhere watched him. You could be growing up in a tall apartment building in Manhattan or you could be on a farm in North Dakota. Children of every race, every socioeconomic status, every type of family, every type of situation watched Mr. Rogers. I don’t think we’ll ever have anyone else like him again—media and technology being what they are today. He was a really unique individual.

Tis the season for year-end summaries and wrap ups and such on social media, and Spotify is doing this thing where it shows you what you’ve listened to over the course of the last year. And I got two listeners sent me screenshots of their year-end summaries on Spotify. First was Miriam from Mexico, who sent me a screenshot saying she listened to 1,768 minutes of podcasts this year, and the number-one, -two, -three, -four, and -five podcast logo on her stream was all Plain English. So congratulations on a productive year of English learning to Miriam from Mexico. Another listener shared his or her screenshots as an Instagram story, but the story disappeared from my feed before I could write down the listener’s name and I feel terrible about it. But, regardless, this is just further proof of how much English you all are practicing and I want to say thank you and congratulations on all your hard work in 2019.

Learn English the way it’s really spoken

Starter feature

We speak your language

Learn English words faster with instant, built-in translations of key words into your language

Starter feature

We speak your language

Learn English words faster with instant, built-in translations of key words into your language

Starter feature

We speak your language

Learn English words faster with instant, built-in translations of key words into your language

Starter feature

We speak your language

Learn English words faster with instant, built-in translations of key words into your language

Starter feature

We speak your language

Learn English words faster with instant, built-in translations of key words into your language

Starter feature

We speak your language

Learn English words faster with instant, built-in translations of key words into your language

Starter feature

We speak your language

Learn English words faster with instant, built-in translations of key words into your language

Starter feature

We speak your language

Learn English words faster with instant, built-in translations of key words into your language

Starter feature

We speak your language

Learn English words faster with instant, built-in translations of key words into your language

QuizListeningPronunciationVocabularyGrammar

Free Member Content

Join free to unlock this feature

Get more from Plain English with a free membership


Starter feature

Test your listening skills

Make sure you’re hearing every word. Listen to an audio clip, write what you hear, and get immediate feedback


Starter feature

Upgrade your pronunciation

Record your voice, listen to yourself, and compare your pronunciation to a native speaker’s

Starter feature

Sharpen your listening

Drag the words into the correct spot in this interactive exercise based on the Plain English story you just heard


Starter feature

Improve your grammar

Practice choosing the right verb tense and preposition based on real-life situations



Free Member Content

Join free to unlock this feature

Get more from Plain English with a free membership

Plus+ feature

Practice sharing your opinion

Get involved in this story by sharing your opinion and discussing the topic with others

Expression: Get down to business