Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood: The Cereal Episode

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On the list of my top five all-time favorite children's television shows, it appears a battle between after school juggernauts The Real Ghostbusters and Mister Rogers' Neighborhood for the number one placement may very well wage far beyond what most must believe to be necessary. Indeed, a duel such as this should & one day will necessitate a series of articles devoted to both programs, a project that could potentially comprise years of research, deep thought and a general concern that iconic host Fred Rogers may have inadvertently stumbled upon a parallel universe with the Neighborhood of Make-Believe. It's a show where children knew what to expect every time the opening titles appeared and the camera panned across that ubiquitous model neighborhood-following that warmhearted welcoming number, "It's a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood", viewers were treated to thirty minutes of Rogers dispensing advice on how to handle a particular issue children might face, be it love, superheroes, conflict, divorce or even war. Plenty of episodes focused on the former, particularly lesser concerns, but Fred never strayed far from the latter, decidedly more serious topics, always knowing to treat his young audience as if they were his peers. This mentality remained true even when most episodes usually featured a film showing how a common household object or food item was manufactured, a trip into the aforementioned Make-Believe territory where a detour into Sesame Street-esque storytelling occurred, and plenty of Rogers-penned music was performed by the host in an effort to help children face their fears and make sense of the world around them.

Photo Courtesy: The Fred Rogers Company

Photo Courtesy: The Fred Rogers Company

I myself can still recall my grandfather's knack for recording episodes periodically onto several ancient videocassettes that myself, brother and cousins watched religiously as we grew up-these trips into Fred's haven of bliss became cornerstones of our young minds and ones we held as dearly as he zipped up that sweater or tossed a loafer from hand to hand shortly after a typical show began. However, one such episode stands out for reasons I didn't even begin to appreciate until I reached an age where background details from anything '80s-related became completely & utterly essential to my nostalgic sponge of a brain. Episode 1529, which aired during the theme week of, "Work", focused on how people go about various daily tasks and no more than five minutes into the program did Fred announce his need to visit the grocery store in order to procure a few items, all the while taking the opportunity to discuss the work that goes into running said store-it's a straighforward trip outside of the two-room set Fred used as his television house and into the real-life neighborhood that surrounded it, and a jaunt that found the host, at one point, turning down the cereal aisle. As he muses about his youth and childhood trips to the store, in the process conveying a tried-and-true message about how no one can ever have everything they truly want, it is at this moment that your attention should turn towards what's happening behind ol' Fred. Yes, you'll see the standards-Froot Loops, Total, Life, Special K, several Chex variants and even Cracklin' Oat Bran, but mother of God, the long-discontinued and previously unheard of run rampant in this Pittsburgh-area foodmart.

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From out of the gate comes a glimpse of Spoon Size, which sadly lacks any real information to be found online but what appears to be a variation of Shredded Wheat. Right above is a box of Halfsies, which existed for a scant five years in the early '80s before Quaker decided to pull the plug citing poor sales stemmed from an attempt to market a decidedly healthier cereal with half the sugar of its competitors, hence the name. Gone but not forgotten, though I most definitely didn't know it was a breakfast choice until I saw this episode.

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Now we're into the real meat of the aisle, with two cereals in possession of some absolutely horrendous names-Bran Buds and Raisins, Rice and Rye. For someone who's trying to eat better, I still don't know that I'd go out of my way for either of those. At least this particular shot includes Product 19, the pride of many an airline breakfast, and just to the right of Fred's noggin lies an old school box of Golden Grahams, holding court as all kings of cereal should.

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Oh, but what's this?  Kellogg's Most?  I most definitely skipped this one as a kid.

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 Now for the real standouts-the infamous Pac-Man and Donkey Kong cereals, with no attempts made whatsoever by PBS to obscure the boxes out of fear of any sort of infringing on Nintendo or Atari's copyrights.  A plentiful amount sit right next to Fred, underneath the deceased Buc Wheats, a General Mills concoction that could be described as a sweeter Wheaties, which I don't think I'd dislike were it still around today.  Most important takeway here-what on Earth is Kaboom?  Why did I not know it still sat on store shelves until approximately nine years ago?  Wikipedia seems to indicate it's something like a circus-themed Lucky Charms.  I need it.

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 Last but not least, Marshmallow Krispies makes an appearance to remind us all that there didn't always exist a dedicated Rice Krispies Treats cereal, as there is now.  This culinary granddaddy is a nice sight to take in as Fred heads off to other parts of the store for further dispensing of wisdom regarding proper grocery store decorum.

Photo Courtesy: The Weekly Standard

Photo Courtesy: The Weekly Standard

I'll forever hold Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood' in the highest possible regard, a piece of art that transcended the medium in which it was housed to become something as significant as so many similar cultural hallmarks that have gone on to shape our society.  For me, it will always be a half hour visit with a familiar friend, packed with insights on how to grow as a person while allowing my curiosity to peek behind the curtain and see the way things work in this world of ours, with a few slight turns into my own imagination all backed by the incomparable light jazz of Johnny Costa's unforgettable soundtrack.  To discover things all these years later that had previously slipped by is something for which I'll always remain thankful, as if these treasured episodes still have a few more gifts left to share.

Or, maybe I just have a fondness for old food.  That’s probably it.