Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Downtown Leaders From Around the World to see "My Tale of Two Cities: A Comeback Story"

This Sunday I will be heading to Milwaukee, Wisconsin where our film, “My Tale of Two Cities” will be shown at a keynote session of the 55th Annual Convention of the International Downtown Association, representing over 650 downtown organizations from around the world. We have been asked to show the film there because the organizers felt that the movie, a “funny and heartfelt” comeback story about my hometown of Pittsburgh-- a once great industrial giant, which built America with its steel, conquered polio, and invented everything from aluminum to the Big Mac, and is now being challenged to reinvent itself for a new age-- might have something to say to a lot of cities (and their downtowns) that now are facing similar struggles. This screening comes in a year when Pittsburgh is on quite a roll—having regained its nomenclature as “The City of Champions” with victories by the Steelers and Penguins, been named “America’s Most Livable City” by The Economist, and with Pittsburgh being chosen to play host later this month to President Obama and 19 other world leaders for the G-20 Economic Summit.

Upon hearing of my upcoming trip, a friend of mine in Pittsburgh who used to anchor Milwaukee’s WITI news, was quick to point out the parallels between these two cities, which both have long histories as blue collar manufacturing towns and where when a football game is on, nothing else is happening in the city-- and which both have worked hard to redefine themselves and their images in a post-industrial world. I have only been to Milwaukee once before, with my friend comedian Louie Anderson, who has a hilarious riff in “My Tale of Two Cities” busting me for calling our documentary not a “Roger & Me,” but a “Mister Rogers & Me.”

Ironically, our movie is being screened just as Michael Moore’s new film, “Capitalism: A Love Story” is making headlines, as he apparently points fingers at the evil folks on Wall Street and one percent-ers (the rich) who Moore feels have caused the downfall of this country. By contrast, our film aims not to find bad guys to blame, but to use the metaphor of Pittsburgh being home to the real-life “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” to try to show that in order for cities like Pittsburgh to comeback, it will take every neighbor, rich, middle class and poor, doing their part.

So in “My Tale of Two Cities,” we went looking for people to emulate rather than to blame. And thankfully, we found many of Fred’s real-life neighbors worthy of emulation. In the film, we go cheese shopping with Teresa Heinz Kerry, who reminds us that cities need “an infusion of dreams…. because dreaming is contagious.” We eat breakfast at a local diner with former Treasury Secretary Paul O’ Neill, who acknowledges that change can be painful, but points out how transformation does happen—citing Pittsburgh’s rivers, which “were once used as sewers for industrial waste and are now the central attraction point for new investment.” We also toss a football with Steeler legend Franco Harris, who believes for a city to be complete, you need everything to work together like a team.

But even Franco, the recipient of the “Immaculate Reception” who was credited with helping to turn the Steelers around in the 1970s, could not have predicted a comeback like we were able to document with this film. When we began rolling cameras, Pittsburgh was still reeling from being the first major city of the new millennium to declare itself “financially distressed.” Since then, the city has had a turn-around that even a Hollywood screenwriter would have trouble scripting. Last October, Time Magazine cited Pittsburgh as “The one bright spot on Main Street” and this month, Forbes Magazine wrote that President Obama chose the city to host the G-20 because “he sees in Pittsburgh a way forward for the American City in the 21st Century.”

Indeed, the city that bet on Dr. Jonas Salk and his polio vaccine is now a thriving medical powerhouse and a front-runner for becoming this country’s new leading vaccine manufacturer; the city that attracted a young George Westinghouse with his ideas for long distance electrical lines is now the home of a brilliant young Carnegie Mellon University professor Luis Von Ahn who co-invented CAPTCHA, the squiggly encoded letters email users type in 200 million times a day, and whose company ENCAPTCHA has just taught computers how to accurately read every “New York Times” issue since the 1880s in less than a year; the city that created the first community-supported public television station is now fertilizing “modern day Fred Rogers” with a “Kids & Creativity” initiative aimed at revolutionizing the way kids learn through digital technology; and the city that was once “the silicon valley of the industrial revolution” is now a place where companies are leading the way in computer, robotics and solar technologies.

I am sure Michael Moore’s film will be both entertaining and thought-provoking—but in the meantime, “My Tale of Two Cities” will continue to proffer, in its own “humorous and delightful” way, that the best chance for our future is not vilifying capitalism - or by contrast, calling others “socialists” - but by resisting labels and empowering each of us as neighbors to do what we can to re-invigorate our communities and our country. For as Fred Rogers’ reminded us, there are good neighbors everywhere and we all have something to contribute.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Reverse Pioneers-- The Industrial Revolution Exhibit Andy Warhol Might Appreciate

In traveling across the country, as my wife Natalie has agreed to give Pittsburgh another chance and moving from L.A. in what I call a reverse pioneer migration, we stopped by the Great Platte River Road Archway in Kearny, Nebraska—a multi-media experience showing the pioneer experience of the Westward migration. (Around 1848, there was a cry of Gold when Sutter found gold on his land. Ironically, by 1949, in a movement which gave the people their 49er nickname, Sutter had lost his lands to all who had overtaken it in search of gold.) There were speculators, the Mormons who went to Utah to find a religious freedom, the usual array of immigrants who were headed West for a dream of a new life.

The exhibit itself is housed in an archway just of the freeway in Kearny, Nebraska. It is really well-done in terms of multi-media, with headphones they haanded Natalie, our daughter Campbell, my mother-in-law from Kansas City, and myself. We went up an escalator which gave you the sense of getting into a covered wagon. Having spent the past three weeks in an RV with my in-laws (don’t ask—my father-in-law was using our moving back to Pittsburgh as an excuse to see the great American National Parks which some how has lead us up to San Francisco through Salt Lake, Yellowstone, Wyoming, etc…), I wondered how a family—much less an extended family, could possibly make it traveling together day after day. Forget the fact that they had to endure the sweltering heat and bitter cold, had to toss possessions of a lifetime over their wagon, could end up taking a wrong pass which might send them months of course and deplete their limited food supplies. Picture day, after day, after day, of being around the same people. People you may not even like. People you had to make conversation with every day, all day, the same people. Hey look, is that a jack rabbit? Is that a moose? Look kids, look at that scenery? Hey, is that a bear and will it eat us?

Anyway, back to the Great Platte Road, as we went through the various rooms of Western Migration, from the pioneers, the development of the railroad, and the growth of the first trans-continental highway which brought this country together, following along with the audio tour while images flashed in front of us. At each section, were various artifacts of the pioneers who bravely made their way across the country. And ultimately, there were great symbols of the twentieth century from Lincoln Highway signs to a simulated drive-in movie theater which put the whole journey in perspectives.

Of course, seeing this, I couldn’t help think that there should be an exhibit like this in Pittsburgh focusing on the Three Rivers and the Industrial Revolution. I have heard rumors of various groups trying to convert an old steel mill into some version of this. With resources like the Heinz History Center, CMU’s Entertainment Technology Center, and WQED, there are some great resources to draw from.

While making “My Tale of Two Cities”, Marty Warhol, Andy’s nephew, told us of a White House dinner when Andy and the head of US Steel were both invited during the 1960s. Andy suggested that they should turn a steel mill into an amusement park. What must have seen like a crazy idea then, might actually be a wonderful idea to drive yet more tourists to the region and help re-define the new Pittsburgh in the context of its former greatness. For when you see what Pittsburgh contributed to the world last century, it is hard not to speculate on what Pittsburgh’s contributions could be going forward. As with those pioneers of the mid-west, having a Pittsburgh: The Heart of the Industrial Revolution exhibit might remind both visitors and ourselves of what it takes to be great and just what we are capable of.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Pittsburgh:The Comeback City, Once Again, The City Of Champions.

When we started My Tale of Two Cities: A Comeback Story, Pittsburgh was financially distressed, the Steelers were losing, rumors were thinking of leaving, and the city's days of most livable were long behind her. Well, congratulations world champion Penguins! And in case you didn't notice, the economist just elected Pittsburgh America's Most Livable City.

Pittsburgh named Number 1 City in US by The Economist

It is amazing on how a ping pong ball can change everything. For that is how Sidney Crosby came to Pittsburgh in a draft, and have the once bankrupt Penguins new hope. But the Penguins won like Pittsburgh so often seems to win-- not just by one man, but by everyone pulling together-- so often a group of hardworking, unpretentious underdogs who others have written off-- a group of "lovable losers" as one of my Hollywood's friends, who find a way to win. (The fact that Sidney Crosby lives to this day in Mario Lemieux's guest house is... well, only in Pittsburgh.)

That's why Pittsburgh so often is talked about not just as a city, but as a character-- as a punch line-- see the remarks after the G-20 summit was announced-- that to those who know it-- see David McCullough who gave a lecture "Pittsburgh As A Lens To View All of US History" and also went to my high school, Shady Side Academy-- to those who know it-- Pittsburgh represents the best of America. And these days, perhaps its most inspirational model of hope.

For as we joked on The Pittsburgh Comeback Tour when we showed the movie on the road in NYC and D.C., it may have taken
bankrupting the rest of the country to make Pittsburgh look good to some people, but it is seeming a place of opportunity these days-- where there are jobs-- see and the real estate market is up.

It's not like Pittsburgh doesn't have a lot of work to do. But that's what Pittsburgh is best at.

I think the hardest thing these days though is going to be a new moniker-- for Pittsburgh, no longer the Steel City, still looks best when seen as an underdog-- with unexpected beauty, with people who are so unhip, they are hip (Rick Sebak once said), and with a tenacity and work ethic, that... well, these folks hung on even as their major industry left-- (acknowledging that half did have to leave-- see Steeler Nation), and on the field (or ice) and off, have increasingly found a way to win-- even when everyone else has written them off.

So we would modestly propose Pittsburgh: The Comeback City."

Of course, as one young woman wrote us after seeing My Tale of Two Cities, the comeback isn't complete until we have a lot of those folks who left come on back to the city. And of course, young people coming and staying because Pittsburgh is where the opportunity is.

We may not be there yet, but basically, as I said to someone at the Hooters in Hollywood across from Grauman's Chinese Theater where I snuck in to watch the Penguins game (its a Steelers bar, okay), you just couldn't write a story like this.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Stanley Cup: A Tale of Two Cities

That's not my title, but from this article:

Stanley Cup: A Tale of Two Cities.

Not to be confused with CNN's Randy Kaye's piece: "Can Pittsburgh Save Detroit?"

Someone accused me of trying to prolong the metaphor of "My Tale of Two Cities" by invoking the G-20 Summit and the Penguins game. It is true that the movie ends with Pittsburgh's comeback story in some ways just unfolding. But it doesn't seem like it is quite there yet.

I was quite touched by someone who recently saw the movie and emailed me that she was living in Baltimore, but was longing to return to Pittsburgh-- asking wouldn't that be the happy ending we are looking for. And the answer is yes. (See her full email at on the word of mouth page.

The reason the Steelers' Nation metaphor is so powerful is that it represents all those who were forced to leave their hometown after the steel industry collapsed. That is who is waving all those terrible towels-- and a sizable part of those rooting for the Penguins.

My friend Bernie Goldmann (also in "MTOTC") said it best awhile ago-- Pittsburgh is an underdog story-- a bunch of people who you would not necessarily characterize as "winners" on first sight, but who all pull together, and somehow find a way to win. That's true for sports team, and often for the city itself. (See last post about the polio vaccine)

But it is Franco Harris who says it best in MTOTC-- that it is great that people go out and get a chance to explore, but what we need is for them to come back. So talent, people, come on back to Pittsburgh.

I think many people are coming back as we heard on our Pittsburgh Comeback Tour with the movie this Spring. But what they are asking is if they do come back, what kind of opportunities await them? And that's where those in Pittsburgh need to make sure that those opportunities are there.

More on that later. But for now-- Go Pens!

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

How A City Changes-- the unlikely connection between the Pennsylvania Film Tax Credit and the Salk polio vaccine

Last Friday, I attended a remarkable event-- a hearing on the Pennsylvania Film Tax credit held at a room at the David Lawrence Convention Center. When I say attended, that is not entirely accurate-- as it was hard to get into the room which was more than standing room only with people flowing out of the doors of the hearing room. Standing in the back, I could hear testimony of various people whose lives had been changed by the Film Tax Credit.

It is one thing to read that an Economic Research Associates report released by the Pennsylvania Senate Budget and Finance Committee that the tax credit has had an economic impact statewide of $524.6 million dollars for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania while being responsible for creating and supporting over 3,950 new jobs here in Pennsylvania which generated $146.4 million in wages alone from these created and supported jobs. But it is another to see the faces of many who now have work and hope because of this legislation. Pittsburgh Film Office director Dawn Keezer arranged for the committee to hear testimony from film professionals who had worked continually on the productions which have flowed into the area since the legislation was passed in 2007 (including Adventureland, Zak and Miri Make a Porno, The Road) , the vendors who had trucks and furniture rented by film productions, and young people who had stayed in the area because they could now pursue their dreams right here in Western Pennsylvania. It was so refreshing to hear positive stories of people employed in the region, instead of tales of missed opportunities that got away.

It was that last part about "young people" that hit me hardest personally, having watched so many talented young people who had worked on My Tale of Two Cities and who I have taught at the University of Pittsburgh, leave the region not because they wanted to, but because their was not the work to sustain them. Hearing that testimony made Western Pennsylvania seem like it was truly on the brink of creating an industry which might keep young people in town, retain and attract talent, and ultimately help change Pittsburgh's image around the world via the product which is coming out of here-- such as the pilot of Three Rivers about transplants as seen from three different perspectives which will air on CBS this Fall.

I had seen the real-life transplant pioneer Dr. Thomas Starzl, who we filmed for My Tale of Two Cities just the day before at a reception for Pitt professor and bioterrorism expert D.A. Henderson who had a new book out about how he had eradicated smallpox from the planet. In a part of "My Tale of Two Cities", I hated to cut out, Dr. Starzl had told me how he had the choice between Pittsburgh and L.A. and that when he choose to come to Pittsburgh in the early 1980s, his friends from L.A. thought he was "depressed." But Dr. Starzl saw resources in Pittsburgh which he needed to get the job done and realized that in L.A., he would have spent much of his time in traffic. Of course, Dr. Starzl coming to Pittsburgh would soon establish this city as "The Transplant Capital of the World."

What does this have to do with the film tax credit, you may ask? And how does the Salk polio vaccine fit into all this. You have to go back to post-world war II era to fully appreciate this. That was a time when R.K. Mellon and David Lawrence got together, and realizing that Pittsburgh would not be in steel forever, decided to transform a city which many had written off as dying, by cleaning the place up and investing in a new, until then dormant sector of health care. By way of example, according to Richard Carter's "Breakthrough: The Sage of Jonas Salk," one year prior to this inititiative, the total grants to the Unversity of Pittsburgh medical school was $1800 for a study on high blood pressure. But, according to Jane Smith's "Patenting the Sun", in ten years after WWII, R.K. Mellon and the Pittsburgh philanthropic community invested $26 million dollars in "medical-related programs" trying to grow what was back then a modest University of Pittsburgh medical school. That would be serious money even today, but think of what in today's dollars, that level of investment would mean in a dormant industry. (By contrast, according to the ERA, report, the $75 million in film tax credit actually results in a 4.5 million dollar gain to the commonwealth in terms of revenues making it hardly a risk at all.)

That investment in the health care sector after World War II attracted talent like Dr. Benjamin Spock, whose baby books would inform generations of parents, and a young 33 year Dr. Jonas Salk, who in seven years in Pittsburgh would conquer polio, to the region. And those successes would breed more investment, bringing in people like Dr. Starzl and ultimately turning Pittsburgh into a medical powerhouse which metaphorically and now physically with UPMC occupying the US Steel building has given the region a thriving industry which has created countless jobs and in many ways, given Pittsburgh itself new life.

What UPMC has succeeded in doing is organizing what was previously a disorganized region, attracted and retained talent, invested in research and development, and exported its end product around the world. The model has worked wonderfully, and started with that initial vision of having an industry where previously they had had a hospital. More than a few have suggested we repeat that model in other areas.

But sectors do not just happen. People have to go out and make them happen. That is what city leaders in Pittsburgh did after World War II and that is what many people in Southwestern Pennsylvania have been trying to make happen with the entertainment and the technology sectors. (They are increasingly overlapping as anyone who has looked at Google, YouTube, and Facebook will tell you.) I'm on the advisory board of CMU's Project Olympus which was formed out of the sad realization that 95 percent of computer scientists from CMU have previously left town. Now, thanks to this initiative, more are staying and one of them may possibly produce the next Google or the next Facebook-- both created by young people. Carnegie Mellon's Entertainment Technology Center is creating spin-off companies which may create the new video games of tomorrow.

The Film Tax Credit is creating jobs and opportunities which give aspiring filmmakers the chance to see how the film and television industry really work. One of them may turn out to be the next Fred Rogers, Gene Kelly, August Wilson, or George Romero. By it is not just artistic achievement at stake here. Today, the entertainment industry is larger than the automobile and the steel industry's combined.

Carnegie and Mellon saw in Pittsburgh's rolling hills that this region had the resources to create an industrial power that fueled a century and created more wealth per capita than the modern world has seen. (Realize that Carnegie was richer than Bill Gates in today's dollars; Mellon was richer than Warren Buffet; and then in the same city, you had Heinz, Westinghouse, and Frick.) I would argue this region has similar resources to become a powerhouse in producing entertainment content which, like steel, would go around the world.

But that wealth of past generations was not created without risk and so risks-- smart, calculated risks-- must be taken to make this happen to. The Film Tax Credit is the first step in creating an industry in Southwestern Pennsylvania which could fuel the next few decades. But don't take it from me. One last story.

While singing "Won't You Be My Neighbor?" across from the Beverly Hills Hotel with over 200 Pittsburghers for the finale of My Tale of Two Cities, I met a man who was a scholarship kid at Pitt who has gone on to be a Hollywood powerhouse who has helped been a part of creating regional production centers in Italy, Canada, and New Mexico, Lionsgate Producer and executive John Dellaverson came back to Pittsburgh in April 2007 to speak to my students at Pitt. But on that trip, he, M. Night Shamalyn, and another Lionsgate executive met with Governor Rendell and state legislators. John told them about Lionsgate's experience of going to New Mexico where five years previously there had been 5 million a year in annual production and how five years later, there was 500 million dollars in production. By July, new film tax legislation had passed. But John, who has watched places like Canada build a real self-sustaining industry, said that the film tax credit was only the beginning. On his visit home (his mother Ann still lives in New Castle), John saw his alma mater Pitt, CMU, WQED, Filmmakers, and this city which had so much more to offer than when he grew up here, and saw opportunity. John started off as a labor lawyer so he knows the power of jobs and longs to see jobs in places like New Castle and other towns like it across Pennsylvania. But he knows to get there, takes having a strategic approach to an industry which starts with a film tax credit.

(See the piece we did with John for WQED when he went home to New Castle, but also talked about why he sees opportunity for the film business in Western PA:

I realize how crazy this idea of Pittsburgh having a thriving entertainment industry may seem. It is a vision which has haunted me for many years. But who would have thought a steel town would have been the one to have conquered the most feared disease of last century, polio, or to have become the "transplant capitol of the world." Frankly, to me, it all sounds like a movie.

(And in case you are wondering, we are working on a film of how Pittsburgh conquered polio which we hope to have completed this summer.)

Visit for more information on the Pittsburgh Film Office, for more information on developing an entertainment industry in Pittsburgh and for clips from that movie.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Fred Rogers' Memorial Scholarship Awards in LA

Just attended the Fred Rogers' Memorial Scholarship Awards out here in Los Angeles at the Academy of Motion Pictures ARts and Sciences Theater in North Hollywood. It was hosted by our real-life neighbor out here, Tom Kenny, the voice of SpongeBob who had some really great jokes in the beginning about everyone from Mr. McFeely (and his gig of playing an old man when you are young so your whole life people say how good you look) to things which SpongeBob SquarePants and Mister Rogers have in common ("they both are square, but absolutely the coolest guys in the room.)

It was great to see the young scholars get their awards from Ernst and Young-- rewarding the "good" is so important. And Josh Selig who created one of my daughter's favorite show Oobi growing up (and does Wonder Pets)-- he was exactly the guy who you wanted to be honored-- talking about serving the kids in a day when so much is driven by the advertisers.

So saw good folks from Pittsburgh who are out here also like Rusty Cundieff who directed the Chapelle Show and one of my former students, Nathan Cornett, who is doing very well out here as an editor. Nathan did great work as an associate producer/assistant camera/assistant editor on "My Tale of Two Cities" and you can see him in a cameo after the Teresa Heinz Kerry cheese shopping scene asking me whether I bought her the cheese I said I would buy her. He is one of the great young people I think Pittsburgh should bet on. And the same with Rusty. He could film a pilot back in Pittsburgh for a fraction of what it would cost out here.

"Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" is a great example of what impact developing successful "content" can have on Pittsburgh and the world. But people have to remember that first Fred went to New York to learn his skill sets as a stage manager and then decided that TV should be used more for people just throwing pies at each other (that was what Soupy Sales did, I believe.)

But the only way that will happen, I think, is if Pittsburgh either gets lucky or if it actually says to the world, "come here and make all your good stuff here-- and we'll help." You can do it, Pittsburgh. I know that because so many people have been urging Pittsburgh on in this area-- including countless Steeltown advisers ( who see opportunity there just as there was opportunity there in the late 1800s when the region had all the resources to make steel. It would be great to bring people like one of the winners, Thy, who made this interesting animation with sand to Pittsburgh and have her meet some of the talent animators who are beginning to stay in Pittsburgh. (Just look at UP and its box office to see what the potential upside is to an animation industry-- but you have to bet 100 million on one of those movies to reap the literally billio dollars a movie like ICE AGE-- made in White Plains, New York-- might make.)

It still may seem a bit delusional, but you look at the legacy of some of Pittsburgh's entertainment pioneers, Fred Rogers, and George Romero-- not to mention those nurtured there who left-- Gene Kelly, Andy Warhol, August Wilson-- and at least I say-- what other city has that legacy. And more importantly, how are you going to build on it.

As we say in My Tale of Two Cities, in some way, LA is a city Pittsburgh was a hundred years ago-- a one industry town which takes risks and where immigrants of all sorts come with their dreams. Perhaps Pittsburgh could become that once again. Perhaps with what is happening lately, it is slowly becoming that. What a great legacy it would be for Fred Rogers if Pittsburgh were the place where people brought their projects which "made good attractive", as Fred thought TV could and should do.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Why we moved to Pittsburgh- the real-life Mister Rogers Neighborhood.

When people ask why we love living in Pittsburgh-- and as you will see- it is not a simple adoration, but as often a love/hate thing-- the reason is simple: The people. I'm told that Josie Carey, the woman who hosted the show where Fred Rogers first appeared called "The Children's Corner" used to end all her shows by saying "This is Pittsburgh. We live here and we like it."

Where we live in Pittsburgh--- in the city's East End-- is the real-life "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood." Fred lived there most of his last 40 years while making his show and a lot of the neighbors you see on the show actually are from around the corner.

You won't believe this story, but I'll tell it anyway. (Or maybe it's me who can't believe it.) Before we left L.A., we went to Campbell's pediatrician, Dr. Aviva Biederman, and she recommended that if we were leaving, we should get one book which she felt was good at helping children cope with a move. It was probably out of print she said, but she recommended "The Mister Rogers' Moving Book." I don't know how familair she was with Fred Rogers-- she came from another country so did not grow up with him-- and almost certainly did not know that Fred was from Pittsburgh. Frankly, I hadn't thought about it much myself-- except that his son Jamie went to my high school-- though he was a year older which seemed way older back then. I think i remember being over at Jamie's house once in the kitchen-- a house on Beechwood Boulevard. And I think I may have seen Fred at a restaurant called "Stoufer's" once. But that was the extent of it.

So I order the "Mister Roger' Moving Book" off of Ebay. The well-worn book arrives. It has a stamp "Discard" in it from the library it belonged to in Iowa or somewhere. We read the book to Campbell which has pictures of another family moving and talking about how moving can affect us emotionally. The book seems as theurapeutic for me as it does for Campbell.

Cut to, as we say, in my old Hollywood life, us meeting Campbell's new pre-school teacher at Rodef Shalom temple-- the temple I grew up with. But Ms. Mimsie seems vaguely familiar-- yet I did not know her. Still, as she speaks, this sweet, kind woman, we can't help feel we know her. It is not till weeks later when we realize that Mimsie is the woman on the cover of the Mister Rogers' moving book and that in fact, the pictures in the book are of her and her husband (now divorced) and their young son Andy-- who in fact is that boy going to college who we met. Mimsie modestly explains that the book was done when they were moving into their new house which she still lives in.

As if that is not enough, it turns out that Dave Bartholomae, the head of the English department. He was on the show coaching soccer. I actually get to see the episode and there is Fred Rogers in his sweater talking on the phone (i didn't remember he had a phone in his place) saying how our neighbor Dave Bartholomae is going to teach us about soccer. And soon Fred is out on a field listening to Dave explain the basic rules of soccer.

And we soon learn that the pediatrician everyone recommends-- well, she was on the show. As will be so many who we meet on this journey.

But the metaphor of "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" will also have another poignant application. For my favorite part of the show was always when Mr. McFeely, the delivery man, would bring Mister Rogers tapes of how they made things: crayons, combs, furniture, bicycles, you name it. All of those were filmed locally around the Pittsburgh area too. But unlike many of the real life neighbors, most of those factories are gone now.

And that's why the driving question of Pittsburgh becomes what is now the driving question of America-- which by the way is just a collection of "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood." What can we make now, asks David Newell, the man who played McFeely for 40 years. "Cause the steel industry is not going to come back like it once was. We'd all like it to, but it's just not going to. So what industry can we replace that with?" he asks in "My Tale of Two Cities."

It is that question which has gotten me in such trouble. Because, perhaps it is a Don Quixote dream, but now that Fred Roger's studio at the world's first public television remains empty, I wonder why can't we replace it with the business I learned in L.A.-- entertainment-- which by the wya, is one of the few things that can't be totally outsources as wherever they shoot movie and TV shows, they remain American stories.

It may seem like a crazy idea, but the entertainment industry is a bigger industry in this country than the automobile industry and the steel industry combined. And Pittsburgh is the home of the first movie theater, the first commercial radio station (KDKA), the first public TV station (WQED) and little would I realize, a huge list of successful folks both in front of and behind the camera. (See the Pittsburgh list at or

In November 2002, upon realizing all this, I wrote an op-ed piece in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette which started a chain of events which I am still reeling from. It was called "Pittsburgh's Next Industrial Revolution: Entertainment"-- titled by John Alison-- in which I argued that Pittsburgh's greatest export is no longer steel, but talent-- talent which makes not millions, but billions of dollars each year for others. That set into motion this idea of trying to get Pittsburgh entertainment expatriates to try to come back and help the city.

Here's "Pittsburgh's Next Industrial Revolution: Entertainment"

So after that, we had this "Pittsburgh Entertainment Summit: the Steeltown Entertainment Project held at WQED in October 2003 where folks like Rob Marshall (director, CHICAGO), Bernie Goldman (producer, "300"), Eric Gold (manager Jim Carrey), Terri Minsky (creator, LIZZIE MAGUIRE), Peter Ackerman (writer, ICE AGE), Jamie Widdoes, (director, TWO AND A HALF MEN) and others gathered to talk about helping the city. See for some stuff and pics about that.

I guess that is the dream-- not to necessarily have everyone live in Pittsburgh, but to have Pittsburgh be a place where talented people come with the best of their projects t0 do programming which what Fred Rogers used to say would "make good attractive."

Maybe it is kind of crazy. But the real life "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" neighborhood has to make something. And the truth is there has been some progress.

One of the things that made me want to start to write this blog was something that happened on Friday. I went to a hearing on the film tax credit and could hardly get into the room which was packed with people testifying as to how they have been working as part of the over 500 million dollars of related income which the next film tax credit has brought to the state has touched their lives. More on that in the next blog.

Ironically, I have to go get ready to take Campbell to the Fred Rogers' Memorial Scholarship Awards here in Los Angeles. Our real-life neighbor out here, SpongeBob (Tom Kenny who does the voice) has graciously agreed to host the proceedings. Turns out he and his wife Jill are big fans of the "Neighborhood" with a TIVO full of episodes which they show their kids.