Fred Rogers worked in television, but he didn’t love the medium. In fact, he chose to make children’s television precisely because he thought most of what existed was awful and he thought he could do better. As it turned out, he was extremely correct. In building a television neighborhood, Fred Rogers proved that the medium can be used for good. But that’s no easy task. Just ask W. Kamau Bell.
Bell came up in a highly politicized Bay Area comedy season that he pushed to make more progressive, eventually landing a series of FXX. Totally Biased With W. Kamau Bell ran from 2012 to 2013 and attracted enough fans that Bell was able to make the jump to CNN with United Shades of America, which has been on the air since 2016. The series follows Bell as he visits neighborhoods and communities around the country and talks about issues of race and inequality. At times, it’s a warm and fuzzy watch. At other times — witness Bell’s visit with the Klan — it is not. But what United Shades of America has been consistently is a considered show. Bell doesn’t just make TV. Like Rogers, he uses TV to communicate and introduce ideas.
On episode six of Finding Fred, W. Kamau Bell talks to podcast host Carvell Wallace about the ways in which Fred Rogers was able to transcend race. “If that show had been made for white kids,” he says, “we would have been able to sniff it through.” Instead, Bell explains, America got a uniting figure that was just interested in children. Also, a very funny SNL skit with Eddie Murphy.