Eighteen-year-old Michael Kinsell has the cardigan and the smile — even six episodes of a self-produced show called Michael’s Enchanted Neighborhood — down pat, but PBS says the San Diego teen has no right to falsely associate himself with the non-profit network and the late, beloved TV icon.
Kinsell is currently selling tickets for a May 31 gala event entitled "An Evening Honoring Fred M. Rogers, His Family, Friends and the 40th Anniversary of his PBS classic, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood," at which, according to his publicist, he will present himself as successor to Rogers.
Tickets for the 1,500-capacity venue, initially priced at $75 to $500 (and since lowered) are meant to raise funds, he claims, for children’s public television. According to a lengthy investigation by current.org, though Kinsell says he invited members of Rogers’ family to receive a Children’s Hero Award in Rogers’ honor, and claims that he will give $10,000 in mid-June to Roger’s production company, Family Communications Inc., PBS has reportedly sent Kinsell cease-and-desist letters and filed a complaint with the California Attorney General’s office stating that his false association with Rogers and his legacy could end up costing both PBS and FCI by diverting funds that rightfully belong to them.
Some Rogers devotees have called the FCI in Pittsburgh to say they purchased tickets to the event in good faith, and according to Kinsell, his supporters include Eddie Murphy, Bette Midler, Tom Hanks, and Sally Field. “That’s kind of our way of saying they will be on stage that night," he claims, "but scheduling stars is difficult." Kinsell has said that the event will be taped for use in a PBS pledge show; in a certified-letter reply, PBS categorically refused the offer.
“We understand that he was much loved and that he was part of growing up for so many generations, and that there are people who miss him in that sense,” FCI CEO Kevin Morrison said. "But Fred Rogers was unique and can’t be replaced.”