I can barely remember a time when PBS was actually interesting, but during its early years, before corporate funding took over, it was quite the provocative and controversial little network, to to mention the home for groundbreaking children's shows like Sesame Street and Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood.
In the mid-1960s, the National Educational Television Center had a six million dollar yearly grant from the Ford Foundation to do programming on cultural and public affairs, which allowed it to produce a series of documentaries like The Poor Pay More, Black Like Me, Appalachia: Rich Land, Poor People, and Inside North Vietnam. These were critically acclaimed, but station affiliates, especially in the South, complained about the network's radical "East Coast Liberalism." Private funding dried up. PBS, created in 1969 to oversee NET, looked to the government in hopes of getting more support for educational television. But the Nixon administration was violently set against independent federally-funded programming, and was making massive budget cuts.
Here's an amazing clip of Fred Rogers going before the U.S. Senate in 1969, speaking for six minutes, and securing $20 million dollars of funding for PBS.
I know some of the widely reported stories about Mr. Rogers may be apocryphal, but I love them all anyway, because they speak to something true about the man. He really was that guy.