Mister Rogers had a special energy that was distinctly different than what we typically see on late night TV. So it's a little surprising that in the early 1980s he appeared on both The Tonight Show (during its Joan Rivers days) and Late Night with David Letterman. Seeing Mister Rogers enter these raucous spaces is delightful, as his serene, thoughtful presence slows things way down.
In Rogers's Tonight Show appearance, the audience is clearly confused. They giggle as Rogers answers Rivers's questions plainly and honestly, devoid of the guile typically on display during these interviews. Rivers seems to sense this disconnect too and comments, "It's so funny, he's talking to me and I feel like I'm 8 years old!"
Eventually Rogers wins over the crowd, asking how many people in the audience "grew up with the Neighborhood." Then we realize that Rivers is wearing one of Rogers's cardigan sweaters. The whole thing becomes wondrous as he gets the audience to sing "Row, Row, Row Your Boat" with him. Have a look:
Rogers's Letterman appearance is interesting too. It starts with an extended clip of Rogers trying to put up a tent ("Sometimes things don't go right in the Neighborhood"). Rogers gives Letterman a tee-shirt, then offers a sweater and shoes (Dave doesn't take them). They talk about childhood, and Rogers shows a Polaroid of himself with Eddie Murphy who at the time was doing Mister Rogers spoofs on Saturday Night Live. Take a look:
We miss you, Mister Rogers.