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Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Op-Ed: A Letter to the #SesameStreet / #HBO Deal

We send an impassioned plea to HBO as Sesame Street leaves PBS.

Story by Matt Cummings
Dear HBO: Please don't screw up Sesame Street. It's a simple request, but one that's essential to keeping the center of our national culture alive. I am a product of Sesame Street, as are many of my friends. We all remember the insanity of Ernie and Bert, the musical numbers educating us about crossing the street, the dangers of driving the wrong way, and the relationships formed between felt characters and humans living on a street just over the bend. Kermit the Frog, Grover, Count von Count and a dozen others are more iconic than any sports franchise and more beloved than any comedy, their simple values of love and friendship leaving an enduring mark on how we raise our children. The show has helped to form the basis of America's television culture, going so far as to connect children to big concepts like the death (Mr. Hooper) as well as Big Bird's fascination with his for-real imaginary friend Mr. Snuffleupagus. It made it ok again to have an imaginary friend, and when he was finally revealed to the adults in 1985, it became big news. Even when Muppets creator Jim Henson brought Fraggle Rock to your network in 1983, we could still enjoy the original series on PBS, see a collection of Muppets later in the movies and eventually on network television. But when the news hit that Sesame Workshop had been operating at a huge financial loss ($11 million in 2014 alone), and that the new deal would see the series move to HBO, I did feel a huge sense of despair. Sure, the agreement is being praised because it will deliver twice the content, a Muppets spinoff, and a promise to air episodes six months later for free on PBS; but nothing is what it seems these days, and this deal feels less genuine than it appears. For one, you now have a recognizable franchise in Sesame Street to prop up next to episodes of True Detective, Ballers, and other adult programming. You were far behind the efforts of Netflix and Amazon, who already were developing programs and showing older children's content, which meant you needed the same. This "lifeline for Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit that produces the show" (as stated in a recent THR article) was a necessity if the show was to remain in production. I get it. You saved Sesame Street. And while I applaud your offer to keep it going, I beg you to not screw it up. Keep it pure, make it fun, give Workshop the distance they need to produce great content. You now have something more than "a merchandising asset" (again from the THR article), but a piece of our national consciousness. Do everything you can to help inspire a new generation of children who need Oscar the Grouch, Elmo, and Cookie Monster more than ever. Discuss this story with fellow SJF fans on Facebook. On Twitter, follow us at @SandwichJohnFilms, and follow author Matt Cummings at @mfc90125.

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