The Wrap: Sesame Street Needs Another Hero

If the fact that media companies are quickly turning to dust hasn’t scared America yet, one recent news item should be causing serious concern. Sesame Workshop, best known for producing “Sesame Street,” announced last week it would be cutting 20 percent of its staff thanks to financial concerns.

Newspapers will find their way online and network newscasts can relocate to sister cable channels, should ratings for the big three continue to fall. But when Big Bird and the gang start hurting, impressionable children might be left with few alternatives.

“Sesame Street” launched on November 10, 1969, delivering children’s entertainment programming focused entirely on education and awareness.

Show co-creator Joan Ganz Cooney found other television offerings, before “Sesame Street” came along, a “disgrace” made up of “cheap” cartoons. So she consulted with academia to develop a show that taught language and math in an entertaining way. My childhood was built around The Count running through basic math before breaking into a demented laugh.

Cooney decided to set it on the gritty streets of a big city, rather than a land of make believe. Her hope was to hit home with inner-city children and have them relate to the program. Shortly after “Sesame Street” launched the New York Times reported the show was having a successful impact on children from low-income homes.

And the show’s financial saving grace came in the shape of Jim Henson and his now famous Muppets. Those creations were self-supporting; a factor Cooney told NPR was the only reason Sesame Street is still around today.

The company states these recent job cuts will allow for it “to operate with fewer resources in order to achieve our strategic priorities.” But what happens when the organization broadcasting “Sesame Street” starts hurting?

Here in New York, WNET/Thirteen and other PBS affiliates were recently dealt a blow from Albany. Governor David Paterson’s proposed state budget could cut around $9 million from public broadcasting funding.

When President Nixon proposed similar cuts to public broadcasting in 1969, Fred Rogers delivered an impassioned plea to the U.S. Senate. Senator John Pastore was so moved by Rogers’ words that he said, “Looks like you just earned the $20 million.”

It’s time Sesame Workshop and PBS find a new subdued hero to start whispering into President Obama’s ear. Otherwise, America’s next generation might start counting alongside Homer Simpson as he puts another bottle of Duff beer on the wall.

Published at March 17, 2009.

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