Tuned In

Sesame Street Gets a Word from the Letter O

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Barack Obama will basically cut a video for anyone. He did a promo spot for Conan O’Brien. Here at TV critics’ press tour, he did a intro clip (which I missed) for the session on George Lopez’s new talk show. And this morning, the President opened the PBS session on Sesame Street’s 40th anniversary. I expect to see him doing the flight-safety video on my return trip home tomorrow. 

Obama’s brief video—”brought to you by the number 40,” he said—praised the show’s history of educating kids. He also noted that some adults still could stand to learn from its lessons about compassion and respect for people’s differences. I suspect someone has been having a rough few weeks in Washington. 

Afterward, PBS followed with Q&A sessions of Sesame, and the remade Electric Company, addressing an audience largely of critics who, like the President, grew up with Sesame and now have introduced it to their own kids.

Today’s Sesame Street is both familiar and very different from the one we grew up with. While the same longtime characters are around, new ones have come along—not just juggernaut Elmo but more recent addition Abby Cadabby. And the show, learning from other commercial kids’ programs like Blues Clues, moved away from its Laugh-In-like collection of short bits to involve longer segments and storylines. 

Some choice bits from the session: 

* The 40th anniversary will be Nov. 10, 2009. 

* This season, Sesame will use CGI animation for the first time, in Abby segments called “Flying Fairy School.”

* The next two seasons will introduce a science curriculum focused on nature.

* Someone asked what the hardest letter to feature is. You guessed it: X. They’ve had numerous discussions about how to move beyond x-rays and xylophones. 

* In Sesame’s tradition of pop-culture parodies for the parents, next season they’ll do Mad Men. 

groverandme* Outside the session, I got to meet a celebrity.

The makers of the new version of The Electric Company finished off the session. I was lukewarm on this remake: I think a lot of its short-form videos (as in the original) work really well, but the live-action magic running storyline leaves me cold. But the team did at least offered an educational explanation for this change: kids, they say, learn vocabulary better by associating new words with familiar things and stories. And there’s a creative reason too: “Doing sketch comedy, solely, is exceedingly difficult.” 

Point noted. I still miss Easy Reader.