Sunday, August 2, 2009

Sesame Street turns 40!

The lights went down in the Viennese room at Pasadena's Langham Hotel, and on a large screen appeared the press-friendly face of President Barack Obama.

This video is brought to you, he said, "by the number 40."

Sesame Street is turning the big 4-0 this year, on Nov. 10 specifically, and PBS has decided to shake things up. Mid-life crisis? From what I could see at the Television Critics Association Press Tour event on Saturday, it just looks like they're unwilling to show their age.

Miranda Barry, executive VP of content, and Dr. Rosemarie Truglio, VP of education and research (pictured above), chatted about the new format and style kids and parents will see on the upcoming 40th anniversary season of Sesame Street.

When the show began in 1969, the big deal on TV was Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In. You know, the one with Goldie Hawn doing the Frug on a pedestal? Well, in PBS' effort to reach kids through the most up-to-date medium (TV, at the time), they chose to replicate R&M's skit style -- catering to the short-attention-span-set.

Children have since grown accustomed to longer forms, said Miranda and Rosemarie, so Sesame Street is going in that direction, too. It's also naming as host Murray Monster, who will guide kids through the hour-long program.

Some new things to look out for:
  • A CGI element featuring muppet Abby Cadabby, called "Abby's Flying Fairy School." This is Sesame Street's first foray into CGI, and they seemed a little concerned about how it will be received.
  • A parody of AMC drama "Mad Men." How hilarious is that?! When asked how they could parody such an adult show for children, they referred to an earlier parody they featured on "Sesame Street" called "Desperate Houseplants." Apparently, the show addressed how the plants weren't getting watered enough by their owner! Ahem. I'm totally blushing now.
  • Celebrities such as Cameron Diaz, Kobe Bryant, Jason Mraz, Jimmy Fallon and siblings Jake and Maggie Gyllenhaal.
When I talked with Miranda Barry after the presentation, she emphasized what's really important about Sesame Street.

"We want to reach kids with a message that supports learning," she said.

Not only that, but being inclusive is also a big factor.

"Can everybody in the audience see themselves?" she asked, referring to the different cultures and ethnicities that make up "the Street." "That was groundbreaking in the beginning."

"The Electric Company" also has gotten something of a face lift.

I haven't seen the show in years, but I remember thinking it was a little dated when I watched way back in the '80s.

But it looks as if "Electric Company" is incorporating lots of hip-hop music and dance elements that reinforce learning -- vocabulary and phonics in particular.

Actor Chris Sullivan, aka Shock, (right) kicked things off with a little beat-boxing of his own. He joined executive producer Karen Fowler and director of education and research Scott Cameron on stage to talk about the show.
  • Beginning Sept. 7, "The Electric Company" will air Monday-Friday as opposed to weekly on PBS.
  • Unlike "Sesame Street," "The Electric Company" is less parody and more a fusion of dance, music and learning.
  • They've incorporated dance moves from Soulja Boy and Beyonce into segments about learning vocab.
  • Shock will head out on a 20-city tour for a multimedia, interactive project that promotes literacy.
The best part of the presentation for me was seeing the puppeteers and actors in person. I had my photo taken (will upload as soon as its available) with Sonia Manzano ("Sesame Street's" Maria); Leslie Carrara (Abby Cadabby); Eric Jacobson (Grover); and David Rudman (Cookie Monster), who told me he was literally Frank Oz's right-hand man on Cookie Monster when he arrived on "Sesame Street" just out of college in 1985.

David eventually took over Cookie Monster and has brought him to life for the past 10 years.

When I asked him if he's added any new flourishes to the muppet after he took over from Oz, he said not really.

"He's such a recognizable, iconic character," he said.

So no big changes ahead, I asked. No going on a diet for Cookie Monster?

"No," David said, adding with a smile, "He won't be changing his name to Brussels Sprouts Monster anytime soon."

Photos courtesy of PBS

1 comment:

Greg Delaney said...

Happy B-Day Sesame Street... I hope they don't start changing the basic elements that have made the show work so well for all these years


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