Hold onto your childhood: Sesame Street is moving to HBO.
Sesame Street, the show that taught us all to count, exposed us to other cultures and challenged us to figure out which of these things was not like the others is leaving PBS after decades. For HBO, home of The Sopranos, Sex and the City and Game of Thrones.
Can we expect to see Cookie Monster strung out on a new designer drug called Cookiez? Will Oscar stage a bloody coup for control of Mister Hooper’s store? The mind boggles at what Ernie and Bert might get up to without the strictures of public TV.
The Count as a bayou vampire dating a psychic waitress?
Big Bird and Snuffy as morally compromised cops hunting a serial killer for a decade?
Joking aside, this is a monumental transition. Sesame Street has been a staple of PBS children’s programming since the late ‘60s. Moving from “free” public television to a subscription-based premium channel is a major culture shift.
The fact is that the non-profit production company behind Sesame Street has been struggling financially in recent years. DVD sales have dropped substantially and their once mighty merchandising arm has also seen better days. They needed to do something to keep the show going.
The HBO deal is expected to double the number of new episodes Sesame Street produces each year, from about 18 to 35. Spin-offs are also in the works. And after an exclusive nine-month window on HBO and its various platforms, those episodes will become available to PBS. So it’s not actually “losing” Sesame Street.
Reports about the move reference the different ways kids watch TV these days. HBO’s mobile and On Demand platforms allow broader penetration for new episodes and match the way more and more people are consuming programming. With a tablet or smart phone and the HBO app, your kid can watch Sesame Street in the backseat during a car ride. PBS has been constrained in the development of the kinds of platforms its for profit competitors have been developing.
Opening up a new source of funding for Sesame Street can be a good thing for the long-term health of the franchise. It’s not the first time the show has faced daunting financial circumstances in its long history. It’s certainly a more unique wrinkle in that up-and-down cycle.
Concerns about forcing those who can’t afford HBO to wait nine months for new episodes are genuine. But currently, Sesame Street airs reruns most of the year anyway. PBS isn’t losing those existing episodes and will continue to air them as usual. The longer wait for PBS viewers to see the new installments might not be ideal. But if the choice is “wait 9 months” or “get no new episodes at all,” isn’t the former preferable? Utopian ideals aside, someone has to pay for the production. With PBS constantly scrambling for funding, taking that burden off them but still giving them access to new episodes on a delayed basis seems like a reasonable compromise.
And culture clash jokes aside, this isn’t the first time HBO has been in the Jim Henson business. Fraggle Rock aired on HBO for several seasons in the mid-80s. While HBO is better known for its edgy, decidedly adult series and movies, the network has a long history of quality programming for children.
But if Elmo starts sipping cosmos with his gal pals and talking about getting waxed, we will have a problem.
Originally published at thunderalleybcpcom.ipage.com on August 14, 2015.