McAlester News-Capital, McAlester, OK

Breaking News

Opinion

October 14, 2012

Slate's Explainer: Why isn't Big Bird on a major network?

Big Bird has emerged as the surprise star of the 2012 campaign. Mitt Romney says he likes Big Bird but wants to cut federal funding to PBS, while the big yellow bird has appeared in an ad made by President Obama's campaign. Why is "Sesame Street" on public television, anyway?

Because the networks turned it down. In 1967, a couple of years before the first episode of "Sesame Street" aired on PBS, one of the co-founders of the Children's Television Workshop pitched the concept to executives at NBC and CBS. They both passed on the opportunity, as did Time-Life Broadcasting and Westinghouse. The problem wasn't that the show was for children: Captain Kangaroo had already been a modest success on CBS for 12 years, and the networks had offered periodic programming for preschoolers. But Children's Television Workshop was a somewhat revolutionary idea in 1967. It had a strongly academic bent, drawing together child psychiatrists and child-development researchers from the ivory tower in a way that suggested profit wasn't their motivation. Its executives also refused to allow commercials to interrupt the program, although they were open to ads at the beginning and end. The Children's Television Workshop leadership also insisted that the show focus on disadvantaged urban kids, rejecting calls from television producers that they broaden the target demographic to all preschool children.

PBS desperately needed a winner in the late 1960s and was willing to take a chance. Some PBS programming was so poor that The New York Times television critic noted, "congressmen could scarcely be blamed for wondering if a huge permanent investment in noncommercial video is warranted." "Sesame Street" was exactly the kind of innovative show that could change the narrative about public broadcasting.

It's an odd quirk of history that Bert and Ernie's first-ever television appearance came not on PBS, but in a preview on NBC. And commercialism was the first thing viewers saw: A Muppet noted that Xerox had sponsored the preview, in a move that infuriated some "Sesame Street" executives.

"Sesame Street" has always had an uncomfortable relationship with money. After the show became a smash success, producers worried that the foundations that paid to get the show off the ground would expect it to sustain itself. Some executives adamantly opposed any attempt at merchandising. Even Jim Henson, who was already making money merchandising his comedic Muppets, opposed doing the same with more the educational "Sesame Street" characters. Eventually, however, the prospect of becoming a self-financing model convinced most of the creators that Oscar the Grouch dolls wouldn't tarnish the program.

     

1
Text Only | Photo Reprints
Opinion
  • Saundra Kaye Offill

    Saundra Kaye Offill, 67, lost her 7 year battle with Alzhiemer’s on Thursday, July 10, 2014. She was born in McAlester, Oklahoma on March 11, 1947, to Louis and the late Melba Vanlandingham.

    July 16, 2014

  • Square logo.jpg ‘Is anything sacred anymore?’

    Editor:
    What do we know about the “The Star Spangled Banner” ?

    July 14, 2014 1 Photo

  • Square logo.jpg Any hope in new MPD facility?

    July 14, 2014 1 Photo

  • ent_taylorswift.jpg There's less good music now — here's why

    Taylor Swift, the seven-time Grammy winner, is known for her articulate lyrics, so there was nothing surprising about her writing a long column for The Wall Street Journal about the future of the music industry. Yet there's reason to doubt the optimism of what she had to say.

    July 9, 2014 1 Photo

  • Donald Sterling needs to go away

    Whether it happens due to a quick settlement or a likely longer trial, Clippers owner Donald Sterling just needs to go away.

    June 19, 2014

  • CHRIS-MORRIS-2.jpg Prescription drug abuse

    Tip of the Week
    You can be arrested for driving under the influence of prescription medication, so follow your recommended dosage or don’t get behind the wheel.

    June 9, 2014 1 Photo

  • Kevin Durant Kevin Durant’s grace period will end soon

    After his 7th season ended Saturday with the Thunder’s Game 6 loss to the San Antonio Spurs in the Western Conference Finals, the grace period for Oklahoma City superstar Kevin Durant may soon be drawing to a close.

    June 3, 2014 1 Photo

  • Billy Guy Ferrell

    Billy Guy Ferrell, died Saturday, May 24, 2014, at a nursing home in McAlester.

    May 30, 2014

  • Square logo.jpg Congress faces risky decision on National Security, local aerospace jobs

    When you’re in the middle of errands and your fuel gauge hits the red zone, what do you do? Skip the gas station and try to make it back home on ‘E’? Even if you make it home, what will you do the next time you need to drive your car? It’s not worth the ten minutes saved. Who wants to be stranded on the side of the road, forced to walk to the nearest filling station or wait for a tow?

    May 21, 2014 1 Photo

  • Todd Lamb From the Capitol: Staycation in Oklahoma

    With the summer travel season quickly approaching, many Oklahomans are making plans for their summer vacations. I would encourage Oklahomans to look in our own backyard and explore all that Oklahoma has to offer this summer. All ages and all travel enthusiasts can find something of interest here at home.

    May 21, 2014 1 Photo

Seasonal Content
AP Video
Florida Panther Rebound Upsets Ranchers Small Plane Crash in San Diego Parking Lot Busy Franco's Not Afraid of Overexposure Fighting Blocks Access to Ukraine Crash Site Dangerous Bacteria Kills One in Florida Workers Dig for Survivors After India Landslide Texas Scientists Study Ebola Virus Smartphone Powered Paper Plane Debuts at Airshow Southern Accent Reduction Class Cancelled in TN Raw: Deadly Landslide Hits Indian Village Obama Chides House GOP for Pursuing Lawsuit New Bill Aims to Curb Sexual Assault on Campus Russia Counts Cost of New US, EU Sanctions 3Doodler Bring 3-D Printing to Your Hand Six PA Cops Indicted for Robbing Drug Dealers Britain Testing Driverless Cars on Roadways
NDN Video
Famous Internet Cats Help Big Cause With Viral Video Did Jimmy Fallon Look Up Heidi Klum's Dress? Chapter Two: Composing for a film in retirement What Drama? Miranda Kerr Poses Topless Woman's Dive Goes Terribly Wrong Plane crashes in San Diego Costco parking lot Justin Bieber Takes To Instagram To Diss Orlando Bloom You Won't Believe the Celeb Cameos in "Sharknado 2" Pitch Invading Morons Cause Chaos - @TheBuzzeronFOX Orlando Bloom 'Takes a Swing' at Justin Bieber In Ibiza Sadie Doesn't Want Her Brother to Grow Up "Maxim" Hotness! See Jessica Alba's Sizzling Spread Two women barely avoid being hit by train Broken Water Main Floods UCLA Orlando Bloom and Justin Bieber Reportedly Came To Blows In Ibiza Meet the Man Behind Dumb Starbucks Chris Pratt Adorably Surprises Kids at a 'Guardians of the Galaxy' Screening NOW TRENDING: Peyton Manning dancing at practice "The Bachelorette" Makes Her Decision Thieves pick the wrong gas station to rob
Parade
Magazine

Click HERE to read all your Parade favorites including Hollywood Wire, Celebrity interviews and photo galleries, Food recipes and cooking tips, Games and lots more.