Happy Birthday Sesame Street!

Today Sesame Street turns 40 and once again, the show is making news and stirring controversy. It is so timely that critics now claim its storylines reflect bias. A recent re-airing of a two year old show featuring a news channel parody, today’s scheduled guest host, First Lady Michelle Obama, and this season’s emphasis on the environment are the reasons for this latest controversy.

Recently PBS re-aired an episode from two years ago where Oscar the Grouch started a news network called Grouchy News Network or GNN. A puppet character caller complained that GNN wasn’t grouchy enough and said, “From now on, I’m watching Pox News. Now there’s a trashy news show.” This is just another very clever parody that Sesame Street is famous for and not an attack against conservatives or Fox News as some might claim. It is a simply a fun and smart show. Sesame Street is famous for its parodies. Other clever parodies include Desperate Houseplants, A’s Anatomy, Law and Order: Special Letters Unit, Preschool Musical and 30 Rocks. Parents can look forward to newer parodies of Dancing with the Stars and even a Mad Men parody in which a Muppet Don Draper pitches an ad campaign that makes him feel mad, sad and eventually glad.

Today First Lady Michelle Obama will appear as a guest star on Sesame Street to help celebrate its birthday. Sesame Street has a history of inviting celebrities on the show to delight parents and children alike. Guest stars, like parodies, are another staple of the show. They serve two purposes. Guest stars make the show current and since co-viewing of parents and children is encouraged, featuring celebrity guests succeeds in entertaining parents along with their kids. Three other first ladies have also appeared on the show. In fact, this year more celebrity guests are scheduled than ever before. Watching them cut loose on Sesame Street is sure to be a treat.

Could it be that Sesame Street is promoting a liberal agenda by focusing on the environment this year? It’s more likely that Sesame Street is doing what its always done and that is incorporating trends into its shows. As we all know, the “green” movement is present in nearly every aspect of modern culture. It would be odd if Sesame Street didn’t follow suit.

Happy Birthday Sesame Street! I’ll be watching and hope you’ll be around for many more years to come.

Don’t Worry, The Cookie Monster Remains Essentially The Same

Yesterday on The View, the ladies thought it was absurd that the Cookie Monster would be appearing in a Healthy Eating PSA with Agriculture Secretary Vilsack . The PSA was produced with Sesame Workshop and features Cookie Monster, Vilsack and Broccoli talking about the importance of eating a “rainbow” of foods (especially fruits and vegetables) everyday. What’s wrong with that?

When PBS announced first announced it would be making some changes in its 35th season of Sesame Street in 2006, many people rushed to criticize. The thing that raised the greatest alarm was that the Cookie Monster would now advocate healthier eating. This is association between the Cookie Monster and healthier eating isn’t exactly news.

So many of us have grown up on Sesame Street that we feel we know the Cookie Monster and his now famous song “C is for Cookie, That’s Good Enough for Me.” There is no need to panic, however. That song won’t change, nor will the Cookie Monster character. Sesame Street emphasizes “Healthy Habits for Life” in an effort to combat soaring childhood obesity rates. The Cookie Monster simply eats fewer cookies and along with the rest of the monsters on the show and the millions of children watching at home, will learn about healthy foods and physical activity.

He does have another song now too. “A Cookie is a Sometimes Food” will help illustrate that there is a difference between a “sometimes” food and an “anytime” food. Talking vegetables and guest stars are also involved in the new healthy themes. This is something that will benefit both children and even many parents.

Rather than rush to criticize, tune in and realize that Sesame Street is doing exactly what it has done to be so successful over the past 39 years, it is changing to best reach today’s children. Without this modernization, Sesame Street would just be an old relic. I look forward to these and other changes.

Most adults do fear change. One of Sesame Street’s goals has been to help children adjust to unavoidable and sometimes upsetting changes. When the actor (Will Lee) who played Mr. Hooper died in 1982, a Sesame Street episode delicately and honestly addressed the fact that that Mr. Hooper would not be coming back. Like real family members who die, he was not replaced by another character or forgotten. His store remains and Big Bird still has a picture of him above his nest. After 9/11, Sesame Street focused an episode on overcoming loss. A grease fire at Hooper’s Store addressed fear. Firefighters rushed in to save the store and Elmo learned a great deal about the admirable work firefighters perform.

Childhood obesity is a serious issue and we should applaud the producers for addressing it. Times evolve and the show must evolve with it. Thank you Sesame Street for remembering your audience and for not taking us for granted.

Guilt Free Children’s TV

My children watch television and I don’t feel guilty about it. My husband and I watch an impressive amount of television. It’s a source of entertainment and education for us all. If chosen carefully, there is great value in today’s children’s programming.

Sesame Street has been the standard for excellence on which all other children’s shows are measured and it continues to be an amazing resource. PBS Kids has several other new valuable shows as well. My favorites include WordGirl, Sid the Science Kid, and Electric Company.

WordGirl features the adventures of Becky Botsford from the Planet Lexicon. She goes about life as an average 5thgrader until she transforms into WordGirl when she needs to fight crime and help others with vocabulary. WordGirl is aided by her monkey sidekick Captain Huggy Face. The villains are also inspired and include The Butcher, Lady Redundant Woman, Granny May, Doctor Two Brains and Chuck the Evil Sandwich Making Guy. Each episode introduces new vocabulary words and uses them in context several times, so that children really do learn to love and appreciate the power of words. PBS has ordered 26 more episodes for fall 2009.

Sid the Science Kid encourages children to investigate the world around them and in the process, introduces children to science. Sid is an inquisitive preschooler and each episode begins with a practical question like, “Why are my shoes shrinking?” Sid learns the answers to these questions through the help of his parents, teacher and friends. Children learn to make sense of the world around them and children continue to ask questions when the show is over.

The Electric Company debuted in January and has been extremely popular. PBS announced it will air episodes daily this fall. It is a remake of its 1970s version and still uses an urban setting and successfully integrates music and dancing in each episode. The Electric Company teaches phonics in those iconic silhouetted faces and the familiar “Hey, you guys!” is also used in each episode. Catchy songs like “Silent E is a Ninga” engage parents and children alike. Similar to Sesame Street, The Electric Company also has impressive celebrity guest appearances on the show including Jimmy Fallon, Wyclef Jean, Common and Tiki Barber.

Given the options today, the commercial–free, highly structured and often witty programs on PBS Kids blow away mind numbing and whiny episodes of Barney, Teletubbies and Caillou. Avoiding the thinly veiled commercial programs gives parents and children guilt free choices for 30 minute respites.