‘Sesame Street’ Gets New Upscale Look for HBO Premiere


Source: Emily Steel, NY Times

Big Bird’s nest has moved to a tree. Elmo has moved from an apartment into a brownstone. His best friend, Abby Cadabby, loves her new community garden. And while Oscar the Grouch still makes a trash can his home, he now pops up through an underground tunnel of connecting recycling and compost bins.

Welcome to the new “Sesame Street,” where the word on the street this season is C-H-A-N-G-E.

After 45 years on the public broadcaster PBS, Big Bird, Elmo and the rest of the “Sesame Street” crew are settling into a renovated set as well as a new television home on the premium cable network HBO. Season 46 starts Saturday morning.

“Everything has been changing around here,” Carmen Osbahr, the puppeteer who for 26 years has performed as the turquoise, hug-loving bilingual monster Rosita, said recently, during a break from filming the coming Valentine’s Day special.

Festooned across the set were red and pink valentines. Heart-shaped cookies with red gumdrops sat on the counter at Hooper’s Store, which has undergone a Williamsburg-like renovation.

“It is more like things look now,” Ms. Osbahr added. “When Sesame Street was created, it was kind of more like New York Bronx. Now, Oscar has a recycling can. That is amazing.”

“Sesame Street” is performing a delicate balancing act between old and new; even as it seeks to preserve its mission of using the power of entertainment media to educate children, it is trying to remain relevant and available to a generation of children who do not distinguish between a television and a mobile phone screen.

“If you know the audience, you can serve them better, tell better stories, and they will love you more,” said Brown Johnson, executive vice president and creative director at Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit group behind the program.

To that end, episodes will be trimmed from an hour to a snappier half-hour, which is viewed as a more manageable amount of time for children to focus. The classic theme song and intro will get a new spin — the song still asks for directions to Sesame Street, but the intro sequence will for the first time take place on the set, which remains at Kaufman Astoria Studios in Queens.

The new season will feature fewer celebrity and parody segments, largely because preschoolers often do not know the stars or understand the references. More powerful than having a boldface name present the letter of the day, Ms. Johnson says, is to have Gwen Stefani sing about being a best friend. Other celebrity appearances  include Pharrell Williams singing “B Is for Book” and Ne-Yo singing “You’ve Got a Body So Move It.” One spoof this season, “Orange Is the New Snack,” about bringing healthy snacks to preschool, airs on Jan. 30.

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