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Sesame Street shrinks to 30 minutes, new shows will premiere on HBO and PBS nine months later

What is the biggest major change Sesame Street has been through in the past 46 years?


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Oscarfan

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Now what are children going to watch on PBS for the next nine months? It just won't feel the same without Sesame Street being in its traditional morning spot.
The Sesame re-runs until new episodes show up. They're not taking the show away until then.
 

somethingofafan

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It's also a statement about children's attention spans these days.
Well, given that the reason the show is composed of short segments in the first place is because of children's attention spans back in those days, I don't think it's that much of a statement.
 

JLG

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Hi, folks.

Let's all get on the same page. I'm trying to really nail down the specific reasons Sesame Workshop has arrived at the place it's at.
I direct this question to those on here who always seem to be more in the know. What I'm trying to understand is....what HAPPENED, exactly?

That is to say, how did we GET here?

Piece by piece by piece, the Workshop's old business model has been chipped away, with the parallel result that Sesame Street's perennial form and structure have also been chipped away. While some of the reasons are obvious, such as the explosion of new and sudden competition starting in the mid-90s, and new research results from the same time pointing toward the need for a format overhaul, I remain deeply puzzled by the speed and thoroughness of their deteriorating situation.

First and foremost----the output. How were they able to crank out 130 hours of material every year for almost three decades, and then within just five years, have to progressively cut it down to 26? That alone is a very dramatic turn that doesn't often get truly singled out here.

Having connected the dots from other threads and circumstantial evidence, my assumption for the past few years has been that this all started when Newt Gingrich's Congress initiated dramatic cuts to PBS's budget. That would have been in 1995 or '96----maybe someone here knows for sure. It was very shortly after that that Sesame Street took its first major hit. They were still able to deliver 130 hours for the 1997-98 year----the last true season of the "old" show----but with the 1998 season it had been cut in half to 65. Then 50. Then 26. Very quickly.

I mean---where did all that funding go? And so fast? Where HAD it been coming from before? It's just astonishing to me that what was so consistent for so long is now literally unthinkable. Today they're so desperate to even continue their current small output, they had to turn to HBO's offered lifeline. 130 hours today is BEYOND out of the question. But how? How did that become true? And how was it possible for so long before?

For years and years, the only sponsors mentioned were PBS stations, Ford Foundation and Carnegie Corporation. Not even Corporation for Public Broadcasting was part of that picture for a good chunk of the '70s and all through the '80s, or at least not acknowledged on-screen. Was that enormous output of material really funded solely by those three sources for all those years? And what were the actual reasons Ford and Carnegie dropped out after the 1994-95 season? I don't believe that's ever been explained here. In any case, that seems to have directly coincided with the Congress-imposed budget cuts.

Between those two things happening at the same time, it's no wonder that they had to turn to private sponsors starting with Discovery Zone in 1998. But what's amazing is that a few years down the road when they had three, even four private sponsors at once, like McDonald's and Cheerios and the rest, it apparently wasn't enough to even come CLOSE to the amount of funding that Ford and Carnegie had always dished out largely by themselves. I find that incredible.

And still their economics continue to get bleaker and bleaker, even as they've adapted to continuing technological and cultural changes as aggressively as they can. Why? Why is it such a struggle for them to stay afloat now? Yes, they have to work harder than ever to make themselves stand out, but where did all that former revenue go? I'm just confused by how dramatically this all turned around, and how quickly things started down this path.
 

Drtooth

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How ironic that a show that was originally designed to reach children of all income brackets is going to a premium cable channel.
My sentiments exactly. I agree that showing kids playing in abandoned construction sites doesn't work outside of the 70's, but other than that, Sesame lost its street cred in recent years. I've been joking about how Sesame Street has been gentrified with skits about Yoga (unironically) and making sushi. But this move to HBO first... funny how I made jokes about how no one should be able to afford to live there when it turns out, the ones getting pushed out of the neighborhood are the viewers.


Question: Nothing is really said in the articles about HBO that they'll be carrying the show as a 30-minute program. Is it too much to assume that HBO will air the show as 60-minutes, while PBS will shorten it to 30?
I dunno... if HBO airs a full hour series and only gives the half hour version to PBS, that's...actually worse.

I still have some problems with a half hour format, but if there's one thing that soured me about the half hour reruns it was rewatching the Cookie Connoisseurs Club episode and seeing they chopped the ending off to fit. Now, this is all hypothetical, as I'm sure HBO's show will still be the half hour format, but if there was a half hour version made off of a premium hour version, I see nothing but huge edits in the show. And that's not taking into consideration the fact that even if it is a half hour, edits may still be the case. After all, it's not a full 30 minutes, but rather 25.

Another good case is Warner Bros.'s "Wabbit: a Looney Tunes Production" and "Be Cool Scooby-Doo" going to air on Boomerang, instead of regular Cartoon Network. Only a small percentage of people in America get Boomerang, so this means the shows may wind up getting low ratings.
Off topic, but I agree to that and I have a problem with CN's only one night a week of new episodes and every night is the same line up. It's working for them, and it's keeping the awful live action shows away, so I can't complain about that. But I think about how they just burned through the Tom and Jerry Show episodes just to put the reruns on Boomerang.

Then again, I usually keep an open mind about things, but even I'm skeptical about Wabbit and Be Cool. Still not a great idea that will lead to low ratings that won't pay back, though. And to say the least of Sonic Boom and TF:RID's insanely early time slots.

Eliminating the full-hour version is indeed disheartening, but to be fair, the show in recent years might as well have been called Sesame Street Presents: The Sesame Street Programming Block Extravaganza Starring Elmo and Abby. And the premieres on HBO are just as baffling. It's bad enough they kept Fraggle Rock all to themselves and didn't so much as allow other networks to air it on Saturday mornings, forcing kids to settle with a short-lived animated series instead.
On the subject of the half hour format... I agree completely that the whole trying to be the competitors with the programming block thing (though clearly influenced by international Sesame Street series) was a mixed bag. I'm not really a fan of how it turned out, and those expensive segments drained money from the rest of the show. And, obviously, it was too expensive to produce more than a handful of those segments anyway, leading to massive reruns wasting footage. Losing them does shorten the series up a bunch. So, that's a positive...even though Crumby pictures was good. It's weird that a half hour's too little and a full hour's too much.

As for Fraggle Rock, the difference here was that Henson didn't really have much choice of where to put the series. No one was willing to pick it up, at least without turning it into a Sesame Street knockoff. Here, this was a deal made for distribution because of cash flow problems for SW probably caused by PBS and their "all our money's going to outbid BBC America on British dramas" budgeting. No longer do they have kid's pledge month drives.



Having connected the dots from other threads and circumstantial evidence, my assumption for the past few years has been that this all started when Newt Gingrich's Congress initiated dramatic cuts to PBS's budget. That would have been in 1995 or '96----maybe someone here knows for sure. It was very shortly after that that Sesame Street took its first major hit. They were still able to deliver 130 hours for the 1997-98 year----the last true season of the "old" show----but with the 1998 season it had been cut in half to 65. Then 50. Then 26. Very quickly.
Ah, yes. Newt Gingrich. Ol' bastion of moralities Gingrich who cheated on and later dumped his cancer stricken wife all the while going after Clinton for lying about sex. And is STILL a respected member of the GOP Gingrich. Yeah, small political rant, the PBS thing is spite and nothing but. Mainly because they have a liberal bias and, even though a huge cable news outlet, countless radio stations, countless crayon scribbled manifestos editorial books written by countless whining overpaid medicine wagon men pundits, that tiny little public channel is somehow considered a threat (even though their political shows feature right wing contributors anyway). I guess they feel the money is better spent funding private companies that make craploads of money on their own.End political rant.

But yeah. Earlier this year, I went to Party City and they had donations for Sesame Workshop displayed. You could donate money to them directly without the bother of having a nice piece of merchandise to take home. I guess that does speak volumes about this.

After mulling this over, I still say I'm upset and annoyed over the whole thing. However, I think whatever anger and disappointment shouldn't be directed to this happening, but rather that it had to happen. PBS has lost all credibility with me, they've been going downhill for years. This is the final straw, pushing Sesame Workshop to have to strike a deal with premium cable.
 

JLG

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It's not that they regard PBS as a "threat"----it's that they are simply ideologically opposed to the government providing any kind of funding for art/culture. (Just as they are opposed to Social Security, Medicaid, and all other such programs for ideological reasons----they do not believe, plainly and simply, that the government should, or even Constitutionally CAN, create such services. This stance has little to do with the results of the programs, which is why they are forced to manufacture distortions about their effectiveness and financial outlook in order to convince people of their position's credibility.)

Regardless, to the extent that anyone here knows, is my cobbled-together understanding of what happened correct?
 

D'Snowth

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“Yesterday’s DVD is today’s SVOD,” he said, a reference to subscription video-on-demand services like Netflix and Amazon that have grown in popularity among children.
Why are we teaching children to make transactions over the internet? You need a credit card to do that: are we teaching kids to swipe their parents' credit cards and risk not only ruining their credit scores, but making them vulnerable for possible credit fraud and theft of both credit and personal information?
 

JLG

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But again, why? Why are things so desperate now? What was still true in the mid-90s that isn't true anymore? How was churning out 130 hours annually possible?
 

Drtooth

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It's not that they regard PBS as a "threat"----it's that they are simply ideologically opposed to the government providing any kind of funding for art/culture. (Just as they are opposed to Social Security, Medicaid, and all other such programs for ideological reasons----they do not believe, plainly and simply, that the government should, or even Constitutionally CAN, create such services. This stance has little to do with the results of the programs, which is why they are forced to manufacture distortions about their effectiveness and financial outlook in order to convince people of their position's credibility.)
And yet, they aren't opposed to giving big fat cash subsidies to oil companies. I get the whole "government shouldn't govern" bit, but the PBS thing seems a little extra spiteful than most. I do indeed get the concept of not publicly funding the arts, and can sort of see that point of view, but with PBS, they seem to go from "government shouldn't waste money on culture" to "we need to get rid of these guys because we hate them that much." The fact that the programs are left leaning (and the fact that in the mid-00's try tried right leaning programming that failed miserably) does open things up to conspiracy. The Postcards from Buster episodes (gay couple and Muslim kids) playing into their hands. Not to mention that underground right wing gotcha "journalist" (who's name I can't recall at the moment) set up that sting operation to destroy PBS and NPR with his special brand of overly edited videos. So seriously, that's a lot of aggression towards "we shouldn't spend government money" focused on one outlet. I don't see what discrediting them and saying "they're brainwashing kids to be tolerant" has over "this is your money, wasted." There's a sinister angle if they're that opposed to it.

Outside of that, I totally agree that the private money supporters of PBS kid's programming have been becoming less and less altruistic over the past decade and a half. There's this whole feeling that "yeah, but what's in it for us?" is why sponsor tags became more and more like commercials with the subtlety of a set of pots and pans falling down a flight of stairs. Clearly the tax credit and good press aren't enough, they need to turn this investment into advertising. Remember when Ralph Nader's consumer watch group scared ill informed upperclass parents about how big scary McDonalds was using Sesame Street to brainwash kids to be fat, and how they made a big stink about it... yet never complained about Spagetti-O's having "as much Calcium as a glass of Milk" or the other junk foods that sponsored other kid's programs with equally non-subtle commercials? Seems they took an easy target as a point of anger, and as a result were angry at the wrong things.

The take home wasn't that McDonalds was sponsoring Sesame Street, but rather that McDonalds had to sponsor Sesame Street. Why weren't the protests met with vows to pledge the HECK out of PBS so they didn't need to rely on corporate sponsorship? Oh, because they were a parental group, and those are usually filled with angry, uninformed morons with way too much time and money on their hands who invariably make things worse than better.

Also....uh.. the corporate sponsors don't want to spend as much money doing something good (which is a tax dodge anyway) as they do reporting that they're doing good. In other words, they probably spend more money on PR agents writing up press releases saying they care about charity than the charity itself. Otherwise, why bother being charitable?

Here's another article giving more detail as to why SW made this move:

http://variety.com/2015/tv/news/sesame-street-hbo-sesame-workshop-1201569728/

Dwindling DVD sales really explains why everyone of their DVDs this year as been Elmo-centric.
I really think that entertainment companies home video divisions are systematically trying to sabotage their own physical media so they can go to much cheaper, much more sweathearty deals with streaming. I can go on a huge rant about how this is going to hurt them and how Brick and mortar stores are depleted and cost jobs... but all and all, streaming isn't a bad thing, but obsolete media does have a place when these deals strike out or the net's down. I'm sure a lot of SW's revenue did come from home video sales, and this is kinda a blow to them. But then again, they sat out the merchandising fiesta that would have been the 45th anniversary. While that probably wouldn't have saved them completely, some nice merch probably would have funded them enough to stave this off a year.
 
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