The day Sesame Street lost its integrity
Television networks deny it. Newspapers deny it. Offices and corporations deny it. But it happens, and everyone knows what transpired, even when a word soup press release is issued to try and spin the decision in an attempt to not look like jerkwads.
It happens. When it comes to celebrity, once people reach a certain age they are pushed out. Oh sure, some people fight through and refuse to retire into obscurity. Jane Fonda. Sam Waterston. Bill Cosby.
But more often than not, once your expiration day approaches, it is time to step aside. If you don’t, you become a joke, a punch line for the media. Even when they are releasing some of the best music of their career, utilizing the discernment of age and the refine of talent that only comes with decades of experience, how many “broken hip” jokes do you hear about the Rolling Stones…Madonna…Kenny Rogers?
It happens closer to home, as well. I am 44 years old, and over and over I have seen local news anchors on the Big 3 quietly (and sometimes not so quietly) replaced with newer, shinier models. Models that often stammer through their broadcasts, especially at the beginning. They mispronounce major roads. They report on important local organizations with a blank, glassy-eyed stare, obviously clueless as to what they referring.
Over time, they learn. They grow. They become experienced, knowledgeable and respected journalists. And then they have to start looking over their shoulders while trying new “crows-away” wrinkle cream in desperation that the 30-year-old department head upstairs will use his cell phone calculator to figure up just how many years it has been.
This morning, I learned it has happened again, and this one really burns my rubber duckie. As far back as I can remember, the cast of Sesame Street was there with me, helping me learn to read and count. Maria taught me that smart, tough women can be respected and valuable. Big Bird taught me that you don’t have to be the smartest, or the best…but you should always try to be the kindest. Bob, Gordon and Luis interacted with each other without the slightest hint that they realized they were different colors. Linda taught me that deaf people were not scary. Oscar the Grouch taught me that my time-of-the-month episodes were okay.
Although I had grown out of the need for Sesame Street by the time Mr. Hooper died, I still grieved as I knew that someone who helped watch over me as I was growing up would no longer be there. I was older then, but I watched my niece sitting in front of the television as the cast tried to explain to Big Bird that his close friend was not coming back.
I think everyone from my generation has Sesame Street memories. Playing Super Grover in the back yard. Singing that God-awful number song because you couldn’t get it out of your head (“123-FOUR-5-678-NINE-10…11…12!!!”). Involuntarily bobbing your head along every time the ladybugs had their picnic jamboree.
Last year, HBO acquired Sesame Street and took all first-run episodes away from PBS, allowing the station to have the shows only months after they originally aired on HBO. Over the years, I would occasionally catch a few minutes of the long-running show and was honestly pretty disenchanted with the changes it had seen. I realize anything has to grow and adapt to survive, but I felt some of the charm and personality was gone. When I heard the news about HBO’s move, I knew right then the ball game was over. Media executives are just as clueless about art and quality as record companies are about what makes good music, often because they were in diapers when the true artists dominated their industries.
It took nearly a year, but HBO didn’t disappoint. This week, longtime Sesame Street actors and characters “Bob” McGrath and Roscoe “Gordon” Orman, both with the series since 1969, and Emilio “Luis” Delgato, who joined two years later, were fired from the show. Too many wrinkles, no doubt, and unable to relate to the Kardashians and Katy Perry.
HBO was forced to release a statement denying any culpability, saying it was the Sesame Workshop alone who made the cuts. I guess the timing is just a complete coincidence.
I wonder if they will have another spotlight episode where the remaining cast explains to Big Bird that although not technically dead, once someone reaches middle age, they are essentially useless and pointless. I am thinking not, as that air time would be much more valuable showcasing a duet between Elmo and Justin Bieber.