With Big Bird and Elmo Both in the News, Is It Helping or Hurting PBS?

Jan 15, 2013  •  Post A Comment

PBS’s “Sesame Street” has seen a couple of its characters in the headlines in recent months, with Elmo impacted by a child abuse scandal involving former puppeteer Kevin Clash while Big Bird surfaced as a player in the presidential election.

PBS President Paula Kerger talked about both situations during a Q&A session Monday at the Television Critics Association press tour, saying the Elmo scandal has not hurt the broadcasting service, Deadline.com reports.

Said Kerger: “Elmo is larger than any individual; I have not seen any negative impact. Time will tell; we will watch it very carefully.”

“Kerger reminded that the character of Kermit the Frog has survived the loss of original voice Jim Henson,” the story notes. “As to casting a new Elmo, Kerger said that some of the series’ characters have multiple puppeteers and that there was already an effort under way to get some ‘additional help’ for Elmo.”

The executive also noted that the unexpected emergence of Big Bird as a factor in the presidential election turned out to be a plus for PBS.

“GOP candidate Mitt Romney’s pledge during the campaign to end federal funding for the big yellow bird’s home network became a rallying point for PBS defenders,” Deadline reports. “The mention of Big Bird during the October 3 debate between Romney and Obama generated more than a quarter-million tweets, and the next month about 1,000 marchers took part in the ‘Million Puppet March’ in Washington, D.C., to save public broadcasting.”

Said Kerger: “It was an opportunity to try to explain to a much wider audience, people on the Hill and the American people, who we are.” Kerger also reportedly said about a third of PBS stations would go dark without federal funding.

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