Why the Sesame Street-HBO Deal is a Good Thing

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Sorta transcript:

Sesame Street, the public television show that has taught little kids to count, write, and tell near from far for 45 years, has just been sold to HBO. Those who don’t live in the US may be confused — you probably know what Sesame Street is, since it’s shown in dozens of other countries from Afghanistan to the UK, but you probably also know what public television is, and it’s generally not something that’s only available to people who can pay for premium cable channels.

Sesame Street’s entire purpose from the very start was to provide educational and entertaining content that was informed by scientific research and targeted toward poor, inner-city kids who generally weren’t exposed to early educational television.

So the idea that it will now be shown on HBO has a number of people understandably upset.

Since the 1980s, Republicans have often threatened to revoke federal funding of shows like Sesame Street despite its demonstrable positive effect on kids who need that kind of education the most, which has been shown in thousands of peer-reviewed studies over the years.

Because of that, Sesame Street has attempted to fund itself through multiple means, including selling toys and books and other merchandise. Unfortunately, it all hasn’t been enough, as more and more people stop watching public television and start streaming shows online.

To continue to compete, Sesame Street made a deal with HBO, and it’s actually not as bad as many people may think: HBO has 9 months to broadcast each episode, after which they’ll be given to public television for free. The funding they’re giving Sesame Street will allow them to produce twice as many new shows as before, 52 in a year. All past episodes are still able to be shown on public television without restriction.

Some people are still upset at this scenario, saying that it effectively splits children into a rich tier and a poor tier, forcing poor kids to get the rich kids’ leftovers. These people are 100% correct — that is what is happening, and on a philosophical level it’s fucked up and wrong. Our government should care enough about children’s education to fully fund scientifically proven methods for enriching kids’ lives and making better, smarter adults in the future. And in this case, there are few programs that describes better than Sesame Street.

But the fact of the matter is that our government doesn’t prioritize children’s education, because they’d rather spend billions of dollars on killing people in other countries with robots. Whatever, America, you do you.

So until we get our shit together, I’m really impressed that HBO has offered such a great solution. Sesame Street gets all the funding they need, PBS gets free new seasons, and children won’t know the difference. Seriously. Sesame Street is for kids from age 3-8, basically, and their needs aren’t like yours. I loved Sesame Street as a kid. And what would I do when I turned on the TV and saw a rerun? I’d sit there and watch it and love it, either because I didn’t even remember watching it the first time because I was 3 and I had the memory of a fruit fly, or because I liked watching things I’d already seen and loved once before.

In fact, I was surprised to learn recently that Mr. Hooper died in 1982, before I was even old enough to watch the show. I loved Mr. Hooper. He had been dead for 5 years, and I had no idea and I loved him.

And I mean, have you ever been around a kid? How many times can a kid watch a thing they love? A million times. 10 million times. 100 million times more than you can bear.

So no, no kids will give a shit that there are new episodes floating around out there that they can’t watch yet. And if they do care, you’re raising shitty kids and you should fix that.

So is this HBO deal a bad thing? Yes and no. It’s a great thing for children, but it’s an embarrassing thing for America when the rest of the world sees how little we truly value children.

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca is a writer, speaker, YouTube personality, and unrepentant science nerd. In addition to founding and continuing to run Skepchick, she hosts Quiz-o-Tron, a monthly science-themed quiz show and podcast that pits comedians against nerds. There is an asteroid named in her honor. Twitter @rebeccawatson Mastodon mstdn.social/@rebeccawatson Instagram @actuallyrebeccawatson TikTok @actuallyrebeccawatson YouTube @rebeccawatson BlueSky @rebeccawatson.bsky.social

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  1. When I saw the headline about the HBO deal, I saw Elmo red. But after I had read the article, I gave it an Oscar the Grouch green light, for all the reasons you cited. In the end, it’s a good deal for the poor, urban kids the show was originally intended for (though I loved it just as much). Plus, as I learned in the article, most kids with cable actually view their Sesame Street episodes On Demand. Richer kids already receive their demands, but now poorer kids will get to enjoy more of them, even if they are delayed.

  2. Keeping it funded one way or another has the added benefit of keeping some of my puppeteer friends employed doing a thing they love (and that’s no small thing in my book).
    Not only does Sesame Street do great work in the realm of the programming they create, but every few years as part of their “find new talent” process they do intensive workshops with puppeteers from around the country and that both helps them keep the show staffed with some of the best puppeteers around, but it also feeds back into the puppetry arts community the skills and knowledge that are learned during that time.

  3. One problem I have is that gives ammo to those who argue that one can cut public funding of social services because if they are “worthwhile” then the private sector will step up and support it. In the short term, it’s a good thing that Sesame Street will be able to increase production, and to still be available; in the long run, the fact that it can may end up hurting a lot of good services through de-funding.

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