Friday, August 14, 2015

The Gentrification of Sesame Street?


Gentrification is one of those complicated processes. It all looks very good at the outset – a rundown neighborhood or an old part of town is renovated, money is pumped in, and it once again becomes a desirable place to live. The city is happy because there is a vital tax base, people feel good about the old neighborhood because it is renewed and attracting a better clientele and residents who will add to the quality of life. The downside is that the people who have been living there throughout the depressed, lean years find themselves priced out of their own neighborhood. New people coming in can be a bit uppity or snooty with little regard for the “commoners” who have spent their lives there.

Knowing all of this is probably why I gasped when I first heard the news that Sesame Street would be moving to HBO. “Oh, my goodness!” I thought. The very people who have benefited most from Sesame Street may now be cut off from it if purchasing premium cable it a requirement for viewing. Fortunately, as I read the news release, Sesame Street will continue to be available on PBS. 

A Remarkably Successful Project

In 1969, The Children’s Television Workshop launched an innovative experiment with Sesame Street. They created children’s programming that was geared toward preschool education, providing a new kind of learning environment to equip preschoolers with some foundational skills in reading, writing, and arithmetic, and they made it fun! Moreover, in 1969, Sesame Street was one of the few multiethnic places on television, and part of its mission was to reach the inner city kids who had little opportunity for kindergarten or preschool. The experiment was incredibly successful. All children were affirmed, black, Hispanic, and Asian as well as whites, and all were given reason to feel good about themselves. Sesame Street also accomplished its goal of reaching those inner city households.

Here Comes the Money

What will this joint venture with HBO and The Children’s Television Workshop lead to? It actually sounds good, like a win-win situation. CTW will have more money available so that it can produce twice as much new material for Sesame Street, HBO will get back into the children's programming at a lower cost than if it were producing original programming, and after a “nine month window” PBS will receive Sesame Street programming free of charge! Hey, that’s what Mitt Romney was advocating for Big Bird and his ilk back when he was running for president and wanting to cut federal spending. He wanted Big Bird to find money elsewhere, and now we are seeing that other funding come to pass.

It all sounds good, but will this just be another one of those gentrification projects? When they get accustomed to HBO’s money, will the Children’s Television Workshop lose some of its authenticity? Will they stay in touch with the inner city kids and continue to appeal to a multiethnic audience? Will they stay focused on education, or will they succumb to the sure-fire principle of entertainment? Time will tell. Lets hope the CTW will increase in its good accomplishments, and lets pray that the long time residents are not priced out of the neighborhood.    


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