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“Sesame Street” became the big newsmaker on Thursday morning when it was announced that Sesame Workshop, the non-profit organization behind the series, had struck a deal with HBO that will see the next five seasons of the iconic children's TV program airing exclusively on the premium cabler (including its “multiplex channels” HBO GO, HBO On Demand and the new internet-only SVOD service HBO NOW) for a nine-month window before airing in reruns on public-access PBS stations, where it has made its first-run home since 1969.
The upside? PBS stations will now be able to air the show for free, and — according to HBO and Sesame Workshop — the deal will additionally allow the latter to “produce almost twice as much new content as previous seasons” of the series (including a “Sesame Street” Muppets spinoff and another new educational series aimed at children).
“Our new partnership with HBO represents a true winning public-private partnership model,”
said Sesame Workshop CEO Jeffrey D. Dunn in a statement. “It provides Sesame Workshop with the critical funding it needs to be able to continue production of 'Sesame Street' and secure its nonprofit mission of helping kids grow smarter, stronger and kinder; it gives HBO exclusive pay cable and SVOD access to the nation”s most important and historic
educational programming; and it allows 'Sesame Street' to continue to air on PBS and reach all children, as it has for the past 45 years.”
About that, Jeffrey.
“…the agreement also clearly establishes a new, Downton Abbey–style class system for Sesame Street: Middle- and upper-class kids get the benefit of the latest 'Sesame Street' lessons first, while poorer children will now be nine months behind their financially better-off peers,” writes Vulture TV writer Josef Adalian.
He continues later:
“HBO isn”t the bad guy here: It wouldn”t have been able to make this deal if Sesame Workshop felt the future of Sesame Street was vibrant and secure on PBS. This happened because our dysfunctional political system has made what ought to be a universally accepted principle – quality educational programming should be free and easily available to all kids, regardless of their parents” income level – somehow controversial. Somewhere today, Mitt Romney is smiling.”
Washington Post writer Alyssa Rosenberg also noted that the deal is an alarming symptom of our move away from public funding for the arts:
“The move…does sort children into tiers: those whose parents and schools will pony up for timely new episodes, and those who will have to wait. It”s not slamming the door shut entirely on poorer children and poorer school systems. But the whole affair does inject a note of difference and separation into a show that was always dedicated to the eradication of such distinctions. This may not be the outcome that we want. But it”s the outcome we were willing to pay for.”
While the main response to the news on Twitter has been an assortment of same-y jokes poking fun at the intersection of traditionally “adult” HBO with the most beloved children's program of all time, other users echoed Adalian's sentiments that the move essentially creates a two-tiered system that benefits children whose parents can more easily afford a premium cable package:
– Donna Dickens (@MildlyAmused) August 13, 2015
What. A Coup. For HBO. If you or your kids want to see new Sesame Street episodes, either subscribe, or wait nine months.
– Alex Weprin (@alexweprin) August 13, 2015
– No. 45 (@Nick_Hentoff) August 13, 2015
– Bleedin The Block (@ChivesMcGee) August 13, 2015
– Michael A. Smith (@MikeSmithMedia) August 13, 2015
– Sarah Palmer (@HillTownGrrl) August 13, 2015
– ?????? (@__Raff) August 13, 2015
@nytimes That kind of sucks, imo. Only kids who's parents can afford cable will get the education and entertainment that show provides.
– Matt Butterfield (@twutterfield) August 13, 2015
@nytimes guess means a lot of little kids will never get to know Sesame St bc parents would have to pay HBO for it…
– Kim Murrell (@kim_murrell) August 13, 2015
– Arnie Pye in the Sky (@ArniePyeNthaSky) August 13, 2015
– No. 45 (@Nick_Hentoff) August 13, 2015
– James Poniewozik (@poniewozik) August 13, 2015
Now it's your turn. What do you think of the deal?