‘Sesame Street’ Out Of Reach For Low-Income Kids Without HBO Subscription

Sesame Street is an iconic television show that has been entertaining and educating children for 47 years. It has always appeared on the Public Broadcasting System (PBS) and portrayed its characters in an honest, modest manner. Now things are different. Quartz reports that Sesame Street has moved to HBO, and with that move there have been some very big changes.

Yes, the shows are now 30 minutes long instead of an hour. Yes, Oscar is popping out of recycling bins instead of garbage cans.

Yes, the show is streaming on HBO, instead of being shown on PBS (at least not until this fall). And yes, some of the most beloved characters on the show, such as Big Bird, Bert and Ernie, and Oscar, will appear less often on the show to make way for more popular characters, such as Elmo and Abby. But perhaps the most disturbing of all (and this is all disturbing) is that the Sesame Street neighborhood has been gentrified.

Grover has stained glass windows and walls of corrugated iron. The New York Times reports that Hooper’s Store now looks like a store out of Williamsburg, with heart-shaped cookies and red gumdrops on the counter.

Compare this to the way Hooper’s Store used to look in days gone by, when the original Mr. Hooper was still alive.

Carmen Osbahr, who has been the puppeteer for the character Rosita for the past 26 years, says it looks more like things look these days.

“It is more like things look now. When Sesame Street was created, it was kind of more like New York Bronx. Now, Oscar has a recycling can. That is amazing.”

Check out the HBO promo trailer for the new season of Sesame Street.

It’s true that after nearly 50 years it doesn’t hurt to fix up the buildings, modernize, and get with the times, but as Gawker reports, it is being done at the expense of the low-income kids who don’t get to see the new episodes until nine months after they have aired on HBO. Sesame Street was originally created with the intention of reaching as many children as possible, regardless of socio-economic status. HBO only reaches one fifth of the total number of U.S. households. Sesame Street now has a subscriber base.

The reason for all the change was summed up by the New York Times.

“For Sesame Workshop, the deal helps alleviate funding pressures the group has faced, especially since important revenues from sources like DVD sales have eroded.”

But Tim Winter, president of the Parents Television Council (PTC), has expressed his concerns as well.

“Kids are getting squeezed in the middle. In order to watch original episodes of the most iconic children’s program in television history, parents are now forced to fork over about $180 per year and subscribe to the most sexually explicit, most graphically violent television network in America. I can’t imagine a greater juxtaposition in television than this.”

In other words, privileged children are getting the advantage and less privileged children are missing out. The PTC has called for HBO to permit nonsubscribers to stream new episodes for free, to benefit those who otherwise have to wait nine months for it to appear on PBS. While it seems they have no intention of doing so, selected scenes from the first episode of the 46th season of Sesame Street is available via the Sesame Street channel on YouTube.

Still, the cast and crew seem happy with the new changes, particularly Suki Lopez, who according to Latin One plays the new character Nina.

She feels her new character is much like her.

“Nina is a millennial, and she has a bunch of jobs. So I guess she is like me. She is a babysitter for Elmo, and she works at the bike store and the Laundromat.”

With all the controversy surrounding the new Sesame Street format, it will be interesting to see what happens with it down the road.

[Composite image containing photos by Ilya S. Savenok, Michael Loccisano / Getty Images]