The Weirdest Things About This Sesame Street Humans News Story

Published: August 4, 2016
Categories: Commentary, Feature

Big Bird Bob Telly Placido FlamingoHey, have you heard this thing about Sesame Street laying off its most senior cast members?

Of course you have, because you’re a Sesame Street fan who reads things on the internet.  It’s everywhere.  The short version is: In an interview, Bob “Bob” McGrath said he and his fellow human cast members had been “let go” as part of recent changes made to the show.  Last week, the news made headlines and led to a lot of angry rants on social media.  Sesame Workshop has since released two public statements clarifying that even though the longtime cast members were not used in the newest season of the show, the Workshop considers them part of the family and hopes to find a way to use them in the future that makes sense for the current Sesame Street.

So that sounds like a happy enough ending.  But the whole thing feels weird, doesn’t it?  I know there are millions of people who feel very strongly about Sesame Street, but I think we, the fans, always experience these things in a whole different way.  Here are a few things that raised my eyebrows…

bobsiteThe mainstream news story was a delayed reaction.

Bob McGrath’s comments were made at Florida Super Con, which occurred the first weekend of July.  I don’t know how many people were in the room at that panel, but I guess none of them were reporters for Entertainment Weekly or Vulture or, because nobody turned it into a foofaraw or hullabaloo at the time.

It wasn’t until interviewer (and Sesame Place theme park historian) Guy Hutchinson sent the audio recording to the MuppetCast’s Steve Swanson, who included it in his July 27th podcast, that anyone took notice.  And even then, it started small, with us Muppet fans picking up on it before anyone at a major entertainment news outlet smelled the news.

All of which makes me marvel at how these things spread.  The earliest mainstream story I saw after the MuppetCast post came from KQED, a public television station in San Francisco.  Did KQED’s Kevin L. Jones just happen to be listening to the MuppetCast on his lunch break, and decided the Bob segment was newsworthy?  And then every other media outlet noticed that story and made it a whole big thing?  Just think: If Jones had chosen to listen to Comedy Bang Bang that day instead, all the people complaining about this might never have even known about it!

rp_Sesame-Street-HBO-1024x931.jpgPeople don’t even seem to realize that Sesame Street is already airing on HBO.

I’ve seen a lot of complaints that basically said “HBO did this!  They’re evil!”  That’s not so surprising.  Even though HBO does not own the show and is not controlling the show, they make for an easy, obvious villain.  They’re corporate, which means they must be heartless and greedy, which means they don’t care about old people!  And last season of Girls wasn’t even that good!

But more surprising to me is the fact that about 25% of the coverage I’ve seen says something like “When Sesame Street starts airing on HBO…” or “Sesame Street will soon be seen on HBO, and when it is…” Where have these people been?  It’s been on HBO since January!

It’s almost as if the average adult does not pay close attention to Sesame Street‘s broadcast schedule.  Yeah, okay, that’s pretty likely.  But if they’re so invested in the show and its cast, by gum, maybe they should.

Gina OscarDoes anyone care about Susan and Gina?

This is one of the things that struck me as especially odd about the way this story hit the news.  In Bob’s interview comments, he said: “…they let all of the original cast members go, with the exception of Alan Muraoka… and Chris Knowings…”

And pretty much immediately, everyone was reporting the shocking news that McGrath, Emilio “Luis” Delgado, and Roscoe “Gordon” Orman had been fired.  But Bob didn’t name them specifically, did he?  He only said it was all the old-timers but not Muraoka and Knowings.

Susan OscarSonia “Maria” Manzano officially announced her retirement last year, so folks were generally aware she was no longer with the show.  But unless I missed something, I have no idea why those reporting the story haven’t been asking what this means for Loretta “Susan” Long and Alison “Gina” Bartlett.  I suppose there might be a generation gap effect for Gina, where the generation of former Sesame viewers who reacted most strongly to the news are too old to have grown up with her.

But Susan?  She was in the first episode, right there alongside Bob and Big Bird as they all awkwardly stumbled through the beginning of a revolutionary children’s television experiment !  Did everyone forget about her?  Is she less loved than the other grown-ups?

Even more baffling, a few articles even claimed that Bob stated that Loretta Long will still be on the show. Unless I missed something (and please tell me if I did!), he did not say that.  As far as I’m concerned, the Letter of the Day is H, and H is for “Hubba wha?”

Barkley Elmo Zoe Bob GinaThe diminished role of the human actors is not a new or sudden change.

I’d bet my Snuffleupagus dinghy that most of the people talking about this on the internet have not watched Sesame Street on TV more than once a season in at least 10 years.

If you’re a mature, sophisticated television viewer like me, though, and you’ve made an effort to keep up with the show to any extent, you already know that it’s been a long time since the humans were as prominent on the show as they were Back in the Day.  It’s too bad, because it was so comforting to see those familiar faces hanging out with birds and monsters every day forever.  But it’s also one of the realities of the show’s continuing evolution. As much as we might wish the show could be the same as it was when we were kids, the only real way to do that would be to build some kind of time machine capable of transporting the whole world back to when we were kids.  (So get on that!)  But 2016 Sesame Street is not the same as 1970s Sesame Street, or 1980s Sesame Street, or 1990s Sesame Street.

Out of curiosity, I did some clicking through Muppet Wiki’s excellent episode guides, and as I suspected, over the last 10 seasons or so, Bob has been showing up about once a year, and Luis and Gordon a few times a year.  Chris and Alan (and Leela for several years, and now Nina) are the main human cast now.  A lot of the social media outrage comes from folks who seem to think Bob has been on the show every day, and now suddenly he’s not.  But it’s just not the case.  To be clear, I’m not saying it would be a good thing for the show to start with one Bob, take away one Bob, and equal zero Bobs.  I love Bob.  But it’s the way things have been headed for a while now while many former viewers weren’t looking.

But here’s a valid question I’ve seen a few fans raise: Why not continue bringing the legacy actors back for those one or two brief appearances per season?  There certainly might be reasons that nobody outside of Sesame Workshop knows about — maybe it’s the budget, maybe it’s scheduling, maybe Emilio Delgado had a falling-out with Grover. But it would be great if they could keep occasionally participating in musical numbers about simple machines, or attending pet rock weddings.

Based on the official statements, Sesame Workshop understands that these actors and their characters are important to the history of the show.  A week ago, I was disappointed to think that I might never see my old television friends in their television home again.  But now… Now I look forward to seeing where they’ll pop up next.

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by Ryan Roe –

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