Could Trump’s plan kill Big Bird of ‘ Sesame Street’? Not really
Is Big Bird on the chopping block? President Trump’s proposed 2018 budget, released late last week, envisions zeroing out millions in federal funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the private non- profit that channels funding to programming and operations for public TV and radio nationwide.
Broadcast giants National Public Radio ( NPR) and the Public Broadcasting System ( PBS), as well as about 1,500 local affiliates, rely on the funding — the budget move would slice about $ 485 million from their collective bottom line, according to Politico.
White House budget director Mick Mulvaney last week said the move comes down to practicality: “When you start looking at places that we reduce spending, one of the questions we asked was, ‘ Can we really continue to ask a coal miner in West Virginia or a single mom in Detroit to pay for these programs?’ The answer was ‘ No.’ We can ask them to pay for defense, and we will, but we can’t ask them to continue to pay for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.”
But could the move really kill the beloved yellow bird and his Sesame Street pals? Not really — though it could keep them from spending time in your living room.
PBS, which broadcasts Sesame Street for free, likely would suffer from the cuts. But Big Bird and his friends could likely continue producing new episodes, since they now wear a kind of bulletproof vest emblazoned with another three- letter acronym: HBO.
In 2015, Sesame Street’s parent nonprofit, Sesame Workshop, signed a fiveyear funding agreement with the cable entertainment giant that gives HBO exclusive rights to new episodes. PBS gets the episodes nine months later, for free.
But if individual PBS stations can’t afford to keep the lights on, the cuts could keep Big Bird & Friends from populating your children’s daytime TV schedules, advocates say.
“A number of those stations would go off the air,” Paula Kerger, PBS president, told The Washington Post.
Eliminating CPB, said Patricia Harrison, the non- profit’s president, “would initially devastate and ultimately destroy public media’s role in early childhood education, public safety, connecting citizens to our history, and promoting civil discussions — all for Americans in both rural and urban communities.”
Founded in 1969 with a $ 7 million grant from the U. S. Department of Education and the Ford and Carnegie foundations, Sesame Workshop is a non- profit 501( c) 3.
But unlike most non- profits, it has long enjoyed a lucrative licensing arrangement via its easily recognizable characters, as well as sales from videotapes and DVDs.
Both markets have dried up in recent years. Sesame Workshop President Jeffrey Dunn last October told NPR that before the HBO deal, the enterprise was losing “large amounts of money” on production costs. Under the new arrangement, HBO underwrites the show’s $ 40 million production costs.
PBS essentially broadcasts reruns, airing episodes nine months after they’ve first appeared on the premium cable channel.
Michael Davis, author of Street Gang: The Complete History of Sesame Street, said the show’s young audience doesn’t much care about the timing. “When you’re drinking from a sippy cup, you don’t know that the episode you’re watching was produced in 2015, 2014 or 2016,” he said. In the past decade, Davis said, Sesame
Street went beyond basic skills. Just this week, the show is debuting a Muppet character with autism.
Co- productions worldwide have brought comfort to children in “every hotspot that you can think of,” Davis said. “If you think about the show as an ambassador, it’s probably one of the most successful ambassadors we’ve ever sent across our shores.”
HBO now underwrites the $ 40 million production costs of Sesame Street and its highly recognized star, Big Bird.