Could Trump’s plan kill Big Bird of ‘ Se­same Street’? Not re­ally

Chicago Sun-Times - - NATION - Greg Toppo @ gtoppo USATODAY

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.”

MATT SAYLES, AP

HBO now un­der­writes the $ 40 mil­lion pro­duc­tion costs of Se­same Street and its highly rec­og­nized star, Big Bird.

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