Television: Who's Afraid of Big, Bad TV?

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Mrs. Cooney, however, has responded to some criticism. She accepted a suggestion from the National Organization for Women, and in the new series, former Housewife Susan has a job as a nurse. Mrs. Cooney also admits that in Sesame Street's first year, "the children were too manipulated; the show was too tightly programmed to allow for surprises. Now, even if it means dropping a piece of animation, we are giving time for freer dialogue with the children." The new director, Bob Myhrum, has given the show a more spontaneous air; actors blow cues, the familiar street is full of passersby, the set now seems a real neighborhood caught in a state of dishabille.

Almost every critic felt that the animated spots were overly repetitive, even for commercials, and Mrs. Cooney agrees; this year there will be less repetition. In response to complaints from inside and outside the staff that the show's approach was too Waspish for its audience, Mrs. Cooney has approved a more emphatic ethnic style. A black Muppet, Roosevelt Franklin, has become a star. Miguel (Jaime Sanchez), a Spanish-speaking actor, will be an occasional host. The show will also be less male-oriented; a female writer has been added to give it a more feminine slant.

Even the Muppets were affected by alterations. For the first time in their history, one is being canned for selling out. Kermit the Frog is being canned for commercialism. When Sesame Street was just a glint in Joan Cooney's eye, Kermit taped a special in Canada. When it was given a network airing, the frog was compromised. Or so Henson decided. Like Jim Thorpe, Kermit played for money, and now must relinquish his amateur standing. He is being phased out of the show. He will be replaced by such Muppets as Lecturer Herbert Birdsfoot and Sherlock Hemlock, a bumbling sleuth.

Daring Small Changes

The Street's most significant alterations may be occurring in other neighborhoods merchandising other letters ­like ABC, NBC and CBS. For the first time, all three networks have appointed vice presidents of children's programming. NBC cuts into Saturday morning programming with one-minute Pop Ups, spots designed to teach the use of letters. CBS has three-minute mini-documentaries called In The Know, featuring Josie and the Pussycats. ABC has announced a 1971 series, Curiosity Shop, produced by Cartoonist Chuck Jones (Roadrunner, Bugs Bunny).

Has Sesame Street really wrought profound changes in commercial TV­or merely defensive cosmetics? Says a Workshop executive, who was formerly a network programmer: "The networks appointed the veeps to keep the mothers' groups quiet. None of the men has anything to do with buying kids' TV shows. Listen, the networks are delighted with Sesame Street. They figure if it's around, they won't really have to do anything." Sociologist Wilbur Schramm, whose specialty is communications, agrees: "The media dare small changes, but not fundamental ones; their whole impact is to retain the status quo."

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