Does Oscar the Grouch really celebrate anything? With grumbling perhaps! One of TV’s most famous curmudgeons would rather kvetch his way through today, his birthday, and this year, which marks Sesame Street’s 40th year on television.
In many ways, Oscar is better off than he was in the beginning–in Season 1, he was a horrendous Day-Glo orange, and he has also gotten noticeably tidier and less shaggy over the years. But his show and Sesame Workshop, the not-for-profit organization that produces it, aren’t smelling so fresh. The recession has hit Sesame Street via Wall Street—in fiscal 2008, which ended last June 30, proceeds from investment sales dropped more than 60% from the previous year. Its investments depreciated by more than $9 million even before the market began its freefall. (The Sesame Workshop reported $145 million in revenue in fiscal ’08.) And in March, it laid off about a fifth of its staff, prompting the ever-restrained Fox News to declare a “massacre on Sesame Street.”
The worst news is the decline in Sesame Street’s ratings—according to a recent Newsweek story, it ranks just 15th among children’s shows and has suffered a corresponding drop in prestige in its target demographic. My 3-year-old nephew does know who Bert and Ernie are, but he spends a lot more time talking about Thomas the Tank Engine, and Dora and Diego.
Part of the problem, perhaps, may be that there aren’t enough new episodes to satisfy the insatiable kiddies: these days, the Workshop produces just 26 a year, about a fifth of the output at its peak and a pace more appropriate for a primetime drama than a daily show for attention-challenged kids. The Sesame Workshop’s leaders say they are investing for the future, trying to reach potential viewers where they are by, for example, bulking up on the Web and offering podcasts. But in what will certainly be a dire year for the corporate and individual donations on which it depends—income from distribution and licensing, the other two legs of its worringly shaky financial tripod probably won’t be much better—what comes to mind is Oscar the Grouch’s signature song.
Oh, I love trash!
Anything dirty or dingy or dusty
Anything ragged or rotten or rusty
Yes, I love trash.
Any of us who grew up with our days sponsored by the number 3 and the letter Y have to hope, if only for old times’ sake, that he’s not singing about his own show.
Mon, June 1
Oscar the Grouch’s Birthday