Multiple generations of viewers who have grown up on “Sesame Street” are reacting with dismay Thursday (July 27), as the series is releasing its most senior cast members. Roscoe Orman (“Gordon”), Emilio Delgado (“Luis”) and Bob McGrath (“Bob”), who share more than 100 combined years of experience on the show, will no longer be seen.
Although they will continue to represent “Sesame Street” in public events, today’s letters of the day appear to be “W,” H” and “Y.” The answer seems to be HBO’s attempt to update and streamline the series as part of its well-publicized renewal efforts, though the official “Sesame Street” Twitter account says HBO does not oversee production, a comment echoed by PBS president/CEO Paula Kerger. “‘Sesame Street’ is produced by Sesame Workshop. The casting decision was made by them and we did not know about it beforehand. We found out about it after,” she tells the TCA summer press tour Thursday.
Either way, it’s still a poor move on the part of Sesame Workshop. Here are five reasons why.
Bob McGrath was an original cast member, helping to launch the show in 1969. Delgado joined in 1971, while Orman took over the role of Gordon in 1974. That means that if you’re under the age of 50, there’s a good chance that these three men helped raise you in some small way.
Now, as all those people have grown up and had children of their own, they’ve had the rare joy of turning on their television and trusting an old friend to similarly impact their own offspring. It’s like going back to your grade school and realizing that your old kindergarten teacher is still around to teach your kid the ABCs and 123s. It is a rare, wonderful luxury — and one that was just taken away from millions of parents.
The cultural factor
Collectively, these three men represented different races and ethnic backgrounds all living in harmony and relying on each other as neighbors. They have taught generations of children about cultural pride (and Luis taught many of us our first words in Spanish), while never treating their differences as anything more notable than the fact that Cookie Monster is blue and Elmo is red.
Although the “Sesame Street” cast will retain Alan Muraoka (an endearing Asian-American actor) and Chris Knowings (a very funny and popular African-American actor) and undoubtedly cast other actors of varying backgrounds, they’ll never quite recapture the chemistry — and equality — that these three men put on display for decades.
What about grandpa?
Think about it: Where else on TV right now can you find the message being reinforced that grandfathers are vibrant, fun and have rich experiences to share? By continuing to employ Delgado (age 76), Orman (72) and McGrath (84), “Sesame Street” was giving children all over the world the rare television opportunity to visit with a grandfather — and all the love, patience and wisdom that implies.
The belief is often stated (and rarely acted upon) that the elderly are our greatest asset. Besides the fact that these three could teach children the insights gained by age and experience, consider how much they had to teach the current showrunners of “Sesame Street.” Whatever challenges the show faces, whatever adversity might come up, there’s a good chance that one of them had encountered something like it before. “Sesame Street,” the greatest pop culture classroom of all time, is teaching us today that wisdom and experience are less valuable than a few extra minutes each episode to squeeze in another Pharrell cameo.
They were still doing good work
Over the last decade or so, Gordon and Elmo have established a wonderful dynamic on “Sesame Street” that is as close as TV comes to depicting the relationship between a toddler and a grandfather. Bob and Luis, meanwhile, had become quasi-brand ambassadors, dialing back their workload but making appearances in crowd scenes (and the annual Macy’s parade) that were an important link to the past — and heartwarming reminder that the elderly could still make an impact.
The bad publicity
When news originally broke that the cable behemoth was taking over “Sesame Street,” many fans feared the worst. But eventually, the move was embraced with optimism, benefit of the doubt and trust — virtues that many of us first learned on the “Street.” The first season of the show has been largely well-received, and HBO seems to have earned goodwill from “Sesame Street” fans — until this potential PR nightmare.
Executive producer Carol-Lynn Parente has said in interviews that “the reason we’re still around and relevant is because we continue to evolve.” While that may be somewhat true — and it is cool to tune in and see Nick Jonas hanging with The Count — it’s important to keep in mind that “Sesame Street” is rarely turned on by the child. If parents no longer find a reason to introduce the show to their offspring, to sit down and watch and learn together, than one of the most beloved TV shows in history will evolve itself into irrelevance.
Perhaps it’s time to teach everyone a new lesson: One in mending broken bridges. It seems highly unlikely that Bob, Luis and Gordon are demanding astronomical salaries in exchange for a few appearances a year. Sesame Workshop, bring the three stars who have taught us so much back onto our TV screens, let them live on “Sesame Street” as long as they like — and let’s get the focus back to where “Sesame Street” should be: On learning to live, love and grow together.
There are many more reasons why this move is a bad idea — in honor of Gordon, Bob and Luis, we just gave you five.