Muppet make-over: Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy reintroduced this fall
It may not be easy being green like Muppet favorite Kermit the Frog, but sometimes it's even harder to be hip.
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"It's a high standard to pull off," Mr. Phillips says. "They're picking properties very carefully that they think will speak to parents, teenagers, and little kids."Skip to next paragraph
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The Muppets are not just getting an update on the big screen. "Sesame Street," the show produced by Sesame Workshop, an education-based nonprofit, is focusing on longer story lines that are woven throughout the show and trying out 3-D animated segments. The advent of 24/7 networks like Nick Jr. has forced the show to consider each season "experimental" in order to compete, says executive producer Carol-Lynn Parente.
"Our viewers have moved beyond 2-D animation. Even preschoolers and their parents want to see more sophisticated animation and more special effects," Ms. Parente says. "The entire viewing audience has become more sophisticated."
Parente likens ventures with mobile phones (yes, "Sesame" produces special segments to view on those, too) and online exclusives to the show's early days: "What excites me about new media platforms is it feels like a new frontier.... Anywhere parents and kids are, are learning opportunities. So we try to have content [there]."
Plugging "Sesame" content into so much media means the show can now cater to kids and adults separately. For instance, when Ms. Perry's dress drew criticism from parents after the segment was given a preview online, the segment was cut from broadcast and shelved to YouTube, a safer platform independent of the show where it received more than 28 million views.
"It's hugely flattering [that] our characters and 'Sesame Street' as a brand [are] so relatable to so many people and that is because [they're] so much a part of pop culture," says Parente. However, she admits having "to ride a line" in deciding which content is best suited for which screen.
"Just because it's geared towards adults doesn't always mean it's designed to work for adults and kids," she says.
Too cool for kids?
The decisions to hike up the Muppets cool factor is troublesome for Marina Krcmar, a specialist in the developmental effects of television on children at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, N.C. She says children's tastes have not changed from the early days of both "Sesame Street" and the Muppets, but their handlers have acquiesced to trends mainly because they fear looking outmoded.
"I don't think any research shows trendier Muppets are bad for kids, but I do question, socially and culturally, what we lose when we don't want children to be unhip," Ms. Krcmar says. "There should be a period in your life when you're allowed to not be trendy and edgy and that should be early childhood."
Indeed, Hoberman says the principals behind the new Muppets venture "were very cognizant" of making a film that was too cool instead of just cool enough.
"One of my guiding principles of making television or film is 'never be too hip for the room,' " he says. "Jim Henson would make comedy that he thought was funny and didn't pander. Hopefully we're not [pandering either]."