"Sesame Street" -- Brought to you by the letters A, O and L

By Katharine Mieszkowski

Published May 10, 2001 7:30PM (EDT)

Read the story.

Katharine Mieszkowski wrongly implies that Sesame Street Workshop and corporate underwriter America Online entered into a product-placement deal because "Sesame Street" features computers. The fact is, computers were introduced on "Sesame Street" years before AOL became an underwriter. We seek underwriters and, thanks to their generosity, can continue to form research-based content to serve the developmental and educational needs of children.

Next season, when Luis is fixing computers instead of toasters, attribute that switch to the lifestyle of our viewers rather than the demands of any corporation. Our message reaches kids only if we are relevant to their lives, and if generous underwriters share our commitment to making education fun and available to all kids in every media.

Mieszkowski's suggestion of any other motive offends not only the Sesame Workshop's integrity but that of the writers, researchers, educators and producers who work tirelessly to deliver this vital content.

-- Janice F. Day
Sesame Street Workshop

When Katharine Mieszkowski wrote that public television programming should do better than the schlock we expect from the commercial networks, she summarized an issue we at FAIR and other media activists have been emphasizing for years.

PBS was formed to be a noncommercial alternative that would "help us see America whole, in all its diversity." But nowadays PBS viewers can tune in to ExxonMobile Masterpiece Theater, watch advertisements (called "enhanced underwriter acknowledgments" in PBS-speak) for oil, automobile and pharmaceutical companies or witness Elmo chasing a computer, screaming, "You've got mail" all around Sesame Street.

Children's programming is by no means shielded from the increased commercialization of public broadcasting. In answer to Mieszkowski's question, "Whatever happened to 'Brought to you by the letter A and the number nine?'" in the past year "Sesame Street" viewers have heard that "Pfizer brings parents the letter Z -- as in Zithromax." As a FAIR action alert pointed out, Zithromax is an antibiotic promoted by pharmaceutical giant Pfizer for treating ear infections and other ailments. "More information about Zithromax is just a click away," the spot promised, accompanied by images of a zebra and children playing with a giant toy block. In a commercial for the kids program "Wishbone," we hear from Kellogg's Frosted Flakes, reminding us that thinking and creating are more than good, "they're great!" -- the familiar catchphrase calling to mind Frosted Flakes' cartoon mascot Tony the Tiger.

For years, media activists have known that PBS's commitment to noncommercial programming has been compromised. The more that media outlets like Salon call attention to this issue, the more prepared the public will be to insist on PBS serving as a truly ad-free alternative to corporate media.

-- Jennifer L. Pozner
Women's Desk Director, Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting

By Salon Staff

MORE FROM Salon Staff

Related Topics ------------------------------------------