Inhuman Swill : Muppets

Do the Muppet thing

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Do the Right Thing, Sesame Street–style:

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Fuzzy and blue

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Laura and Telly
This post is really only an excuse to use my new icon. Funny story, though. I took Laura to the set of Sesame Street early in our relationship to watch an afternoon's taping. Of the many Muppeteers on set that day, Marty Robinson was either by far the most voluble or by far the least busy. (Probably the former.) Between takes, he and his special friend Telly hung out with us at the edge of the set, and he even convinced the rather nervous Telly to pose for some pictures with us.

Laura took my picture with Telly pressed close behind my shoulder. Then we switched places, Telly put his fuzzy purple arm around Laura, and I took this snap:

The instant I lowered the camera, Laura's mouth become a stunned O. She said, almost in wonder, "Telly just grabbed my ass."

Update!  Click me!
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Acme Heart Maker

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And now, having shown you the License Plate Maker, I introduce to you, just in time for Valentine's Day, the Acme Heart Maker.

Have a happy Valentine's Day!
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Sesame Workshop publishes a whole mess of magazines: Sesame Street Magazine, Sesame Street Parents, Kid City, Contact Kids, Sesame Street Padres, and maybe more I'm not remembering. At least, they did until today.

Apparently the entire magazine group, including the ad sales people who work with Online, are over packing up their stuff right now. The fine magazines are all expiring, with the exception, I believe, of Sesame Street Magazine, which will be sold to AOL-Time-Warner and bundled with their magazine Parenting. At least, that's the rumor I hear.

I think morale at the Workshop is about to hit an all-time low. I think someone should mount a suicide watch for Telly—I'm afraid they're going to find him in the bathtub with his wrists slashed and foam stuffing pouring out.

One of the big projects I'm working on for the web site right now involves content from the magazines. Who knows what the future of that is now? Who knows if my position will even survive until the end of April?

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The Employee or the Muppet?

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I heard a disquieting rumor a couple of months ago. For some reason it didn't come back to mind until today. First, some background:

Since the beginning of Sesame Street, the Jim Henson Company has owned the rights to all Muppets that appear on the show. This has always limited CTW's ability to license those Muppet characters, to control the way Muppets are used and drawn and portrayed, and even to put Muppets in the same picture with characters from other CTW shows. The Henson Company has always had approval rights over what we do with the Sesame Street Muppets.

Some of you may remember last year when the German media group EM.TV bought the Henson Company. It got a lot of press. "The Muppets are going to Germany, oh my!" What didn't get much press was what happened late in 2000: CTW bought the rights to the Sesame Street Muppets from EM.TV. We now own our own Muppets. For the first time ever, we can do with them what we please. We could change Grover's color to yellow. We could shave a Coca-Cola logo into Ernie's head. We could serve Big Bird for Thanksgiving. We have the power.

As this was happening, EM.TV's stock had fallen by about 90% since it bought the Henson Company. I'm sure EM.TV hoped to recoup some revenue with the cash infusion from CTW. (By the way, for the record we're Sesame Workshop now, not CTW. But CTW is easier to type.) What happened instead is that their shareholders sued them. All because they sold off those valuable Sesame Street Muppets.

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Halloween didn't seem quite like Halloween yesterday—not to me, anyway.

First of all, Laura and I got the costume thing out of our systems on Saturday. We went to a terrific party at our friends Andrew and Stephanie's house in Astoria. Laura dressed in an Indian sari—and so did Steph, which led to a strange cataloguing of all the hitherto unguessed things they had in common. I dressed as Bilmo, the only official Sesame Workshop Online Muppet, with a red fleece sweatshirt, a red knit cap, a read foam rubber nose, and the rod from my Venetian blinds depending from my wrist. (That was, you know, the stick my Muppeteer uses to control the movement of my arm.) We drank lots of spiked punch, and I ate a space brownie that didn't have any effect on me. (Same result in Amsterdam, dammit. Some day I'm just going to have to smoke the stuff.)

When the 31st finally arrived, it seemed like Halloween was already weeks past. When Laura and I saw a little boy in a baseball uniform walking to school that morning, our first reaction was to wonder why the baseball season hadn't already ended. Then I spent the morning with Ellie at Sesame Street, which exists so much in its own make-believe world that Halloween seems irrelevant. (In fact, neither Ellie nor I batted an eye when we saw a boy dressed as a girl and a dominatrix out smoking in front of the studio. It didn't occur to either of us that these were costumes. Hey, it's New York.) What's more, walking back to the N train, Ellie and I realized that Christmas decorations were already up on the streetlamps on Broadway in Astoria. This did not contribute to any sense of the cold-chill-in-the-air that is Halloween.

Things did not begin to seem sinister until nightfall, when I was walking from the train to Laura's apartment after work. I emerged from underground to find Astor Place crawling with goblins and ghoulies. There were visiting aliens with their faces painted green. There was an angel, a devil, and a zaftig Elvis with a low-cut jumpsuit and huge push-up breasts. There was someone in a black cloak and a "Scream" mask, carrying a plastic knife. Dark blood ran down the runnels of his mask—it actually pulsed from a concealed valve somewhere above his forehead. Masks all around. Masks everywhere. So many masks it creeped me out. So many masks, seeming so potentially normal for this town, so de rigueur, I got nervous. I started to wonder why I'd wanted it to be more Halloweeny. I like to be scared, but I like to be scared when it's safe to be scared. I suddenly didn't feel safe on those streets.

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Bill visits Oscar on the set of Sesame Street
Boy, if anyone's reading this on someone else's "friends" page, it's going to look like I'm hogging all the space!

I was just barely two years old when Sesame Street debuted in 1969. My mother and I watched the very first episode together, when Oscar the Grouch was orange. I was there at the beginning, but I was young enough that I can't now remember a time when there wasn't a Sesame Street.

In fact, I thought Sesame Street was a real place. I thought it must be in Los Angeles, which is where I lived until I was six. I imagined that if I ran away from home (something that often seemed highly desirable) I could somehow find Sesame Street out there in the city somewhere and live there forever. I could sing "I Love Trash" with Oscar, and I could pronounce that amazing word that goes "ab-kuh-deff-ghee-jeckyl-muh-nop-queer-stoov-wixes" along with Big Bird. I took the rhetorical question in the theme song very literally. I wanted someone to tell me how to get, how to get to Sesame Street.

In 1998, at the age of 31, someone told me how to get to Sesame Street. There is a way to get there, but you have to know whom to ask. No one will just come out and tell you, even when you work for the Children's Television Workshop. But I found out whom to ask, and I made it there.

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William Shunn

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