The idea of Big Bird on HBO might still seem a little strange, but it really is happening. We can now tell you both how and when to get to “Sesame Street”: Season 46 will premiere on the premium cable network Saturday, Jan. 16, at 9 a.m.
The changes don’t end there. Episodes will now run half an hour, versus the hourlong format of the episodes produced first for PBS, which explains the part of HBO’s deal with “Street” producer Sesame Workshop that has HBO airing twice as many episodes per season (35) than PBS did. HBO says the shorter episodes are geared to better keep kids’ attentions, and, to be fair, PBS had already been experimenting with the half-hour run time.
The beloved educational series is getting an “updated” theme song and opening sequence, which will take kids through the various new sets that serve as the characters’ new digs (Big Bird lives in a tree now, which feels a little impractical, but who are we to judge?). There are a few new segments, too -- one of them involves Cookie Monster solving crimes and trying to outwit a villain called “The Crumb.”
New episodes will also be dubbed in Spanish, a nice add-on that Sesame Workshop might not have been able to afford if episodes were still running first on PBS.
HBO getting first dibs on “Sesame Street” episodes (the new ones will still air on PBS, but nine months later) caused much hand-wringing after the August announcement. The program had always been available to all children at the same time via PBS -- one of the few examples of class-neutral entertainment in these modern times, opponents said. PBS countered with the sobering facts of decreased federal funding that would likely have led to less “Sesame Street” in general rather than just a nine-month delay for new episodes.
HBO’s deal with Sesame Workshop runs through the next five years and includes the development of a new “Sesame Street Muppet” spinoff and the rights to 150 episodes of the “Sesame Street” catalog. The explosion of kids’ programming on various streaming competitors puts this deal into perspective: In order to compete with Netflix and Amazon Prime (plus apps like Noggin and YouTube Kids), the network needs to get aggressive with its own offerings geared toward kids, particularly those belonging to Millennials.