Why Is Big Bird Getting Fired?

On Wednesday, October 4, 2012, President Barack Obama and Presidential Nominee Mitt Romney met for the first of a series of pre-election debates.  Of course, seconds after the debate pundits and “journalists” of both conservative and liberal leanings scrambled to dissect, explain and declare either Romney or Obama the winner.  Chris Matthews hilariously lost his mind and showed his true colors; Al Gore blamed Obama’s poor performance on the altitude (not even kidding) and poor Jim Lehrer, was flayed in the press for his lackluster performance as moderator.

Mitt Romney’s performance left many astounded.  He just didn’t seem to be the candidate that had been presented to them in the media.  (Almost like the news outlets were twisting the facts.  Shocking!)  President Obama spent much of Thursday rebutting Romney’s remarks, but his impassioned speeches left many wondering why he didn’t bring any of that up during the actual debate.  (Gotta love stump-speech writers, huh?!?)

But this is not a post about the debate so much as it is an opportunity for me to call SHENANIGANS!

At one point in the debate, Mitt Romney spoke to some of his cost-cutting, spending-slashing ideas and mentioned the approach he would have for PBS:

I’m sorry, Jim, I’m gonna stop the subsidy to PBS … I like PBS, I love Big Bird — I actually like you, too — but I am not going to keep spending money on things [we have] to borrow money from China to pay for…

Of course, with Romney’s strong showing in the debate, people have been jumping on this statement.  Meme’s have exploded, children are writing letters, and even the CEO of PBS, Paula Kerger, has gone so far as to call this simple statement an “attack.”

I have a real problem with this.  Oh, don’t misunderstand me… I get the idea.  But what I have a problem with is Romney’s (and every other person who ever mentions cutting federal funding for PBS) notion that cutting PBS funding means Big Bird is going to be on the street.  Every time, EVERY TIME anyone mentions cutting funds to PBS, the FIRST (and many times only) show mentioned is Sesame Street – the beloved long-running American children’s television series created by Joan Ganz Cooney and Lloyd Morrisett.

Now, my children loved Sesame Street.  Honestly?  I loved and still love Sesame Street.  Sometimes I watch it by myself for fun.  And, no, I’m not remotely ashamed.  I have friends who work for Sesame Street.  They write songs.  They are amazing.  They are the reason Sesame Street is successful.  Not them personally, but because Sesame Street has, for decades, striven to present high quality educational entertainment.  Sesame Street has the goods.  Yay!

However, Sesame Street is not PBS. I was going to list all of the shows available on PBS (and, no, not all of them are serialized), but it would simply take up too much space.  Instead, I’ll give you the short version.  There are 749 of them.


Sesame Street is only one of those.  Just one!  So why is it ALWAYS the one brought up when PBS cuts are mentioned? More importantly, does cutting PBS funding automatically mean “No More Sesame Street”?  Let’s talk turkey.

When it debuted in 1969, Sesame Street aired on only 67.6% of American televisions and garnered a 3.3 Nielsen rating (approximately 2 million households).  A decade later, over 9 million children under the age of six were estimated to be watching Sesame Street daily.  According to Cary O’Dell in the book, “Women Pioneers in Television: Biographies of Fifteen Industry Leaders“, in 1978 the Children’s Television Workshop (Sesame Street’s production company) began a shift from dependence on federal funding and began, instead, to depend on “licensing arrangements with toy companies and other manufacturers, publishing, and international sales for their funding.”  According to U.S. Department of State Bureau of International Information Programs, by 2006, Sesame Street had become “the most widely viewed children’s television show in the world” reaching 120 countries with 20 international independent versions.

Back to licensing: In 2004 over 68% of Sesame Street’s total revenue came from licensing and merchandise sales.  In 2008, licensing and merchandise sales alone garnered between $15-17 Million Dollars!  From 2003 to 2006, Sesame Street made more than $211 million from toy and consumer product sales (an average of $53 Million per year).  In 2011, then CEO Gary Knell received a salary of nearly a million dollars a year.

Finally, Sesame Street’s 2008 tax forms show a total revenue of $140 Million Dollars.  $140.  Million.  Dollars.  $140,000,000.00  What part of that was federal funding? $14,000,000.00 a whopping 10%.

The fact of the matter is that the good people, who are doing great work by the way, over at Sesame Street don’t need federal funding.  But if they lost it, it hurts their bottom line.  Now, it’s just my opinion, but if we really want to “spread the wealth” around, we could take just that $14,000,000.00 and give 280 families $50,000.  We could give 1400 families $10,000.  Or we could realize that we are a nation $16,001,076,400,000 (as I write this.  Check it out in real time here) in debt, and a company that is able to be financially solvent on its own doesn’t need a dime of tax-payers money.

I concede that cutting “Sesame Street” funding won’t fix the deficit, even cutting all of PBS’ funding won’t cut the deficit.  But that’s not the point.  There are many general grant funding issues that need to be dealt with in our government’s spending, and it’s going to take a lot of courage to make the tough calls.  I’m reminded of the story of the fall of Constantinople.  It’s said that even as the city was falling all around them, the priests inside engaged themselves in furious debate over how many angels could fit on the head of a pin.  I fear we, in America, are doing the same thing.  We quibble about 14 Million being taken away from a company that is remarkably financially solvent while the walls of our financial security crumble around us.  It’s time for all of us to put on our grown-up pants, tighten the belt a little and admit that if we don’t change how we treat money in this country we will not last for long; and the families who were foreclosed on and lost their homes because they bought houses they could not afford will be the prophetic shadow of things to come for the country at large.  One day, our creditors will come calling when they realize we can’t possibly afford to pay our debts.

Now, I’m going to go tuck my girls in for bed and make sure my girls have their Abby Cadabby dolls.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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