Diane Haithman is contributing to Deadline’s TCA coverage.
PBS president Paula Kerger’s Q&A session with reporters at TCA included a lot of talk about Sesame Street. The pubcaster’s chief was asked about the show’s darker side: The controversy over former Elmo puppeteer Kevin Clash, who resigned in November after accusations of having underage sex. “Elmo is larger than any individual; I have not seen any negative impact,” Kerger said today. “Time will tell; we will watch it very carefully.” Kerger reminded that the character of Kermit the Frog has survived the loss of original voice Jim Henson. As to casting a new Elmo, Kerger said that some of the series’ characters have multiple puppeteers and that there was already an effort underway to get some “additional help” for Elmo. She said she did not expect there would be any formal announcement of a new Elmo puppeteer.
Kerger also said Big Bird’s unlikely key role in the presidential election during the fall brought welcome attention to PBS. GOP candidate Mitt Romney’s pledge during the campaign to end federal funding for the big yellow bird’s home network became a rallying point for PBS defenders. The mention of Big Bird during the October 3 debate between Romney and Obama generated more than a quarter million tweets, and the next month about 1,000 marchers took part in the ‘Million Puppet March’ in Washington DC to save public broadcasting. Karger explained today that without federal funding about one-third of PBS stations would “go dark”, so the flap brought needed attention to the importance of public funding. “It was an opportunity to try to explain to a much wide audience, people on the Hill and the American people, who we are,” she said.