The absence of Puppeteer Elmo leaves a void in the tight “Sesame Street”


Since Sesame Workshop announced last week that ‘Sesame Street’ puppeteer Kevin Clash had quit after being accused of sex with minors, the nonprofit has been struggling to figure out how to replace one of its main creative forces.

Mr Clash, 52, was not only the man behind Elmo since 1985, he was also the head Muppet of the PBS show, working with writers to resolve technical issues. He was also an occasional director, co-executive producer, and puppeteer behind many other characters besides Elmo. He traveled overseas to train puppeteers for “Sesame Street” productions in other countries.

After a previous charge against Mr Clash, a complaint was filed last week in federal court in New York accusing him of “sexual activity” with a 15-year-old, prompting his resignation.

But regardless of the circumstances of his departure, “it’s a big transition that’s going on without him being part of the team,” said a person close to the show’s production, who spoke as covered with anonymity.

Sesame Workshop, which earned total revenue of $134 million in the year ending June 30, 2011, to support the show and its related global spinoffs, had no comment. . The program is the cornerstone of PBS children’s programming, one of the reasons many donors support local PBS stations.

Although the long-term fallout on the Sesame brand is still unknown, toy licensing expert Jim Silver said in an interview last week that Mr. Clash’s early resignation likely reduced the risk of major harm to sales of Sesame brand products. , which generated $46.9 million in licensing revenue for Sesame Workshop in the fiscal year ended June 30, 2011.

Production on the final episodes of the 2013-14 season of “Sesame Street” went on a two-week hiatus last week, a planned hiatus that gave the show’s cast and producers some respite. But when work resumes the week of Dec. 3, the person close to production said, a therapist may be on hand for those who need support.

The less than two dozen puppeteers and human characters who work on the show — and also collaborate on each other’s exterior puppet productions — are a tight-knit group.

In April, at the program’s Kaufman Astoria studios in Queens, Mr. Clash, who is 6 feet tall, and another puppeteer were crouched tightly under a small box as they attempted to quickly rotate their seated puppet, deep turquoise purple. nose rendition of Cee Lo Green participating in the “Sesame Street” parody of NBC’s “The Voice.”

Minutes later, Mr. Clash, who won multiple Emmys for his work on the show, was working on the Elmo puppet, which soared above the head of Pat Monahan, the lead singer of Train, as he struggled to keep a straight face.

Several of Mr. Clash’s colleagues declined to discuss his work or did not respond to emails. But in an email, Cheryl Henson, president of the Jim Henson Foundation, which provides financial support for American puppetry, praised Mr Clash’s contributions to the show, describing his work as “professional and disciplined”.

Ms Henson’s father, Jim Henson, created the “Sesame Street” Muppets and performed several of them. Sesame Workshop, the series’ parent, now owns the characters, but the Jim Henson Company continues to build puppets for the series.

Sesame Workshop officials said last week that the Elmo character would continue. The puppet was featured on a float in Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, with another puppeteer acting to Mr. Clash’s recorded voice. Because the show is so far ahead, it’s Mr. Clash’s work that will be seen on PBS for the rest of this season and most of the next.

His work, from the cast of the puppeteer to the soundtrack, will also be on display each day in “Elmo the Musical,” an 11-minute segment as part of the show that debuted in September. The future of this segment will be determined once audience data and audience research becomes available, but “we certainly hope to continue,” the person familiar with the show’s production said.

Other puppeteers who have performed Elmo in the past when Mr. Clash was unavailable are temporarily replacing him, the person said, adding that “the team really pulled together” to keep production going when news broke. announced. No final decision has been made as to who will take his full-time position, the person said, adding, “We’re just starting to work out how to proceed.”


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