Sesame Street lets go of its 'top gun'
By Eric Heyl, TRIBUNE-REVIEW
Friday, September 22, 2006 - Weary of his increasingly erratic behavior, Sesame Street producers will not extend the contract of the program's most popular muppet.
Gary Knell, CEO of Sesame Workshop, the parent company of the popular PBS program, told The Wall Street Journal yesterday that he is severing ties with Elmo. "As much as we like him personally, we thought it was wrong to renew his deal," Knell said. "His recent conduct has not been acceptable to Sesame Street."
Knell would not elaborate. But those close to the show indicated PBS had grown increasingly irritated over Elmo's public embrace of Scientology.
Nor was the network happy when Elmo, in an interview with NBC's Matt Lauer, launched a blistering attack on the use of antidepressants to combat postpartum depression.
The final straw, industry sources said, was Elmo signing off on his spastic new likeness, TMX Elmo, which was unveiled Tuesday. Parodying the panic-stricken movements of a typical choking victim, the latest Elmo doll doubles over, falls on its back and kicks its legs before finally rising -- cackling hysterically all the while.
"It completely undignified. It is unbecoming of a muppet who supposedly has intellectual acuity of 3-year-old," said a source close to Sesame Street who is not the Cookie Monster.
To Sesame Street and PBS executives, the doll also rekindled disturbing memories of Elmo's controversial appearance last year on "Oprah." The doll behaves much as Elmo did on the talk show when he passionately and clumsily declared his love for his onscreen romantic interest, the furry orange creature Zoe.
The couple since have spawned a young daughter, Silli, while denying persistent rumors that the child's father actually is the lovable blue muppet Grover.
The powerful Creative Artists Agency, which represents Elmo and many of Hollywood's other A-list stars, termed the firing "graceless and uncouth."
"This is no way to treat an artist," a CAA release stated. "This unconscionable action will cause brightly colored and highly marketable children's puppets everywhere to question whether they would want to work for an outfit that does this to its greatest asset."
Producers reportedly are involved in serious negotiations with Brad Pitt to replace Elmo in the upcoming sequel to the hit film "Elmo in Grouchland." The anticipated action blockbuster's working title is "Return to Grouchland: Oscar's Days of Rage."
Eric Heyl can be reached at email@example.com or (412) 320-7857.