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Who doesn't love Big Bird?

October 04, 2012|By Leonor Vivanco, @lvivanco

Are Big Bird’s days numbered? What would we do without Bert and Ernie? It’s unthinkable!

Last night’s first presidential debate talked about Main Street. But what about Sesame Street?

Republican candidate Mitt Romney said he would stop subsidizing PBS, the public broadcasting TV network that airs “Sesame Street” and the British hits “Dowton Abbey” and “Sherlock,” not to mention “Upstairs, Downstairs,” “Call the Midwife” and numerous other TV masterpieces.

“I like PBS, I love Big Bird. Actually like you (moderator Jim Lehrer), too. But I’m not going to — I’m not going to keep on spending money on things to borrow money from China to pay for,” Romney said.

But it turns out Big Bird’s neck is not on the chopping block. The Sesame Workshop issued a statement Thursday.

"Sesame Street has been a proud partner of PBS for 43 years, and is dependent on PBS to distribute our commercial-free educational programming to all children in the United States. Sesame Workshop is a nonpartisan, nonprofit, educational organization. We do not comment on campaigns, but we’re happy we can all agree that everyone likes Big Bird."

Sherrie Westin, executive vice president and chief marketing officer of Sesame Workshop, told CNN that Sesame Workshop gets very little funding from PBS. “So, we are able to raise our funding through philanthropic, through our licensed product, which goes back into the educational programming, through corporate underwriting and sponsorship,” she said.

“So quite frankly, you can debate whether or not there should be funding of public broadcasting. But when they always try to tout out Big Bird, and say we’re going to kill Big Bird – that is actually misleading, because Sesame Street will be here.”

The threat to cut funding is not exactly new to Dan Schmidt, president and CEO of Chicago’s WTTW. “This is not, in my view, about job creation and deficit reduction. It’s a political thing,” he said. “That said, if it was eliminated, it would cause a huge ripple effect throughout the system.”

The first stations to go dark or have reduced services would be in rural areas that are underserved by other media, he said. He said it would be “devastating” for low-income families who don’t have computers, tablets, smart phones or access to paid content.

With many programs dedicated to improving literacy, reading comprehension and math skills, Schmidt said, “PBS is America’s biggest classroom.”

Federal funding enables rural stations in particular to operate and provides for the distribution of content, he said. The content generates the viewers and most of the money in public broadcasting comes from viewers, but viewers won’t be there unless the programs are there, he said.

“It won’t make a dent in the deficit and it won’t miraculously turn the economy around,” Schmidt said.

PBS issued its own statement.

"We are very disappointed that PBS became a political target in the presidential debate last night. Governor Romney does not understand the value the American people place on public broadcasting and the outstanding return on investment the system delivers to our nation."

The federal investment accounts for 1/100th of 1 percent of the federal budget and cutting it would hardly have any impact on the country's debt, PBS said. PBS pointed to studies that have found that even though the federal investment is "relatively modest, the absence of this critical seed money would cripple the system and bring its services to an end."

PBS is watched by 91 percent of all U.S. TV households over the span of a year and 81 percent of all kids ages 2 to 8, the network said. A poll this year found PBS is considered to be the most trusted public institution and second best value of tax dollars behind military defense.

"As a stated supporter of education, Governor Romney should be a champion of public broadcasting, yet he is willing to wipe out services that reach the vast majority of Americans, including underserved audiences, such as children who cannot attend preschool and citizens living in rural areas," the statement said.

"For more than 40 years Big Bird has embodied the public broadcasting mission – harnessing the power of media for the good of every citizen, regardless of where they live or their ability to pay."

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