Elmo, 'Sesame Street' Offer Lessons On The Recession
JENNIFER LUDDEN, host:
I'm Jennifer Ludden, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.
There seems to be no neighborhood in America that's been untouched by this historic recession, and that includes the community of "Sesame Street." The Muppets and their human friends and neighbors will talk about how to deal with the impact of the recession in an upcoming primetime special. It's called "Families Stand Together: Feeling Secure in Tough Times."
One of the stars of that production, Elmo, is here in our Washington in all his cute…
Mr. KEVIN CLASH (Voice Actor): (As Elmo) Elmo's a star?
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. CLASH: (As Elmo) Mr. Knell, Elmo's a star.
Mr. GARY KNELL (President and Chief Executive Officer, Sesame Workshop): I hear that, wow, cool.
(Soundbite of laughter)
LUDDEN: And also with us is Gary Knell. He's president and CEO of the Sesame Workshop. Welcome to you.
Mr. KNELL: Also known as Elmo's sidekick.
(Soundbite of laughter)
MR. CLASH: (AS Elmo) And bodyguard, too.
LUDDEN: This is a little unnerving. He's so cute. All right, Elmo, we will speak with you in just a moment.
MR. CLASH: (AS Elmo) Okay, okay, okay.
LUDDEN: I want to ask you, Gary Knell: What motivated Sesame Workshop to create this primetime special about the economy?
Mr. KNELL: Well, you know, "Sesame Street," Jennifer, is in its 40th year, believe it or not, and it's always taken on tough-to-teach topics. So looking at the economic distress that's impacting so many families, over five million unemployed people since last year, we thought it was a great opportunity to use the power of "Sesame Street" to bring together lessons about coping with how to talk to your kids when you lose a job, or you have to move in with grandma or whatever the impact that you have in your personal situation.
LUDDEN: I mean, is this something that you've heard about from viewers or from parents or from friends you know, that people are having trouble thinking about how to tell kids about this?
Mr. KNELL: We know through research that we do, that the current economic crisis is just impacting lots of families and creating lots of tensions that did not exist and actually exist a little bit under the radar. This is not the story that you hear about every day in the headlines, and I think this is a way of trying to improve children's lives in a very direct way to get them connected to their parents so that there's a better dialogue in families, to get them through a really tough period that a lot of families are facing right now.
MR. CLASH: (AS Elmo) Yeah?
LUDDEN: I understand that your family has also been touched by this.
MR. CLASH: (AS Elmo) Yeah, well, Elmo's family's been going through tough times, too. Ever since Elmo's mommy lost her job, it's been a big change.
LUDDEN: Well, we have a little clip from the special, where you talk about this. Let's give a listen.
Mr. CLASH: (AS Elmo) Okay.
(Soundbite of television program)
MR. CLASH: (AS Elmo) Why isn't mommy at work today?
Ms. FRAN BRILL (Voice Actor): (As Elmo's mom) Well, darling, there's something your daddy and I want to talk to you about.
Mr. BILL BARRETTA (Voice Actor): (As Louie) Come on and sit over here, son. Sit down here.
Mr. CLASH: (AS Elmo) Okay, daddy.
Ms. BRILL: (As Elmo's mom) Now, you see yesterday, I lost my job, and I'm not going to be working, at least for a little while.
Mr. CLASH: (AS Elmo) Is it because Elmo has too many toys?
Ms. BRILL: (AS ELMO'S MOM): Oh no, no, baby. None of this is your fault.
Mr. BARRETTA: (As Louie): It's nobody's fault. This is just something that happens in families sometimes.
MS. BRILL: (AS ELMO'S MOM): Right, and a lot of families are going through the same type of thing.
LUDDEN: So Elmo?
Mr. CLASH: (AS Elmo) Yeah?
LUDDEN: Why did you think it was your fault when you mom lost her job?
Mr. CLASH: (AS Elmo) Well, because Elmo always wants so many different toys and stuff like that that Elmo thought it was his fault that he was buying too many things or asking for too many things.
LUDDEN: And you did you feel, then, after your mom explained to you it wasn't your fault?
Mr. CLASH: (AS Elmo) Oh, well, Elmo understands, but Elmo still understands that he has to help.
LUDDEN: How do you help?
Mr. CLASH: (AS Elmo) Well, Elmo understands Elmo can't everything Elmo wants, and Elmo's parents save money to get what they really need like food.
LUDDEN: Gary Knell, I think a lot of parents really don't want to talk about this, so there's sense you want to protect your kids. You don't want them to think there's something they would like and you can't buy it for them. I mean what does the special say about this for maybe reluctant parents?
Mr. KNELL: Well children are very intuitive. They know when they're parents are stressed out and they pick up that stress household, and we are not obviously proposing that parents lay out you know, everything in their checking account and all these other issues. This is really about trying to walk kids through a difficult time that the family is going through and to reassure them that no matter what happens even through these stresses that the family will stick together and they'll be okay.
LUDDEN: And what about the sense of guilt that comes out in children's feeling guilty.
Mr. KNELL: Well parents, children rather, don't understand why their parents are stressed out, and so opening up a dialogue and talking to them and letting children emote is one of the strategy's that's critically important I think in child development and opening up that kind of dialogue that is so necessary.
LUDDEN: Elmo, have you talked about what's happening, your mom who lost her job? Have you talked about that with your friends?
Mr. CLASH: (As Elmo) Yeah, because some of Elmo's friends are going through it also. But what we kind of like is that, you know, well Elmo's mommy is around a lot more so we get to spend a little bit more time, so that's fun.
LUDDEN: That's a good thing.
Mr. CLASH: (As Elmo) Mm-hmm. And instead of going to the movies, we'll watch TV and watch a movie on TV.
LUDDEN: I see. And what do your friends say? What's their reaction?
Mr. CLASH: (As Elmo) Well, they're kind of sad because of some of the things they used to do. But everybody's learning to live with it and have a good time.
LUDDEN: ...to be really open with their kids about something that's happening, that might not want the kids to then talk about it outside the home. You know, there's this sense of shame maybe. Does the show talk about that?
Mr. KNELL: Well it doesn't deal with that directly, but I think the point of this, Jennifer is to reassure them that the family will be okay and that they are not alone. I think a lot of families, and this is really aimed at families in a lot of ways. It's an adult-oriented program that families can watch.
But it's a primetime program on PBS on the 9th, and it will be aimed really at the parents on how to talk to your kids. And we have live action footage of four families who are going through this from different parts of the country, very different situations, and getting them through these very tough times. They are not alone. There are community resources that are available to them, and through this process through the hour, I think people will know that there's places they can go to for help.
LUDDEN: Elmo, what is one piece of advice that you might give other children or their parents for coping during this recession?
Mr. CLASH: (As Elmo) Well, I think that it's very important is to talk to each other about how you feel about it, you know, because that's how you can learn.
LUDDEN: Elmo is a Muppet living on Sesame Street and Gary Knell is the President and CEO of the Sesame Workshop, and they both joined us here in our Washington studios. The television special, "Families Stand Together: Feeling Secure In Tough Times" airs tomorrow night, September 9th on PBS.
Thanks to both of you.
Mr. KNELL: Thanks for having us.
Mr. CLASH: (As Elmo) Thank you.
Unidentified Singers: (Singing) Love is all we need, no matter what comes our way we believe, that love is all we need. All we need. 'Cause we're a family. Yeah.