Pop Culture

MELISSA BLOCK, host: Now, news from the world of children's television. It's official. The most beloved pair of bachelors on TV are not gay.

BERT: Hey, Ernie. Hey, hey, the place looks great.

ERNIE: Yeah.

BERT: Look at all the decorations.

ERNIE: Yeah, doesn't it look nice, Bert?

BLOCK: This week, thousands of people signed an online petition asking for "Sesame Street's" Bert and Ernie to get married, but as NPR's Neda Ulaby reports, PBS has released a statement that says the two are best friends - no more, no less.

NEDA ULABY: The statement was very sweet. It says Bert and Ernie were created to teach preschoolers you can be good friends with people who are very different from you.

BERT: Ernie, I don't (unintelligible). Ernie.

JAMES PONIEWOZIK: Honestly, my first reaction to this was that I was glad that they're not making Bert and Ernie a married couple because, frankly, I think Bert can do better.

ULABY: That's Time magazine's TV critic, James Poniewozik.

PONIEWOZIK: Ernie is kind of a jerk to Bert. You know, he tricks him, he lies to him, he steals his pizza. It's not, you know, a loving, adult relationship to me, frankly.

BERT: Ah, Ernie.

PONIEWOZIK: Bert deserves, you know, a nice man who's going to treat him right.

BERT: Ernie, tell me, how do I look?

ERNIE: With your eyes, Bert.

KATE CLINTON: Somewhere, Jim Henson is laughing, just laughing.

ULABY: Kate Clinton is a lesbian comedian. She says, if we're going to go ahead and project things onto hand puppets, she's going to project Bert and Ernie as being so radical, they're standing up for gay people's freedom to not get married.

CLINTON: You know, like in New York, people are like, before they even say hello, they're like, "are you getting married?" You're like, could you back up?

ULABY: See, this is an important lesson for children. Don't pressure gay people to get married. Obviously, public television needs to tread carefully politically, says James Poniewozik, given its history.


ULABY: The network that brought us Tinky Winky also said in its statement that puppets do not have sexual orientation, which as James Poniewozik points out, does not exactly stand up to scrutiny.

PONIEWOZIK: Elmo has a mom, obviously, which does sort of raise the philosophical and biological question of little Muppets needing to come from somewhere.

ULABY: But some mysteries are best left unplumbed. The real shame, says Poniewozik, is that parents like him who watch "Sesame Street" with their kids will now be denied that little frisson of, are they or not?

ERNIE: Why I like you.

BERT: Oh, Ernie.

ULABY: Neda Ulaby, NPR News.

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