“Reducing Story Lines” is the New Euphemism

Story in the New York Times this week: 3 long time characters have been let go from the show, in order to “reduce story lines” and “focus on familiar faces each week.” What show?

Sesame Street! It’s another step in the sunset of an era. First, the show’s distribution rights are purchased by HBO, putting it out of reach of 50% of American households, and onto a network whose other content is, shall we say, beyond the limits parents set for pre-schoolers. (Thankfully, HBO has exclusive rights only for 9 months, after which time the show returns for free to PBS.) Now this downsizing.

Oh, and did I mention that the show has been trimmed from an hour to thirty minutes? “A more manageable time for children to focus,” according to another NY Times article. When did this psychological shift occur, when kids could no longer focus beyond 30 minutes? I thought that Sesame Street’s original premise was that a show based on very short and crisp vignettes would hold kids’ interest and afford an opportunity for education and social adjustment? (Wikipedia’s article confirms this, although it goes on to say that story-line format was added in the 1990s and onward, with “45 minutes needed to tell the story”.) Where does this pre-school audience depart to when the credits roll? Perhaps back to their tablets and smart phones?

I would love to see an in-depth article, telling the history of Sesame Street and its impact on children and pre-school learning, then going on to explain with sociological data how “children have changed”.

My question is this: What is the cause and what is the effect? This is, in engineering terms, the basic way to analyze observed information. Is the culture changing and therefore children are changing and therefore the shows on TV need to change [to hold their audience]? Or is culture changing and therefore TV shows change which in turn causes children’s behavior to change?

Let’s go back to the original premise of the show. Again referring to Wikipedia’s article, the show wanted to focus on African-American children in inner city environments, portraying a familiar and positive image. Whether it’s learning basic English, math and social skills, or observing how choices affect behavior, it seems that those goals are needed more strongly than ever in the culture around us!

And don’t get me started on how “reducing story lines” is a euphemism for down-sizing employee payroll, beginning with the older, more experienced workers. Do children today have fewer people of grandparent age in their lives than was true 45 years ago? I wonder…