August 5, 2006

Who Can Turn The World On With Her Marketably Pink, Sparkly Smile?

abby_cadabby.jpgHonestly, at what point do we consider Sesame Street right alongside every other company who, under the pretense of early education, uses a television show to sell your kid toys and books and videos and gear?

The Times has an article about the big debut of a new, female muppet star, Abby Cadabby, who--cross your licensing fingers--may just be the next Elmo-scale success for Sesame Workshop.

So what was the concept, EVP/Creative Director, Elizabeth Nealon?

We wanted a lead female character. If you think about ‘The Mary Tyler Moore Show,’ some girls relate to Rhoda, who’s our Zoe, and some girls really relate to Mary, who’s a girly girl. And we didn’t have that girl.
That's a big freakin' "if," ladies. And besides, 'That Girl' was Marlo Thomas.

The real(er) reasons are a little more obvious and a helluva lot more contemporary: the supposedly progressive educators behind the show finally woke up to a 35+ year long gender inequity in their midst. HAHA KIDDING.

It was the absence of a compelling value proposition in the girl toy segment, something that could compete for share of wallet against Dora, Disney Princesses and the upcoming Tinker Bell: The Movie. Thus, Abby the sparkly fairy was focus grouped into being:

All versions featured various shades of pink- or lavender-toned skin, colors that would “work well next to Elmo,” who is red, Ms. [Rosemary] Truglio [EVP, Education & Research] said. “That was not up for discussion."
By "next to," I'm assuming she means "on the shelf."

Look, I'm not paranoid or cranky; it just seems to me that the playing field needs to be leveled. When a Sesame Workshop executive says the following, I have a hard time ascribing any exceptionalist educational goodwill to their programming: There are so many cute things out there,” [said Maura Regan, VP, Global Consumer Products] “but in order to make them want one doll over another, I think the real deciding factor is how much they’ve connected with the Muppet from the show. And you’ve got to be able to capture that.”

A Girly-Girl Joins the ‘Sesame’ Boys [nyt]

PS did you know that blond muppet in the blue dress is named Prairie Dawn? Here's a picture of her next to Margaret Cho, who swears circles around ex-Sprout Melanie. Go figure.


I remember Prairie Dawn from watching the shows as a kid. I think her name stuck with me when most others didn't because Dawn is my sister's middle name.

What frustrates me is that Sesame Workshop uses marketing priorities to determine characters and content - yet Sesame Workshop has some of the worst product lineup, distribution and marketing. You can't find hardly -anything- Sesame Street-oriented that's worth buying in a store. And those likely to be worth getting (in terms of quality and utility) are invariably Elmo products. I've been youtube-ripping like there's no tomorrow because you can't get old episodes, and getting all the baby's toys on Ebay. Her average toy is 10 years old, Baby Einstein or a plush doll.

There are some awesome Sesame items, but they tend to be from the 74 to 89. Why is this?

I know I'm rambling, but have you SEEN how ugly is Ernie from Sesame Beginnings? THey're pushing this line of products (though all actual marketing are done by third parties) over anything else. The videos are ok, but the old soul is gone. There's no meta-thematic humor, and little of the obvious kind.

Recent studies saying kids shouldn't watch TV till 3 are breathing down their neck, but they've retreated from competing with the older kids' stuff. It used to be their biggest strength, and they've just dropped it. I don't understand it.

It's like they got addicted to Elmo, and forgot why they should bother with the rest of the show's purpose and traditions.

And I almost want someone to explain to me Boohbah. Almost.

I think Boobah is sorta a "time to stop dropping acid" warning for parents. Or all the producers are secretly 19 year old stoners. Or something. Seriously, is there ANY explanation for Boobah that doesn't involve copious amounts of drugs?

Oh, and on the actual topic of the new character. Hmm, let's see, Sesame Workshop goes out on a limb to create a new character for girls to look up to, and in their infinite creativity, they come up with...a pink, sparkly, cuddly fairy princess. Wow guys, you really done outdone yourselves this time. Way to push the envelope.

[I'm definitely a different generation of feminist from the MTM fans running Sesame right now, but the whole "we can embrace our girly side" feminine vs femininity thing seems like a throwback cop out to me. I remember someone on Blogging Baby posting about how her son really wanted some Dora gear, but it was all "for" girls. Especially considering their early and overwhelming influence, I would've expected a far less gender/market-demographic-codified approach. -ed.]

I agree with you on this, it's a shameless marketing ploy and I'm not happy about the message it's sending and/or buying into. Right now, the only thing that encourages me about this is that there'll finally be some new content on Sesame Street because they'll *have to* film new stuff in order to include this new character.

And for the record, other than the fact that she's not pink or lavender, Zoe is as girly as a puppet character can be. She always wears a tutu, she has sparkly stuff on her head and she's always "giggling". (and my son likes her better than Elmo) Maybe the fact that she didn't become an Elmo-type merch bestseller should show the people at CTW that they need to get back to the basics that made the show successful in the first place: fairly gender-neutral and friendly monsters, memorable songs, and CONTENT. FWIW, I never thought Mary on MTM was all that much of a girly-girl... She was certainly not a pretty pink fairy princess.

My son loves Dora too and I'm fine with that. Except that the people at Nick Jr. are starting to make the mistake of allowing her licensed products to be so saccharine pink & princessy that I won't buy it for my son just like I wouldn't buy it for a daughter. They're introducing her cousin Diego as the "boy alternative", which isn't totally offensive to my feminist soul since his sister and Dora are often his sidekicks-in-adventure... but it still bugs that there is such a gender-targeted marketing drive. Especially when it's aimed at such little kids!

How sad that even CTW is so market-share driven that they're adding new characters because of that and not because of the educational value they might bring to the program.

Abby looks a little like one of those Disney "Johnny and the Sprites" puppets, no?


I am the perfect example why kids shouldn't watch tv before they are 2. I did, I was addicted to sesame street, and now THEY CAN DO NO WRONG. i even find myself curious about the pink sparkly princess. shoot me. I really dislike Elmo and the way my daughter says his name so reverently...I haven't lost all my critical faculties, I guess.

I like Zoe and Rosita. If they'd push zoe more, she'd be more popular! Are ernie and bert really role models? its so weird.

Plus, the name is just awful. Really.

My 2 1/2 year old daughter thinks Elmo is a girl. Who says Elmo isn't? Or Big Bird - what sex is that bird?

I have the DVD set of episodes from the first six years, and the difference between that and today's SStreet is disheartening. The 1969-1974 Sesame Street was deliberately multicultural, and the street looked weathered and worn, aged and realistic-- something kids from less-than-happy-shiny-suburban-homes could more easily relate to. The content was obviously very deliberately chosen-- the alphabet, numbers, where milk comes from, animals at the zoo, etc.

Today's Sesame Street is much more chaotic and plastic-looking and doesn't feel like it's trying to teach kids any real social lessons-- mostly entertainment, or maybe product marketing. It's sad to see the stark difference between how the show was envisioned and how it's (d)evolved over the years.

I'm hoping they'll come out with more dvds of old episodes; we're avoiding the new ones as much as possible.

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