It is with a heavy heart that I admit that Sesame Street has finally, absolutely jumped the shark. The final blow? They’re putting Cookie Monster on a healthy diet.

In an effort to stem the tide of childhood obesity, Sesame Workshop has decided to alter the roles set forth by the loveable characters on the show. As such, Cookie will be singing a new song: “Cookies Are A Sometimes Food.” This is crazy. Yes, Cookie ate his biscuits with reckless abandon, over overindulging and, yes, getting sick in the process. But I’d hope that kids are smarter than to do a rote imitation of what a Muppet does on TV. (Of course, this also speaks to the problem that parents are letting television raise their kids, which is another major issue.)

Granted, this is not the first shark jump that Sesame Street has taken in the name of dumbing down the show. Witness:

  • The Count no longer induces thunder and lightning after he counts things (“scares the kiddies, can’t do that”).
  • The witty and intellectual banter between Ernie and Bert has largely been replaced by the cloying and annoying Elmo (who used to actually be a cool Muppet before the death of Jim Henson).
  • The innovative, urban cool, variety show with interwoven plots has been retooled into a “15-minute block” format, where one plot is covered at a time (this is a tough one for me, because I understand the need to develop a child’s attention span, but not challenging them to follow a plot as it is interrupted is selling out, IMHO).
  • Two of these bits – “Journey To Ernie” and “Elmo’s World” – smack more of marketing toys than teaching kids.

Sesame Street has changed over the years, as times have changed and the viewing demographic has changed. When I was a child, the show had a few key goals: teaching urban kids to read, teaching basic English and Spanish skills, showing a healthy, multicultural world, and teaching about things (e.g. how auto body repair people do their work, what street signs mean, etc.). Times and viewership have changed, and the target age for the show has dropped from 4 to 5 years old down to 2 to 3 – thus the rise of Elmo the Annoying.

But the most damning thing is that, like all of PBS, Sesame Street has abandoned what might have been its most necessary mission: insulating kids from the marketing machine of commercial television. When PBS was first launched and was on the brink of bankruptcy, Fred Rogers testified before the Senate and made the case for the non-commercial nature of PBS. And Joan Ganz Cooney, creator of Sesame Street, felt the same. However, even she has realized that marketing is a necessary evil in modern days.

It’s a shame – and so sad to see part of my past fade into irrelevance.

(Note: for more info on the show, visit Wikipedia.)