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NPR Arts & Life

'Sesame Street' To Air Next 5 Seasons On HBO

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

Generations of children have grown up with "Sesame Street." Soon it'll be getting a new address. The children's show announced today that its next five seasons will premiere on the premium cable channel HBO instead of PBS. It's a major change for the long-running show. And joining us to explain the arrangement and its possible consequences is our TV critic Eric Deggans.

Hey Eric.

ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: Hi.

BLOCK: This is surprising news today. "Sesame Street" has been a mainstay on PBS for decades. What's going on?

DEGGANS: Well, under the terms of this deal, HBO gets the series first. PBS gets it nine months later. But the additional funding from the HBO deal allows Sesame Workshop, the company that makes "Sesame Street," to give the show to PBS stations for free. They had been paying "Sesame Street" to air the program. And it also allows them to make about twice as many episodes as they had been making, and it gives them the resources to make two new educational kids' shows, including a "Sesame Street" spinoff that's going to feature the Muppets.

Now, PBS gets to use that money that it had been paying for "Sesame Street" for other projects. And it gets the security of knowing that this show's going to be around for five more years. Now, we don't exactly know what kind of dollar figures are involved because the terms of the deal weren't disclosed.

BLOCK: Now, HBO is famous as the home of adult shows like "Game Of Thrones," "The Sopranos." How do you expect that "Sesame Street" is going to fit into that world?

DEGGANS: Well, I don't think Grover is going to need a parental advisory here (laughter), so - HBO has basically already had a family channel among its suite of different cable channels. And they haven't said for sure yet, but it seems pretty logical that for cable consumers, "Sesame Street" is going to air on HBO Family. Now, people who watch the show by streaming can obviously control whether or not their kids can access other kinds of content. And the whole point of this deal is to associate HBO's brand with one of the biggest names in kids' programming. So it wouldn't make any sense for them to create this situation where "Sesame Street's" status as a trusted kids' show would be damaged in any way.

BLOCK: Now, HBO is also beefing up its streaming services. Is that part of the strategy here? In other words, does this deal help them compete with Netflix and Amazon in that department?

DEGGANS: For sure. I mean, Netflix has a customized kids' TV portal that has loads of shows including original programming. Amazon's added a lot of original kids' programming in the last couple of years. And for HBO, this deal gives them an instant exclusive window for the biggest name in kids' TV. They also get 150 old episodes of "Sesame Street," and they get 50 past episodes of "The Electric Company" and a show for preschoolers called "Pinky Dinky Doo."

BLOCK: Here's the troubling thing - potentially troubling thing, Eric. "Sesame Street" has been free on broadcast TV, on PBS, for 45 years. This seems like it creates a two-tiered system - one level for people who can afford HBO and another for those who can't.

DEGGANS: Well, you're right, and there is a concern there. Now, right now HBO subscribers get access to the new episodes and new shows almost a year sooner than those who don't have the service. And I'm also concerned about that it says for the concept of public broadcasting in general. Now, for decades we've had this system where money from the public - grants or donations or what have you, has supported a TV system that tries to be free from commercial considerations. Now we've got one of the biggest names in public TV turning to one of the biggest names in pay TV to stay afloat, and I just hope it's not a sign of more deals to come with popular public TV shows.

BLOCK: OK. NPR TV critic Eric Deggans.

Eric thanks.

DEGGANS: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.