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The Sesame Street folks, who have taught and entertained kids with the help of Big Bird, Cookie Monster, and my favorite Oscar the Grouch for several generations, gave me a real education during the 2010 Erasing the Stigma Leadership luncheon. It was an event sponsored by the Didi Hirsch Mental Health Services to applaud efforts of advocates helping to dispel myths and prejudices about mental illness. How did the Sesame Street production fit into that kind of gathering? Well, I learned that the theme of this year’s event was youth. And it was explained that fifty percent of all mental disorders emerge by the age of 14, seventy five percent by 25. But most suffer for ten or more years before they get help. Ten years of unnecessary heartache. In addition to directly helping individuals, the Didi Hirsch organization tries to advance the public’s understanding of mental illness. They try to erase the stigma so youngsters will seek help early on and get support. Whether the subject is people coping with fear, loss, lack of hope or dealing with disease or disaster, for 41 years Sesame Workshop has helped families talk and pull together during hard times, via PBS’ much-loved Sesame Street series, TV specials, and global outreach programs. An “Erasing the Stigma Media Award” was presented to Gary Knell, president and CEO of the Sesame Workshop. He’s a fellow who spoke passionately about his work. Under Knell’s leadership, bilingual multimedia initiatives have been developed that use the power of Sesame Street’s characters to help families deal with stress and address things that may cause children to worry. Sensitive subjects such as September 11th, hurricane Katrina, unemployment, war and other problems from the last decade have been covered. Of special note is the “Talk, Listen Connect” project that has been ongoing since 2006. It has helped millions of military families cope with the suffering caused by deployments, homecomings and injuries. It’s something adults find difficult to handle, let alone asking children to understand and cope with these problems. It’s a lot to ask of a children’s show, but Sesame Street and the Sesame Workshop is there helping kids. Knell says his mission is to maximize the educational power of all media to help children reach their highest potential. That’s far from child’s play.

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Once upon a time, the networks would air reruns during the Summer. It was a seasonal tradition for people to play outdoors, have neighborhood barbeques, go on vacation and head to the beach. No one wanted to sit inside in front of a TV set while everyone was outside having fun. Watching television was not part of the summertime activities, unless you were a shut-in or just an unsociable ogre.
Well things started to change when a few experimental summer series captured big ratings. The networks were intrigued by the idea that new shows could bring in new viewers during June, July and August. And they could get bigger ad revenues then the reruns would give them.
New viewers and more money, it seemed like a win-win situation for the networks. And almost two decades ago summer programming began in earnest. It may have been inspired by the various cable networks, which were introducing new shows in the “off season,” with great success.
So, with imitation being the sincerest form of flattery, the broadcast networks decided to get into the business of creating a Primetime Summer Schedule.
First a few specials and series were sprinkled in with the reruns. Then the production floodgates opened up and every kind of show imaginable hit the airwaves. Things will never be the same again.
The networks and cable now compete for the same shrinking viewership, offering a variety of new programs for the Summer. And since I just got back from NBC’s annual Summer Press Day, I’ll tell you about a few of the shows they’ll be presenting to keep you indoors this season.
Taking a cue from old variety shows, America’s Got Talent returns June 1 on NBC, with Nick Cannon as host, and Sharon Osbourne, Piers Morgan and Howie Mandel as the judges. The Biggest Loser spin-off Losing It with Jillian also starts June 1, featuring the ultra-tough female trainer Jillian Michaels. Just for laughs, Last Comic Standing returns June 7 for a seventh season with Craig Robinson (from The Office) as the new host.
If you prefer the good old days, you can still find some vintage reruns on Nick at Nite.

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