PBS CEO Says Elmo Bigger Than His Puppeteer

by | January 14, 2013 at 7:38 PM | Downton Abbey, Sesame Street

'Sesame Street's's Elmo (Photo: Gail Oskin/Getty Images)


NEW YORK (TheWrap.com) – PBS CEO Paula Kerger says “Sesame Street” will weather the scandal over Elmo puppeter Kevin Clash because “the character of Elmo is larger than any one individual.”

She also said a new puppeteer may not be named because several puppeteers are able to work with the beloved “Sesame Street” character. Clash resigned from handling Elmo in November amid allegations that Clash had sexual relationships with underage teenage boys.

Kerger also spoke at a Television Critics Association panel Monday about Mitt Romney’s Big Bird moment during the presidential debates, and why PBS doesn’t air “Downton Abbey” in sync with the show’s British airing.

Airing “Downton” in the fall overseas and in January in the U.S. means American fans of the show need to shield themselves from hearing about major plot developments. But it has its advantages, including the “enormous generation of publicity” that “Downton” receives in January, which it might not receive in the crowded fall season. The show’s third season had a huge U.S. debut this month, scoring 7.9 million viewers.

“You have encouraged us often that everyone puts their most competitive work on in the fall,” Kerger said, referring to TV critics, “and to put ‘Downton’ in the teeth of that I’m not sure serves anyone well.”

Kerger said the issue of when to air “Downton” is a “question of great debate” and that PBS hopes to air the show when it will best satisfy viewers.

She also talked about her shock when Romney said that he wanted to cut PBS funding despite his personal fondness for its programming and love of Big Bird. She said she saw it as an opportunity to tell the public about how PBS is funded.

She also talked about her shock when Romney said that he wanted to cut PBS’s federal funding despite his personal fondness for its programming and love of Big Bird. “I almost fell off my couch,” she said, echoing earlier comments about her shock at PBS becoming part of the debate.

But she said she saw it as an opportunity to tell the public – and Congress – about how PBS is funded. “It was an opportunity to try to explain to a much wider audience and to the American people and to those on the Hill who we are,” she said. She explained that while PBS gets 15 percent of its funding from the federal government, it goes directly to local stations, many of which rely on it to exist. Without federal funding, roughly a third of PBS stations would go dark, she said.