ANIMATION WORLD MAGAZINE - ISSUE 4.7 - OCTOBER 1999
Can You Tell Me How To Get To Sesamstrasse?
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Producers in 19 countries around the world have worked with CTW to create local versions of Sesame Street. All co-productions are 30 minutes in length (the U.S. version runs an hour), with the exception of a 15-minute version in The Netherlands. They feature street scenes reflecting indigenous culture -- in Norway it's a train station instead of a street -- and star a local cast. Co-production partners select from the existing library of freestanding segments, which are dubbed into the local language.
Abelardo (green), Lola (pink), and Pancho Contreras (blue) in the Mexican co-productionPlaza Sesamo. © CTW. Sesame Street Muppets © Henson.
Each co-production incorporates unique Muppets, which interact with the human characters during studio street scenes. The Muppets from the U.S. Sesame Street -- Big Bird, Elmo, Bert & Ernie, Grover and others -- appear in the freestanding inserts but not usually on the street; an exception is China, where the first new Big Bird ever was trained by the original puppeteer.
CTW's first international co-production, Sesamstrasse, premiered in 1973 on German network NDR. Other local European versions of Sesame Street include Barrio Sesamo, which launched on Spain's TVE in 1975 and airs in the Castilian and Catalan languages, and The Netherlands' Sesamstraat, which was introduced on NOS in 1976 and was featured on 15 million postage stamps in honor of its 20th anniversary. Norway's Sesam Stasjon premiered on NRK in 1989. In 1996, two new versions debuted, Ulitsa Sesam on Russia's NTV and ORT networks and Ulica Sezamkowa on Polish TV.
In North America, an early co-production was Mexico's Plaza Sesamo, which first appeared on Televisa in 1975 and is distributed throughout the Latin countries. In Canada, the U.S. version of Sesame Street aired on both CBC and TV Ontario for 20 years, with 20 minutes of the original taken out and replaced with Canadian content. Two years ago, Canada created Sesame Park, a co-production that features segments in French, and Canadian Muppets, such as a bear and a beaver.
Da Niao, Hu Hu Zhu, and Little Plum in the Chinese co-production Zhime Jie. © CTW. Sesame Street Muppets © Henson.
In 1998, a Chinese co-production, Zhima Jie, premiered on Shanghai Television; a second season of 65 half-hours is in the works. Another new venture, one of the most ambitious yet, is a joint Israeli/Palestinian effort called Rechov Sumsum/Shara'a Simsim, introduced in April 1999 on Israel Educational Television and Al-Quds Educational Television. The 60-episode series includes two separate street scenes, one for each culture, each with its own Muppets and actors. Several crossover segments, where Muppets and human characters from each street visit each other, are incorporated into each show to depict cultural similarities and cross-cultural friendships.
Dafi (purple), Oofnik (brown), Haneen (orange), and Kareem (rooster) in the Israeli/Palestinian co-production Rechov Sumsum/Shara'a Sumsum. © CTW. Sesame Street Muppets © Henson.
Coming up is an Egyptian Sesame Street with co-production partner Karma Productions, planned for a December 1999 debut. In South Africa, a series premiering in mid-2000 will mark the first time CTW has incorporated radio and community outreach into a co-production launch. "Radio is a much broader medium in South Africa than TV," says Steve Miller, CTW's group vice president of international television and licensing. He believes radio and outreach materials will be an effective way to reach settlement and rural inhabitants, many of whom lack access to television, and notes that the model may be used in other weak television markets. "We're developing a template," Miller says. South African co-production partners are Kwasukasukela for television and Vuleka Productions for radio.
Miller lists a number of criteria that come into play when deciding which countries to target for local versions of Sesame Street. "First, we have to find co-production partners that are driven by the same goals as we are here at CTW," he says. "As a nonprofit organization, we look for the biggest opportunities to expand our mission, which is to teach." From a marketing standpoint, CTW also seeks markets that offer the best opportunities to build the Sesame Street brand.
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