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Can You Tell Me How To Get To Sesamstrasse?

Local Co-Productions Fuel Sesame Street's International Expansion

by Karen Raugust

Bazyli and Beata in the Polish co-production Ulica Sezamkowa. © CTW. Sesame Street Muppets © Henson.

Sesame Street, Children's Television Workshop's 30-year-old preschool television series, has been broadcast in more than 140 countries over the last three decades. Sixty-eight nations currently air one of various versions of the show; some carry the American original, others a prepackaged half-hour called Open Sesame and some a unique coproduction created for local tastes. Sesame Street consists primarily of live-action studio street scenes, interspersed with freestanding vignettes; a few of the latter are animated but most feature Jim Henson's Muppets. Still, a look at CTW's international distribution strategy is illuminating for animation houses and live-action producers alike.

Tingo, created by Jim Henson Productions for Sesame English, a new CTW initiative with publisher Berlitz. © CTW. Sesame Street Muppets © Henson.

The U.S. version of Sesame Street airs in Australia, where it has been on for nearly 30 years, and the United Kingdom, where it debuted in 1983. English-language broadcasters in the Middle East, Africa and Asia also carry the show. It has been on the air in Japan since 1971 -- becoming the longest-running U.S. TV series there -- attracting an older audience that wants to learn English. A year ago, Japanese network NHK began running a dubbed version of the show (the first time the American version has been dubbed); viewers can switch tracks from English to Japanese by pushing a button on the remote.

Broadcasters in 29 countries from Afghanistan to Zambia carry Open Sesame, a pre-packaged half-hour culled from the best of the Sesame Street library. It includes freestanding segments from Sesame Street, but not the live-action street scenes, and is dubbed into the local language. Some countries, such as Finland, air a customized version featuring new opens and closes and/or original material starring native children.

A new CTW initiative, Sesame English, is a co-venture with publisher Berlitz. It will teach English via 52 15-minute video segments (which also will be sold for broadcast), using a combination of newly created vignettes and repurposed material from the Sesame Street library. Henson created a new Muppet named Tingo for the project, which will also contain a print component.

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