"Sesame Street," the longest-running American children's TV program and the winner of a record 119 Emmy Awards, turns 40 on November 10.
Its success owes much to intensive audience research, the imagination of the late Muppeteer Jim Henson, and a genuine concern for the social skills of youngsters; but mostly it's still around because of the shrewd decision to set it in an integrated inner-city neighborhood.
I'm serious. I shudder to think of the repercussions if the program had been set in the rural South. Each episode would never get past the jaunty theme song, with its query of "Can you tell me how to get, how to get to Sesame Street?" The answer would be something like "You take a left where the feed mill used to be and then take a right where the Hudsons lived when they first got married and then a left across the street from where they were going to build the Kroger but, bless their hearts, the ground wouldn't perk..."
25 countries have adapted "Sesame Street" to their own cultures, but in the U.S. I don't think the concept could handle a journey into deep redneck territory. It's a bit too jarring to hear an announcement such as "Today's show is brought to you by the letter from my parole officer."
A "good ol' boy" format for "Sesame Street" would scarcely have prepared youngsters for reading. ("Today we were supposed to study the sound that a 'ph' makes, but I think you kiddies would be more interested in the sound a doe in heat makes.")
That obsessive-compulsive vampire The Count would have found some disturbing things to count. ("One..two...there are two sides of my family I can pick a wife from!")
Yes, the curriculum would definitely need changes to accommodate the redneck lifestyle. Young viewers would learn shapes such as triangles, squares, circles, The Shape You'll Be In Once Your Four-Wheeler Flips With You, etc.
The cast of the existing "Sesame Street" enjoys great harmony and teamwork, but in a redneck version some music afficionado would eventually storm off the set shouting, "Big Bird? Big Bird? I thought they promised Freebird!"
The flow of the program would be interrupted by cast members wandering around asking, "Elmo's World? Is that the planet where that there UFO took Elvis and Bigfoot?"
Abby Cadabby and The Amazing Mumford have worked some breathtaking magic over the years, but in a redneck world they would work most of their marvels with duct tape.
Oscar The Grouch would be too depressed to sing "I Love Trash" when his uppity cousin got a double-wide garbage can put in.
There have been various controversies about sponsors over the years, but things could really get ugly if the financial details of the Cookie Monster Truck and Tractor Pull deal came to light.
The friendship of Bert and Ernie would be in danger as Bert marked the calendar with the days until Rubber Duckie season.
Big Bird's friend Aloysius Snuffleupagus would not get to carry that proud name for long. ("Mr. Hooper's Store has a package for Snuffleup...Sniffleup...Snuffledown...a package for Bubba!")
Ah, I worry too much. Whatever its locale, "Sesame Street" would do wonders to prepare the nation's youth for Skoal...uh, I mean school.
*Sigh* "Sunny days, chasing my ex away..."
Note: Danny Tyree welcomes e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.