Elmo's World

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Elmo's World
Genre Educational
Puppet show
Animation
Segment
Format Children's television series
Opening theme Elmo's World Theme Song (sung to Elmo's Song)
Ending theme The ____ Song (sung to Jingle Bells)
Country of origin United States
Original language(s) English
No. of seasons 7
No. of episodes 67
Production
Running time 15 minutes
Production company(s) Children's Television Workshop (1998-2000)
Sesame Workshop (2000-2009)
Distributor Sony Wonder (1998-2007)
Genius Entertainment (2007-2009)
Warner Home Video (2009-present)
Broadcast
Original channel PBS (1998-2009)
Original run November 16, 1998; 15 years ago (1998-11-16) – November 10, 2009; 4 years ago (2009-11-10)

"Elmo's World" is a fifteen-minute long segment that was shown at the end of the children's television program Sesame Street. It premiered in late 1998 as part of the show's structural changes, designed to appeal to younger viewers and to increase ratings, which had fallen in the past decade. The segment was developed out of a series of workshops that studied the changes in the viewing habits of their audience, and the reasons for the show's lower ratings. "Elmo's World" used traditional elements of production, but had a more sustained narrative. It was presented from the perspective of a three-year old child as represented by its host, the Muppet Elmo, who was performed by Kevin Clash. In 2002, Sesame Street's producers changed the rest of the show to reflect its younger demographic and the increase in their viewers' sophistication.

Long-time writer Judy Freudberg came up with the concept of "Elmo's World", and writer Tony Geiss and executive producer Arlene Sherman helped develop it. Instead of the realism of the rest of the show, the segment presented Elmo moving between and combining two worlds of live action and computer-generated animation, which looked like "a child's squiggly crayon drawing come to life"[1] created by the host, and with "a stream-of-consciousness feel to it".[1] Elmo's pet goldfish Dorothy and the members of the Noodle family were silent in order to allow Elmo to do all the talking, and to give children the opportunity to respond to what they saw on the screen.

"Elmo's World" remained popular throughout its run. In 2009, "Elmo's World" stopped production, and was replaced in 2012 by "Elmo the Musical".

Background[edit]

By the early 1990s, Sesame Street had been on the air for over 20 years and was, as author Michael Davis put it, "the undisputed heavyweight champion of preschool television".[2] The show's dominance began to be challenged throughout the decade by other television shows for preschoolers such as Barney & Friends, by the growth of the children's home video industry, and by the increase of thirty-minute children's shows on cable.[3][4] Sesame Street's ratings declined, so the Children's Television Workshop (CTW),[note 1] the organization responsible for putting the show on the air, responded by researching the reasons for their lower ratings.[4]

For the first time since the show debuted, the producers and a team of researchers analyzed Sesame Street's content and structure and studied how children's viewing habits had changed. The analysis was conducted during a series of two-week long workshops and was completed in time for the show's 30th anniversary in 1999. The CTW found that although the show was produced for children between the ages of three and five, their viewers had become more sophisticated since its debut and began to watch the show sooner, as early as ten months of age.[5][6] The producers found that the show's original format, which consisted of a series of short clips similar to the structure of a magazine, was not necessarily the most effective way to hold young viewers' attention. They also found that their viewers, especially the younger ones, lost attention with Sesame Street after 40 to 45 minutes.[4]

The first way the CTW addressed the issues brought up by their research was by lowering the target age for Sesame Street, from four years to three years.[4] In late 1998, they created a new 15-minute segment entitled "Elmo's World", hosted by the Muppet Elmo, that was shown at the end of each episode.[note 2] The segment used traditional elements (animation, Muppets, music, and live-action film), but had a more sustained narrative.[8] "Elmo's World" followed the same structure each episode, and depended heavily on repetition.[1][note 3] It focused on child-centered topics such as balls and dancing, from the perspective of a three-year old child, and was "designed to foster exploration, imagination, and curiosity".[8] Instead of an adult providing narration, Elmo led the child through the action.[1]

In 2002, Sesame Street's producers went further in changing the show to reflect its younger demographic and increase in their viewers' sophistication. They decided, after the show's 33rd season, to expand upon the "Elmo's World" concept by, as San Francisco Chronicle TV critic Tim Goodman called it, "deconstructing"[10] the show. They changed the structure of the entire show to a more narrative format, making the show easier for young children to navigate. Arlene Sherman, a co-executive producer for 25 years and one of the creators of "Elmo's World", called the show's new look "startlingly different".[5][10]

Development and filming[edit]

Long-time Sesame Street writer Judy Freudberg came up with the idea of creating a segment with "an entirely different format"[11] from the rest of the show during the CTW's workshops, and writer Tony Geiss further developed the idea with her.[5] Freudberg stated that the concept "was radical because we had never veered from that magazine mosaic and had never given any character more than another character to do".[11]

Elmo in 2011, in the cockpit of a space shuttle at NASA.

Animator Mo Williams came up with the idea of creating a less-realistic setting compared to the rest of the show. The segment presented Elmo moving between and combining two worlds of live action and computer-generated animation, which looked like "a child's squiggly crayon drawing come to life"[1] created by the host, and with "a stream-of-consciousness feel to it".[1] The segment was filmed at a different time than the rest of the season, much of it in front of a blue screen, with animation and digital effects added later.[12][13] Clash was Elmo's principal puppeteer for "Elmo's World". For more complicated shots that showed Elmo's entire body, a puppet called "Active Elmo" was operated with assistance from other puppeteers; the puppet was also filmed in front of a blue screen and edited later.[14]

In addition to Freudberg and Geiss, other writers of "Elmo's World" included Emily Kingsley and Molly Boylan.[4] The theme song was based upon a song Geiss wrote called "Elmo's Song", with lyrics changed to fit the segment.[15] Writer Louise Gikow and The New York Times called it "a show within a show".[7][16] Clash called it "a playdate between the child and Elmo", and felt that its intimacy provided an effective teaching tool.[1] He also called it "an instant success".[17] Davis compared "Elmo's World" with the long-running children's TV show Peewee's Playhouse.[11]

The CTW, as it has done throughout its existence and for all the shows it produced, conducted extensive studies on "Elmo's World". They found that the segment had high appeal for children, regardless of their age, sex, and socioeconomic background. Attention and participation such as hand-clapping, moving along with the music, and counting along with the characters increased with repeated viewing.[8]

Characters[edit]

The Muppet Elmo, who represented the three-to-four year-old child, was chosen as host of "Elmo's World" because he had always tested well with Sesame Street's younger viewers.[9] Elmo was created in 1979 and was performed by various puppeteers, including Richard Hunt, but did not become what his eventual portrayer Kevin Clash called a "phenomenon"[18] until Clash took over the role in 1983. Elmo became, as writer Michael Davis reported, "the embodiment" of Sesame Street, and "the marketing wonder of our age"[19] when five million "Tickle Me Elmo" dolls were sold in 1996. Clash believed the "Tickle Me Elmo" phenomenon made Elmo a household name and led to the "Elmo's World" segment.[20] Clash called "Elmo's World" "a colorful, lively celebration of creativity" and "one of the most imaginative endeavors I've ever been involved in".[1] He stated that the segment provided him with new challenges and opportunities for "creative risk-taking".[1]

Michael Jeter (left) played Mr. Noodle's brother Mr. Noodle. Kristin Chenoweth (middle) played Ms. Noodle. Sarah Jones (right) played Mr. Noodle's other sister Miss Noodle.

According to Clash and Gikow, Elmo's pet goldfish Dorothy and the members of the Noodle family were silent in order to allow Elmo to do all the talking, and to give children the opportunity to respond to what they saw on the screen.[7][17] Dorothy's silence allowed children to fill in the blanks, and her curiosity, which was created and enhanced by Elmo's imagination, allowed the writers and researchers to insert the curriculum lessons they want to convey. Up to nine goldfish were used per episode, so they could be replaced when necessary. Several fish were needed each season, and the surviving Dorothys were given good homes afterwards.[7]

Mr. Noodle was played by Broadway actor Bill Irwin, who had previously worked with Sherman in short films for Sesame Street.[21] When he became unavailable, Sherman asked her friend Michael Jeter to replace Irwin as Mr. Noodle's brother Mr. Noodle.[22] Jeter was in the role beginning in 2000, until his death in 2003.[7] Kristin Chenoweth played Mr. Noodle's sister Ms. Noodle,[7] and Sarah Jones played Mr. Noodle's other sister Miss Noodle.[note 4] Gikow calls the Noodles "a dynasty of mimes,...in the tradition of great silent film comedians like Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, and Harold Lloyd".[7] They made mistakes, but solved them with the help of "enthusiastic kid voice-overs",[7] which empowered children and helped them feel smarter than the adults. According to Freudberg, "Mr. Noodle, who never speaks, is all about trial and error. When you throw him a hat, he acts like he's never seen one before. Kids feel empowered watching him because they can do what he can't".[11]

End of production[edit]

"Elmo's World" remained popular throughout its run, especially for the younger viewers for which it was designed. In 2009, when "Elmo's World" stopped production, the producers of Sesame Street began taking steps to increase the age of their viewers and to increase their ratings. By the end of the show's 40th anniversary in 2009, 3-year-old viewers had increased by 41 percent, 4-year-olds by 4 percent, and 5-year-olds by 21 percent.[9] According to The New York Times, executive producer Carol-Lynn Parente "was itching to revamp the final segment"[9] even before production of "Elmo's World" ended, but was prevented by the apparent satisfaction of the viewers and by tight budgets. They were also reluctant to replace the segment; as writer Joey Mazzarino explained, it was "an emotionally charged process"[16] because Freudberg had become ill and was not present for the discussions about it.[note 5]

In 2012, "Elmo's World" was replaced by "Elmo the Musical" in order to appeal to their now-older audience and to give their puppeteers new challenges. The producers hoped that even though it was designed for older viewers, younger children would still enjoy it. "Elmo's World" continued to appear on repeats of Sesame Street, on DVDs,[16] and on the show's website, which sold products related to the segment.[24]

Footnotes[edit]

  1. ^ The CTW changed its name to the Sesame Workshop (SW) in June 2000.[1]
  2. ^ The first episode of "Elmo's World" aired on November 16, 1998.[7]
  3. ^ At first, the same segment was repeated daily for a week, but this practice was dropped at the end of the first season of "Elmo's World".[9]
  4. ^ All four actors playing members of the Noodle families have won Tonys.
  5. ^ Freudberg died of brain cancer in 2012.[23]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i Clash, p. 75
  2. ^ Davis, p. 317
  3. ^ Davis, p. 320
  4. ^ a b c d e Davis, p. 338
  5. ^ a b c Clash, p. 76
  6. ^ Fisch & Bernstein, pp. 44–45
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h Gikow, p. 169
  8. ^ a b c Fisch & Bernstein, p. 45
  9. ^ a b c d Whitlock, Natalie Walker. "Behind the Scenes of Elmo's World". How Stuff Works. Retrieved 2013-08-07
  10. ^ a b Goodman, Tim (2002-02-04). "Word on the 'Street': Classic Children's Show to Undergo Structural Changes This Season". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 2013-08-06
  11. ^ a b c d Davis, p. 339
  12. ^ Gikow, p. 168
  13. ^ Herman, event occurs at 2:53
  14. ^ Gikow, p. 194
  15. ^ Herman, event occurs at 0:43
  16. ^ a b c Jensen, Elizabeth (2012-09-13). "Hey, Elmo, That Concept Has Legs" The New York Times. Retrieved 2013-08-07
  17. ^ a b Clash, p. 77
  18. ^ Borgenicht, David (1998). Sesame Street Unpaved. New York: Hyperion Publishing, p. 9. ISBN 0-7868-6460-5
  19. ^ Davis, p. 249
  20. ^ Clash, p. 47
  21. ^ Herman, event occurs at 3:31
  22. ^ Herman, event occurs at 5:10
  23. ^ Slotnik, Daniel E. (2012-06-16). "Judy Freudberg, a Writer for 'Sesame Street' for 35 Years, Dies at 62". The New York Times. Retrieved 2013-10-08
  24. ^ Crimaldi, Philip. "Season 43" (press release). Sesame Workshop.org. Retrieved 2013-08-07

Works cited[edit]