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The longest street in the world
By ORI J. LENKINSKI
01/24/2013
Grover, Elmo and Big Bird gear up for a new season of ‘Rechov Soomsoom’ on Hop!
 
The street that I grew up on was called Lindale Avenue. However, if you ask me, or most anyone from my generation who comes from Canada, Europe, North America, South America or Israel where they spent their days as a kid, they will probably mention Sesame Street. Though the reality presented on the Sesame Street TV show was far more diverse and colorful than the neighborhood surrounding my childhood home, the memories from the time I spent with Big Bird, Elmo and Grover feel just as real as playdates with neighbors and the first day of kindergarten.

While I was watching Sesame Street in the United States, kids my age were hunkering down to watch Vila Sesamo in Brazil and Sesamstrasse in Germany.

“We have many co-productions,” says H. Melvin Ming in a recent interview with The Jerusalem Post. Ming is the president and CEO of the Sesame Workshop, the NGO that stands behind Sesame Street. He was in Israel for the release of a new season of Rechov Soomsoom (Sesame Street in Hebrew), which is one of over 100 international co-productions the Sesame Workshop oversees. Sitting at a conference table in the brightly colored Channel, Ming talks about his work with great enthusiasm and clarity.

“We are very deliberate about the term ‘co-production’ because we don’t believe that our original prescription fits all areas of the world. We are constantly reminded of how similar we are and how those similarities outpace how different we are. That recognition, that principle, is what makes Sesame Street the longest street in the world,” he says.

“If you ask parents in Israel what they want for their child, if you ask parents in Africa what they want for their child, in China, wherever we are asked to go, what has struck me in the last 13 years is how similar those responses are: education, knowledge, knowing something. Because those are the keys to their future success but also respect. Respect for oneself, respect for others,” says Ming.

During his stay, Hop! hosted the unveiling of a street called Sesame Street in northern Jaffa, as well as a conference on early childhood education with leaders in the field. Creating in collaboration with executives at Hop!, the new season of Rechov Soomsoom has a particular focus on tolerance, dialogue and openness. The Sesame Workshop team has spent the past several months working in collaboration with Alona Abt, the CEO of Hop!, in preparation for the release of the new season.

“I’m thrilled with what Hop! is doing,” says Ming. “We have very strict criteria concerning the projects that we take on.

The beauty of Sesame Street’s programming is its diversity and wide appeal to youngsters. While Ming’s son loved Burt’s antics, tennis player Serena Williams was won over by a bit called “Twittlebugs,” in which a group of sneaker-clad centipedes went off on a picnic.

“We never know which image will be the point of recall to influence behavior,” says Ming.

“There was obviously something about those shoes that made Serena Williams believe that anything was possible,” says Abt. “We want to make children believe that they can do something more than what they see. There is a certain apathy here in Israel that children inherit from their parents. We want to show kids an alternative, to show them the possibility for different kinds of expression that are full of energy and hope. We want to instill the belief in children that they can be meaningful.”

“Kids and parents have many choices,” says Ming. “We give them the option of having education-rich content. How do we ensure that the content we create is relevant to the lives of these children? It’s not enough just to reach them. We have to ask ‘What is it doing for them?’ We believe that our privilege is to help new parents provide the healthy balance of relevant content that is life-enriching, not just passively entertaining,”

Ming joined the team of Sesame Street in 1999, after having worked for several broadcast companies. In the 13 years since he first set foot in the Sesame Workshop, the company has grown exponentially, thanks largely to coproductions such as this one with Hop! The presence of Sesame-related media has exceeded the expectations of the most ambitious executives, all the while maintaining the essence of a small company that was founded in 1968.

At present, Sesame Street and coproductions are viewed by roughly 10 percent of the world’s children, a statistic that leaves much room for imagination in Ming’s eyes.

The new season of Rechov Soomsoom will air at 9:40 a.m. and 5:55 p.m. on Hop! For more information, visit www.hop.co.il.


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