Could Federal Budget Cuts Actually Kill 'Sesame Street'?

8:04 AM, Oct 5, 2012   |    comments
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ATLANTA (WXIA) -- A spontaneous reaction on Twitter Wednesday night following Mitt Romney's reference to Big Bird and funding cuts for public broadcasting during the presidential debate sparked 17,000 tweets per minute and endless comments on Facebook.

Could a 41-year "Sesame Street" run end if money was cut by Washington?

It doesn't matter how old you are, Big Bird and the "Sesame Street" gang have been teaching life lessons and learning skills week after week and year after year for generations, all on public television.

"I think it would be tragic. Big Bird, Ernie, Bert -- everyone else -- I don't want to lose them," said Barbara VanNorstrand, a mother and grandmother.

"They are part of American culture, 'Sesame Street' is," said Pat Singer.

But not so fast says Teya Ryan, president of Georgia Public Broadcasting.

"Big bird is here to stay," she said flatly.

But Ryan does warn that losing 11 percent or $3 million in federal funding from her $26 million budget will mean cutbacks.

"Our focus is education and certainly no, GPB, under no circumstances, will disappear. We are here for the long haul for the people of Georgia, but certainly would the 3,000 hours of commercial free children's programming -- the educational programming for children be reduced? Absolutely," Ryan said.

A similar commitment came from John Weatherford, chief operating officer of Public Broadcasting Atlanta. Eleven percent of his $12 million budget comes from federal funds.

"Could we be here another year, two years, three years? Yes, I believe we could. What we have seen in the past when there are these threats to federal funding is the community rising up and saying this is important to us and we want to support it and want to make sure it's good," Weatherford said.

Despite threats to Big Bird and the rest of public broadcasting's slate of programming, Georgia's nine public television stations and 17 radio stations are going to stick around according to Ryan and Weatherford.

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