Vol. 2, Issue 41, December 14, 2004
Return of the Muppet Sesame Street Tried to Forget
A decades-old segment produced for Sesame Street has made an unexpected comeback, drawing criticism to the public broadcasting flagship program and sparking vigorous debate across the Internet.
"We thought the Cracker Monster segment was long gone; I had never even seen a copy," said Gary Knell, president and CEO of the nonprofit educational organization Sesame Workshop, which produces Sesame Street. "Obviously, we're sorry it is being broadcast all over the Web, and hope that parents will have the sense not to share it with their children."
When the landmark Sesame Street program was launched in 1969, there was some concern that its deliberately urban setting would not resonate with rural audiences. In an experimental attempt to broaden the show's appeal, a regional PBS affiliate in Mississippi was contracted to produce a segment that would reflect the new and still developing style of Sesame Street, but also appeal to Mississippi children. The segment introduced a Southern cousin of Cookie Monster called Cracker Monster.
"It seemed kind of cute and clever at the time," said Hank McCormick, who produced the segment in 1970 after spending three months interning with Jim Henson and Frank Oz. "Really, we were trying to make a difference. I still think Sesame Street pulled the plug on it too soon."
Cracker Monster closely resembles Cookie Monster, except that he has red fur and wears a cap. He crams crackers into his mouth with the same sloppy enthusiasm as Cookie Monster does with cookies. However, Cracker Monster has a strong Southern accent, and a habit of spitting what is presumably tobacco (the show is not clear on this point). The executives at Sesame Street cancelled the experiment after one viewing, and have systematically denied its existence ever since.
However a copy of a Cracker Monster scene was apparently unearthed last month in a former employee's attic and posted to the internet, where it has circulated like wildfire. In the segment, Cracker Monster discusses the "letter of the day" and sings a variant of the classic "C is for Cookie" song entitled "C is for Cracker, y'all."
"A slice of watermelon with one bite out of it also looks like a C; but it is not as good as a cracker!" twangs the cheerful red monster in the song.
Sesame Workshop has sued to force the original website which posted the segment to go offline, but innumerable copies are already circulating on the internet, and the venerable public television franchise is working frantically to distance itself from the film.
"I don't know why they didn't want Cracker Monster on Sesame Street," said Tim Hunter, a 6-year old resident of Jackson, Mississippi, who downloaded the segment last week. "I've learned lots by watching him."