Thursday, November 12, 2009

View From the Phlipside - Sesame Street and Rolling Stone

These are the scripts from my weekly media commentary program on WRFA-LP Jamestown

My name is Jay Phillippi and I've spent my life in and around the media. TV, Radio, the movies and more. I love 'em and I hate em' and I always have an opinion. Call this the view from the Phlipside

If you believe that there is a higher power in control of the cosmos sometimes you have to wonder at their sense of humor. For example this week was chosen as the birth date for two media icons that in many ways couldn't be much different yet in some ways are quite similar. It was 42 years ago on Monday that Jann Wenner founded the first mainstream entry in counter culture journalism - "Rolling Stone" magazine. And it was 40 years ago on Tuesday that Sesame Street started counting and spelling its way through our collective consciousnesses.

Sesame Street is so mainstream these days it's easy to forget how revolutionary it was at the time. We accept that children's TV should be smart, well written and with top of the line production values. That was something totally new forty years ago. We accept that the characters of children's programming should be media stars in their own right (just like Howdy Doody and Capt Kangaroo) but that they should be ready and able to take on serious subjects in ways that even our youngest children can understand and not be frightened by. The death of a long time actor on the show was a landmark in children's TV when the show took on the subject of his loss head on. And Sesame Street has a world wide acceptance and syndication that would make virtually any other show in the history of TV blush at their shortcomings. The best part for me is that the producers of Sesame Street are smart enough to hold on to the important parts while letting the local version adapt to the local cultural norms.

For Rolling Stone the start was not so auspicious. Wenner raised money by soliciting people on a mailing list he'd stolen from a local radio station. 34,000 of his first 40,000 issues were returned unsold even with John Lennon on the cover. Wenner adopted one very important aspect of the mainstream media for his counter culture effort, he got good writers. In fact he landed some of the most brilliant writers of his generation. Writers like Hunter S. Thompson who were going to find it hard to get started anywhere else. Maybe that's why the good doctor showed up to ask for a job with a case of beer under his arm. You may not agree with the politics (or even the music reviews) but Rolling Stone was well written and always worth reading.

Times have changed for both these media icons. Rolling Stone has changed the look and size of their print version and like everyone else is moving heavily into digital. Sesame Street keeps plugging away and has to take a certain guilty parenthood for things like the Broadway hit Avenue Q which certainly never would have had a chance if we weren't all so familiar with Oscar the Grouch and Bert and Ernie.

Call that the view from the Phlipside

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