There is a panic in the land, and it started on "Sesame Street."
The rumors, they are rampant. Taken together, in dark tones, and one could fear that the beloved boulevard is rapidly transforming into the Avenue of the Politically Correct Puppetariat.
The Cookie Monster from TV's "Sesame Street" goes over to the healthy side as he forsakes a cookie for a bounty of fruit.
Elmo and Zoe are on an exercise routine. Singing vegetables and talking fruit have invaded the neighborhood. Miles has a new song. It is about broccoli.
And, darkest of all, Cookie Monster has been stripped of his piles of quickly and loudly consumed chocolate-chip cookies.
From California to Australia, from New York to Oregon, fears have arisen about the sanctity of "Sesame Street," the children's show that just started its 36th season. The Los Angeles Times editorialized on the crisis, a staffer at the South Australia Sunday Mail declared herself "rocked to my foundations" by Cookie Monster's transformation, and the Associated Press bemoaned Cookie's new circumstances in a missive sent across the land. The blue fuzzball even wound up on this week's "Hit List" in Entertainment Weekly.
"Cookie Monster To Cut Down on Sugary Treats" reads the EW item, followed by a rant that begins with the word "Sellout!"
What on earth is happening?
Rosemarie Truglio, vice president of education and research for Sesame Workshop, sighs when asked about all the fuss. Sure, she's happy the show is getting so much attention. She's not so happy, however, about the interpretations she has heard.
"We are not putting Cookie on a diet," she says, with a hint of patient exasperation. "We're not taking cookies away from Cookie. It's about teaching moderation.
"We are not about intervention, we are about prevention -- putting healthy habits in [kids'] daily lives."
So this is the deal: For the season that began April 4, "Sesame Street" has decided to target the rampant problem of childhood obesity. So at the top of every show, there's a "healthy habit" that's introduced. There are new characters -- singing eggplants and sweet potatoes, talking apples and bananas. Elmo and Zoe play a healthy food game and learn about the benefits of exercise while jumping rope.
Baby Bear tells a story that involves those singing vegetables in a wizard's garden. Grover moonlights as an exercise instructor. Miles has a new song: "Broccoli Is Good," sung to the tune of Chuck Berry's "Johnny B. Goode."
And remember "C Is for Cookie," the Cookie Monster anthem? Well, there's a new song in town, and it's called "A Cookie Is a Sometime Food." And it's sung by Hoots the Owl and a banana, some grapes, a pineapple and an apple. (And, yes, it too is a parody -- this one based on "Porgy and Bess's" "A Woman Is a Sometime Thing").
So Cookie eats his fruit (not the singing ones, of course) enthusiastically. But at the end, he wants his cookies. And gets them.