Sesame Street fans who have watched the children’s educational show at any point over the past five decades will probably notice a lot of changes when the series begins its 46th season this weekend.
For starters, they’ll notice that they’re watching the show on premium cable channel HBO instead of the Public Broadcasting Service, which debuted Sesame Street in 1969. PBS agreed last August to partner with Time Warner’s (TWX) HBO to broadcast the next five seasons of the iconic kids program—a decision that caused quite a bit of consternation among longtime fans and public television supporters.
Under the deal, new episodes of Sesame Street will still air on PBS, but only nine months after they premiere exclusively on HBO. What’s more, each episode (there will be 35 new episodes this season) will run 30 minutes long, trimmed from the show’s previous hour-long format, and each installment will feature one overarching theme or topic—as opposed to Sesame Street‘s traditional, variety show-style tendency to bounce between a variety of sketches and songs with no specific connection. (Though, a more random experience can still be had online, with clips and short segments available through HBO Go and HBO Now.) The episodes’ shorter run-time is meant to appeal to the attention spans of children who have myriad television and streaming entertainment options at their fingertips, The New York Times notes.
Several publications are reporting that the show’s new season appears to have given Sesame Street its biggest makeover yet, as the show looks to capture its modern, tech-savvy audience of children viewers. The show will still feature the same theme song, where singing children ask for directions to the fictional street, but the tune has been updated to a slightly more up-tempo version.
The new season also brings with it a new set and various characters in more hip, modern situations, with the Times noting that Elmo has moved into a brownstone and Oscar the Grouch’s residence has expanded from a single trash can to include a collection of recycling and compost bins. Newer character Abby Cadabby, introduced in 2006, spends time in a community garden and several of the show’s plots deal with characters using connected devices like tablets and smartphones.
On HBO, Sesame Street will also trim the number of characters featured in its episodes, with The Washington Post noting that there will be more of a focus on main characters in order to better develop a rapport with children and keep them returning for more episodes. Older Street fans will remember the show’s unending string of pop culture parody sketches—including recent parodies of adult TV shows Mad Men and, appropriately, Game of Thrones—but, New York magazine notes that the new version will downplay parodies because they’re aimed more at parents rather than their children. Still, the Times points out that the new season will include a parody of Netflix’s
Orange is the New Black, called “Orange is the New Snack,” about healthy snacks.
HBO also told New York that more parodies will be produced specifically to live online, where fans can also go to find a library of 150 older Sesame Street episodes that HBO licensed as part of the deal with PBS.
Of course, in addition to updating the classic show for a modern audience, the deal with HBO also provides the show’s non-profit producer, Sesame Workshop, with some financial flexibility. As Fortune has reported, Sesame Workshop lost $11 million in 2014 and the Times says the group lost another $7.4 million last year amid steadily declining operating revenues. For HBO, the deal helps the premium network expand its kid-friendly content in an effort to compete with rival networks and streaming services such as Netflix, which brought back Reading Rainbow last year as it expands its portfolio of original content aimed at children.