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  More on Sesame Beginnings
Elmo loves you...and your wallet

Scripps Howard News Service

They're brought to you by the letter "$" and the number "more".

Unsatisfied with its status as the Oprah of children's programming, "Sesame Street" is rolling out a new set of DVDs aimed to an even younger audience. An audience that has not yet developed the motor skills to sit upright, let alone operate a remote control.

"Sesame Beginnings," the latest offering from Street creators Sesame Workshop, is geared towards the rattle and teething-ring set _ viewers aged 0 to 2. That's right. Zero to not quite three.

Not since tobacco companies introduced the "My First Addiction" nicotine pacifier has an industry stooped so low to get them while they're young.

Designed as a viewing experience for both the parent and the child, the DVDs will feature a few new characters, as well as the baby versions of some classics, like Baby Big Bird. They will also cash in on the single best-selling puppet in the history of day-glo fur.

Cookie Monster and Ernie have moved their share of merchandise over the years. But as anyone who has recently braved a toy store will tell you, it's all about Elmo.

Most major toy chains have changed very little in the past two decades. Aisles are still choked with noisy beeping and talking toys, and there is still an obvious line of demarcation between the girl and boy sections. The Pink Aisle is still as pink as ever, with Barbies as far as the eye can covet.

But there's a new aisle in toy stores, unfamiliar to children of the '70s and '80s. It is the Red Aisle. And it is a social revolution.

The Red Aisle is a massive, giggling assortment of every Elmo toy available on the market today. There are ticklish Elmos and dancing Elmos. There are chicken-suited Elmos and piano-playing Elmos. Everybody poops, including Elmo.

Elmo loves you. And Elmo really loves your wallet.

Before "Sesame Street" became the massive marketing powerhouse of Public Broadcasting, Elmo was just a secondary character. In fact, most kids couldn't pick him out of a furry monster lineup. No, we worshipped a different furry monster with a funny voice. Back then, it was all about Grover.

Grover never tried to sell anything to anybody. He might have appeared in a few Sesame Street books, but he just wanted you to develop your reading skills. Grover knew the fine line between education and exploitation was easy to cross. He walked that line.

He taught us many lessons, such as the distinction between "Near" and "Far". And he could teach a thing to Elmo and the rest of the Sesame Workshop _ namely, that a childhood shouldn't be for sale.

It's bad enough that entire generations of children haven't been able to watch 'Sesame Street' without being sold on Cookie Monster juice bottles, Big Bird bubble bath, and Elmo everything else. Introducing the brand to children not yet old enough to even roll away from the television just seems unnecessary.

But like it or not, the DVDs will be coming to a store near you any day now. In the Red Aisle, no less.

Look closely, they should be just below the "Elmo Sees You!" ultrasound.


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