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China opens to ‘Sesame St.’

SHANGHAI (Reuters) — “Sesame Street” is finally coming to China, following two years of delays caused by a lack of sponsorship and questions about how to adapt the children’s program to Chinese culture, organizers said Wednesday.

Big Bird, one of the program’s best-loved characters, was on hand at a news conference to announce the start of auditions for key performers in the Chinese series, to be produced in conjunction with Shanghai Television.

“Sesame Street,” a production of the Children’s Television Workshop, has been teaching children around the world how to wash their hands and count to 10 since it first aired in the United States in 1968.

Big Bird made his first foray into China in 1981 for a TV special in which he went in search of a Chinese phoenix aided by a young girl.

Now, Big Bird is slated to return in early 1998 in a series of 130 half-hour shows, for which sponsorship has been promised by General Electric Co. He will be joined by a couple of new characters being created for the Chinese version of the show, including Puff Pig, a blustering vegetarian, said CTW vice president Gregory Gettas.

Veteran characters like Bert and Ernie and Cookie Monster will be present, with Mandarin voice-overs.

“This is a wonderful and special day for China’s children,” said the show’s producer, Ye Chao.

“But our show will be somewhat different from the U.S. ‘Sesame Street.’ We have done a lot of work talking to teachers and psychologists to produce a formula which suits the special characteristics of Chinese children,” he said.

“We have held many, many meetings to consider the special needs and characteristics of Chinese children,” he said.

About 60% of the content will be locally produced, with 40% being selected from an international bank of “Sesame Street” material produced in a number of countries, including the United States.

The show will be broadcast every weekday evening to Shanghai TV’s audience of 100 million, and will later be syndicated throughout the country.

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