'Sesame Street' exec fills void left by resignation of previous leader

Sunny days appear to be ahead for Gary Knell, as the prexy and CEO of Sesame Workshop — producer of “Sesame Street” — has been named CEO and prexy of NPR.

Knell will officially take over leadership of the org Dec. 1. He promised to “depoliticize” the heated debate over public radio, which has affected public broadcasters’ ability to generate funding both publicly and privately.

Dave Edwards, chairman of NPR’s board of directors, said in a prepared statement that Knell is “an extraordinary leader with extensive experience in public media, programming and education.” For his part, Knell emphasized the radio nonprofit’s versatility. “(NPR is) one of the world’s most respected and leading providers of news, music and cultural programming — both on the air and across ever-expanding digital platforms.” Knell also said he wanted the org to “expand civil dialogue and set the standard for media.”

The company has been without permanent leadership since Vivian Schiller resigned from the post after two much-covered controversies involving accusations of political bias on the public radio network.The most public of those involved commentator and frequent Fox News guest Juan Williams, who was dismissed for saying on the News Corp cabler that he felt uncomfortable when flying with people dressed in Muslim garb.

Schiller was widely criticized for her handling of the incident and for her remarks in response to that criticism; Williams was hired by Fox at a reported $2 million a year.

NPR reports that Knell made over $700,000 in 2009 and that the exec “would be taking a pay cut” to join the news org. Knell has served on serveral Senate committees and subcommittees for Democrats, and has worked with Republicans including former Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback and Bush administration Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice.

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