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PBS Chief Paula Kerger Talks ‘Sesame Street’ Changes, Spectrum Auction

Though PBS continues to air new episodes of “Sesame Street” six months after they premiere on HBO, the public broadcaster was not apprised of the recent changes that saw three long-time cast members let go until after the moves had been made.

“As you know, Sesame Street is produced by Sesame Workshop, an independent production company,” PBS CEO Paula Kerger said Thursday at the Television Critics Association summer press tour. “The casting decision was made by them. We did not know about it beforehand. We found out about it after.”

Speaking at an event earlier this month, original cast member Bob McGrath revealed that he and two other longtime cast members had been let go from the show as part of its recent retooling. In January, a new deal for the show saw new original episodes of “Sesame Street” premiere first on HBO.

Kerger also addressed concerns about the FCC’s spectrum auction, which began in May and allows broadcasters to sell pieces of their spectrum to be used by wireless providers. It is expected to end once the target amount of spectrum has been sold.

“I remain concerned and trust that many of you are writing about that there are a number of people across the country that rely on over-the-air television,” Kerger said. She added, “I hope as we go through the process that we don’t have places in this country that will be unserved by television and I hope that we particularly won’t have places that will be unserved by public television.”

Regarding the controversy over a recent July 4 special that saw a producer cut to prerecorded footage of fireworks exploding over Washington, D.C. without noting on air that the footage was not live, Kerger chalked it up to a producer’s mistake. “We reminded him in the scheme of things whether fireworks are live or recorded may not seem important, but this is PBS,” she said. “People trust us to be accurate.”

Kerger fielded multiple questions about the presidential election and public broadcasting’s role in past elections as a political football — something it hasn’t been so far this election cycle. Kerger declined to indicate whether she has a preferred candidate.

“I think that to try to extrapolate who will be better, who will be worse is not actually something I can do, because people who are supporting public broadcasting are all stripes and sizes,” she said. “I’m interested in the [presidential] election but I’m also interested in the house and senate,” because those branches also have a say in federal funding for public broadcasting.

PBS also Thursday announced that Tony winner Lin-Manuel Miranda, creator of “Hamilton,” will host the broadcaster’s annual Arts Fall Festival this year. The festival will feature a documentary about “Hamilton,” a broadcast of the current Broadway revival of “Gypsy,” and specials with Alan Cumming and Bill Murray.

The public broadcaster also announced Thursday that its new 24-hour PBS Kids multicast channel will premiere on Jan. 16, 2017.

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