Chinese children to come and play on Sesame Street

November 7, 1997
Web posted at: 12:57 p.m. EST (1757 GMT)
CNN Interactive

SHANGHAI, China (CNN) -- It's the same program that many American children grew up with, and it even has some of the same characters. But in the newest incarnation of "Sesame Street," Big Bird and the gang will be teaching kids how to pronounce words in Chinese.

The American television show is being recreated in China under the Mandarin moniker "Zhima Jie." Some of the original characters, including Big Bird, have moved overseas, but a few new ones have also been added for "local color." Among them: Little Berry, known in China as "Xiao Meizi," and blustering vegetarian Puff Pig ("Hu Hu Zhu").

Educational humor difficult to explain

Children's Television Workshop (CTW) production manager Kathy McClure said that while the words could be interpreted, it was a struggle to translate the idea, for the Chinese production staff, of combining humor and education into a TV show.

"We had to train them, not to teach them production but to teach them what 'Sesame Street' is," she said. "And considering they do not speak English, and what we have to go through to get the idea across for them, to say, 'Ah, we can do that here,' you know, I find that remarkable."

Other aspects of the show were also unfamiliar to Chinese staff. When production began in December, according to McClure, the script writers were recruited from print media and most of them had never written comedy before. Directors were equally at sea.

The Chinese producers have employed a team of 18 child education specialists and psychologists to produce a formula that suits the special characteristics of Chinese children.

And the producers have had to do continuous testing, unheard of with children's programs in China's television industry prior to the series, to ensure that 3-year-old children actually understand the humor.

'Sesame Street' enjoys international success

"Sesame Street" has been very successful in its other international ventures. As international producer of the show, CTW, has brought the show's star, Big Bird, to more than 140 countries in the past 40 years. It has been a fixture on Spanish television since 1978 and made its debut in South Africa in March.

In the joint venture between the International Children's Television Workshop and Shanghai Television, 130 episodes will be shot. Initial funding for the series, which costs $18 million a year to produce in the United States, came from U.S. company General Electric.

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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