In the world of Nickelodeon, being slimed is a genuine honor ("The Sliming of Big Bird," by Charles P. Pierce, Jan. 22). As president of the network, I have personally been slimed on countless occasions, as have such entertainment legends as James Earl Jones and Steven Spielberg and thousands of gooey kids who consider being slimed one of the highest expressions of respect. We are concerned, though, that the cover may be misinterpreted by some as a negative statement about our opinion of Big Bird. It's not so. We have tremendous admiration for all that "Sesame Street," the Children's Television Workshop and the Public Broadcasting Service have accomplished. PBS has been one of our great teachers.
Yet there are substantial differences in the role that private vs. commercial funding plays in each network's approach to programming. These differences would make it impossible for a channel like Nickelodeon to replicate the successes of PBS. Kids want and deserve both networks, which complement each other and create for children a TV landscape that works.
While we'd love to slime the colorful characters and creative minds in children's programming at PBS, we hope that Big Bird will be around for many more well-deserved slimings in the years ahead.
Geraldine B. Laybourne
New York City
Nickelodeon is commercial TV's best bet for children, and my remarks in support of it, and the cable channel's president, Geraldine Laybourne, stand. But I disagree with Pierce's assertion that Nickelodeon has "supplanted" PBS to become "the dominant force in children's television." Commercial-free, educational public TV remains the refuge of choice for children and concerned parents. Among preschoolers, PBS shows have much larger audiences than cable or standard broadcast channels.
Pierce should think twice before castigating PBS for not cashing in on merchandising. PBS is in the broadcasting, not the toy, business. Actually, Children's Television Workshop, producer of "Sesame Street," returns its sales revenue to the program itself, allowing PBS to have the series at one-third of its production cost.
With due respect to Nickelodeon's well-chosen programs, most of what children see on commercial TV, cable or not, are as empty of substance, and full of violence and advertisements for unhealthy foods and unimaginative toys, as ever.
Peggy Charren, founder
Action for Children's Television
My 5-year-old son, Alex, was very upset by your cover of Big Bird getting slimed. He is a fan of PBS' "Sesame Street" as well as various Nickelodeon shows. He insisted that I write and express his displeasure.
As far as I'm concerned, PBS and KCET, Channel 28, have one distinct advantage over Nickelodeon; they're free. Pay cable stations cost money, of course, but so do basic cable stations. No monthly fee, no more cable. Can public television survive funding cutbacks and cable competition? Yes, by selling advertising time, just like everyone else.
I applaud PBS for having the creativity and intelligence to produce high-quality children's programming in a risk-free environment. One must not underestimate the detrimental effect of commercials aimed at children, which are often deceptive and violent or try to make kids feel insecure for not having the latest toy or the "in" clothes.
Pierce has confused popularity for quality, confused making a profit for visionary philosophy. What the success of Nickelodeon underlines is the lack of responsibility and control exercised by parents.
If networks such as Nickelodeon and the efforts of the new Republican Congress move public, commercial-free children's TV off the air, I, for one, will simply turn the TV off. I can always go to the library and check out an endless number of videos on quality subjects--many of them produced by PBS.