No, that's not Big Bird in a green-feathered suit. He may look a lot like "Sesame Street's" big yellow guy, but he's actually Abelardo, a 7-foot green parrot and the star of Plaza Sesamo.
"Plaza Sesamo" is a Spanish version of the popular preschooler show that's test-marketing in three U.S. cities--Los Angeles, Miami and Dallas--beginning this week.
From her offices in Mexico City, executive producer Rosie Ocampo talks about the new co-production of Children's Television Workshop and the Mexico-based Televisa. In 1983, Ocampo and her crew produced 130 "Plaza Sesamo" episodes that aired exclusively in Latin American countries.
For 12 years, "It wasn't shown in America at all," Ocampo says. "It didn't meet the U.S. broadcast standards. So now, we brought the standards way up and we approached CTW and they saw our new shows and liked them."
"Plaza Sesamo," Ocampo explains, "is very Latin, very colorful, very fast-paced, more than the 'Sesame Street' you have there. We have a lot of music too, many video segments, very MTV-style." "Plaza Sesamo," where everything's in Spanish, is set in a plaza, envisioned around the corner from Sesame Street.
In addition to Abelardo, other Spanish-speaking Muppets include Pancho Contreras, a gruff monster, and Lola, an energetic, excitable pink monster. Familiar Muppet faces--Kermit, Bert, Ernie, Oscar the Grouch & Co. also will be in residence, but "have been given a Latino edge, more Latin characteristics and mannerisms," Ocampo says.
The 65 new episodes--seen daily on the local Univision affiliate, KMEX, and on the weekends on the PBS affiliate KCET--also will reflect health-related concerns for preschoolers, including, according to Ocampo, "crossing the street, being careful around potentially dangerous situations and food they don't know about, not talking to strangers, learning their name and address, where not to drink the water, that type of thing."
Ocampo sees "Plaza Sesamo" as beneficial to bilingual families: "Studies prove children who learn Spanish correctly and grammatically--as they will on our show--will learn English better."
Because of the presentation's simplicity, where counting and learning to read are emphasized, "Plaza Sesamo" can help those who are interested in learning and improving their basic Spanish, she adds.
The new shows are also currently airing in Latin America with the exception of Brazil, where Portuguese is spoken.
"Plaza Sesamo" airs weekdays at 7:30 a.m. on KMEX and weekends at 6:30 a.m. on KCET. For ages 2 to 7.
ANOTHER FAMILY SHOW
Parents who frequent the children's books section will be familiar with the library of 66 "Eyewitness" family reference books devoted to the exploration of one subject.
This week, PBS begins a series based on the books. The 13 episodes of Eyewitness, narrated by actor Martin Sheen, focus on "Bird," "Cat," "Reptile," "Horse," "Fish," "Dog," "Insect," "Shark," "Dinosaur," "Elephant," "Amphibian," "Jungle" and "Skeleton."
Each show, a co-production with the BBC, combines fact, history, anecdotes, myth and legend.
From her Rhode Island home, "Eyewitness" executive producer Eve Krzyanowski describes the books, first published in 1988, "as very revolutionary. They used the white of the page in a very dramatic fashion, like a tiger set against a white background without any distractions. You just focus on what you need to focus on. We do the same thing with the shows."
" 'Eyewitness,' is very visual and allows families to absorb information in a very easy way," Krzyanowski says. "Adults like the information and kids love the images. Taking a single species and making them the star really works. For example, with cats, there are 300 different kind of wildcats and 1,000 domestic. By the end, you gather the essence--they're all hunters, all agile and by looking at them that way, you can see what makes the cat so special."
"Eyewitness" airs Mondays at 8:30 p.m. on KCET and KPBS. For ages 6 and up.