Open, Sesame: What's Up With TV's Favorite Male Couple?
This whole flap surrounding whether the character played by Ellen DeGeneres will come out of the closet makes me wonder. Not about DeGeneres, whose show I've never seen and whose sexuality I could not care less about. The amount of news space devoted to this decidedly non-issue has me fearing that no one will ever take journalism seriously again.When it comes to DeGeneres, her real concern should not be whether people care if she is a lesbian, but, rather, that she is looking more and more like Gov. Christine Todd Whitman every day. Talk about career-killers.Besides, I have more important things on my mind. I am wondering about Bert and Ernie.What gives, guys?When are you two coming out of the closet? It's not that I care, I mean, this is the '90s and whatever trips your triggers, guys, is fine by me. I'll still let the kids watch, but, then again, I would let them watch Pee Wee's Playhouse if it were on free TV. So what's the story here?You've been living together since the Age of Aquarius and the inception of Sesame Street, that oh-so-liberal nest of Big Bird and friends. You've never dated, you bicker like an old married couple and you're always together like white on rice.The last time I tried to get a straight answer out of Bert and Ernie came at the opening of the CoreStates megacenter, where the couple was spotted meeting and greeting my fellow freeloaders who'd come to eat hot dogs and gape at the new arena."Excuse me," I said to either Bert or Ernie, I can never remember which one is which, "but, come on already, when are you guys coming out?" Like it's not that it matters to me or anything, I said, I'm just a nosy reporter.I got no answer that night, although whichever of the two I was questioning did manage an annoyed wave of his big yellow hand before walking off to talk to someone with less probing questions. Being that Bert and Ernie travel in different circles than I do, I forgot about the issue until reading the numbing coverage of the DeGeneres "Will She Or Won't She?" saga.So I called the Children's Television Workshop in New York to get to the bottom of things. "Hello, I'd like to speak to the person who represents Bert and Ernie," I said."Bert and Hernie?" answered the woman on the phone, clearly new on the job. I made a mental note that if I did talk to Bert and/or Ernie, I would ask them if they felt slighted by the receptionist's lack of recognition. God forbid she didn't know from Barney. She'd be answering the phones for Zoobilee Zoo.I was transferred. I told the next woman I spoke to that I wanted to know, given the whole DeGeneres thing, when Bert and Ernie were coming out. "Hold on a minute," she said.Then I was transferred again.After a long pause, a woman named Lisa Sherman-Cohen answered. I repeated my spiel about Bert and Ernie. When are they coming out?Without missing a beat, Sherman-Cohen informed me that, no, there are no plans to announce Bert and Ernie's sexual preference. "Bert and Ernie are just Muppets," said Sherman-Cohen. "This is a children's show. We deal with information for children on a pre-school level."But what about the rumors? I asked. The innuendo? The sly comments made at watercoolers all over the country?"There is no truth to the rumors," said Sherman-Cohen, sounding now like the publicity agents who represented Rock Hudson. "They are just really good friends. They have been together since day one, in 1969." Sherman-Cohen went on to explain that Sesame Street has succeeded because it is a "safe place" for children. While they do try to deal with issues more complicated than counting to 10, sometimes such discussions do not work out."In the past, we tried to deal with divorce," she said, "and when it was tested with pre-schoolers, they became frightened. We don't want that. We have no violence, some slapstick, but no violence. That is why parents trust us." And no sex either, although Gina, the daycare-worker character, did go on a date once.Pre-schoolers, added Sherman-Cohen, wouldn't understand sexual preferences, so they don't show up on Sesame Street.Of course, that isn't quite so. There are kids with two mommies or two daddies and the issue does come up."I'm not trying to avoid the issue," said Sherman-Cohen earnestly. Sexual preference "might be an issue, but we still have to figure out how to do it. We don't want to get the viewers all upset." You wouldn't want that.The Newtster already has it in for Public Broadcasting, what with its left-leaning tendencies and lack of strict adherence to good old American values of God, Guns and Glory.I can only imagine the fire and brimstone that would come down from on high if the Christian Coalition finds out that there's been homosexual hanky-panky taking place in Bert and Ernie's bedroom. I am afraid that Bob Dole and the Fat Boy of the Ozarks would be falling all over themselves to be the first to tell the American public that the only aisle Bert and Ernie can walk down is in the Sesame Street Acme. So there is a lot at stake here, Lisa Sherman-Cohen. This is not some silly little issue about sitcom lesbianism. Our children are in the hands of Bert and Ernie. And the good, God-fearing folk of this great country want to know where those hands have been.