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`Sesame Street': 25 - and Growing

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AS it begins its 25th season on public television today, ``Sesame Street'' is turning the corner.

Just beyond Big Bird's nest and the familiar sights of 123 Sesame Street, an extension is being added. No. 456 Sesame Street hosts the Furry Arms Muppet Hotel, Finders Keepers thrift shop, a dance studio, and a playground.

``It's the same Sesame Street, but we've opened it up around the corner,'' says Michael Loman, executive producer of the program.

The new season is bringing the biggest changes and additions in ``Sesame Street'' history. ``Any successful show has to review itself,'' Mr. Loman says. ``Our 25th birthday seems a good time to reassess and make sure the show doesn't get stale.''

``It gives you new places to go and people to meet,'' said head writer Norman Stiles during an interview over the counter at Mr. Hooper's Store.

In addition to the enlarged set, new Muppet and human characters are being introduced. Seven of the eight new Muppets are female characters. ``While there have been some successful female Muppets, we felt there was a need for a wider range,'' Loman says.

The Squirrelles are a trio of female squirrels who live in the park and sing Motown music styled after the Supremes. Yet the highest hopes are pinned on Zoe, an energetic three-year-old girl monster. ``She has a lot of charm,'' says Kevin Clash, the puppeteer who brings the popular character Elmo to life.

``Sesame Street'' has traveled a lot of ground since it was started in 1969 as an experiment in using television to help prepare preschoolers for the transition from home to school.

That experiment has turned into the most successful children's show in American television history. The series has won 51 Emmy Awards, and the English-language version is seen in 38 countries. Some criticize pace

Despite its success, critics say ``Sesame Street'' is too fast-paced and disjointed for young children. ``I like the pace of Fred Rogers and Barney much better,'' says Dorothy Singer, co-director at Yale University's Family Television Research Center.

``It's like talking about apple pie,'' Dr. Singer says. ``It's not patriotic to say that there are certain things on `Sesame Street' that you don't like. But I really feel the show needs a host to tie the segments together.''

Mr. Stiles takes such criticism in stride. ``It's just a television show,'' he says. ``We're not pretending to be a classroom.''

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