Katie Couric tackles a tough topic on "When Families Grieve"...

Katie Couric tackles a tough topic on "When Families Grieve" airing on PBS at 8 p.m. on Wednesday, April 14, 2010. Credit: Sesame Workshop

THE SHOW "When Families Grieve"

WHEN | WHERE Wednesday night at 8 on WNET/13

REASON TO WATCH Katie Couric and "Sesame Street" tackle the most difficult of subjects. And an unexpected surprise - David Letterman is the executive producer.

WHAT IT'S ABOUT According to the broadcast, about 2.5 million children younger than 18 have had to deal with the death of a parent. This program, with a "Sesame Street" tie-in, explores some of the coping strategies to deal with such loss - talking about feelings, writing about their parent, developing strategies to keep their memory fully alive.

Four grieving families are featured. They lost, respectively, a father killed in Iraq; another father, a firefighter, who died of a heart attack; a former Marine major who committed suicide; and a mother who died of breast cancer. All left young children and bereft spouses. "CBS Evening News" anchor Couric makes brief references to her husband, Jay Monahan, who died in 1998.

The "Sesame Street" tie-in? Jessie, cousin of Elmo, lost her father, Jack, and she's consoled by her Uncle Louie. Various prescriptions are explored to help cope with the grief, but even Couric admits, "So you see, Elmo, there's really no right way to talk to kids about death, no magic words to make the pain go away."

MY SAY There's unexpected comfort and solace in watching a well-known TV anchor interview a scruffy blue Muppet not much smaller than a toy poodle. It's all so unreal, but - this being "Sesame Street" - so real, too. Death has stalked the Street before, and thus hardly feels out of place or inappropriate here. Couric is a gentle and reassuring presence and, overall, quite effective. But the program doesn't feel complete or comprehensive; experts, for example, are not consulted on-screen, and it's hard to imagine a better or more appropriate setting for the views of child therapists with an expertise in grief counseling.

BOTTOM LINE This is designed for children who have lost a parent, and effectively speaks to them. It doesn't, however, offer advice for closure. That, perhaps, is impossible.


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