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'Sesame Street' heading to HBO

From left, Jamie Bell, Kate Mara, Michael B.

From left, Jamie Bell, Kate Mara, Michael B. Jordan and Sesame Street characters Elmo and Rosita on the set of "Despierta America" to promote the film "Fantastic Four" at Univision Studios in Miami on July 31, 2015. Credit: Getty Images / Gustavo Caballero

In a landmark agreement binding TV's most iconic children's series with one of the world's most iconic TV networks, "Sesame Street" is going to HBO this fall, as part of a five-year agreement that will keep first-run episodes of the series away from public TV for nine months.

According to an HBO statement announcing the historic agreement Thursday, " Sesame will be able to produce almost twice as much new content as previous seasons, and for the first time ever, make the show available free of charge to PBS and its member stations after a nine-month window."

"Sesame Street" repeats from past seasons will continue to air on PBS this fall, albeit in a half-hour edited-down version later in the fall. The HBO episodes will then air nine months later.

Even though "Street" is produced by a powerful and well-funded production company, Sesame Workshop, which has worldwide merchandising rights and production spinoffs in dozens of countries, the series has still been hit with declining viewership in a packed kids' TV world, long dominated by Nickelodeon.

Nevertheless, the move to HBO is still both a surprise and logical. The logic is that "Sesame Street," as one of the world's most influential TV series, is coming to the world's premiere pay network, which is seeking to build a base of shows for families and children just as major competitors like Netflix and Amazon are beginning to enter children's television.

But more than any other series, "Street" has symbolized public television and the Public Television Service over its forty-five years on the air. Launched in 1969 as an educational tool to reach children who might otherwise not have access to educational resources, and as a means of yoking the addictive power of television to the classroom, "Street" was envisioned as both learning tool and something that vividly exemplified the mission of public TV.

And starting this fall, it will go to pay TV.

A PBS spokeswoman said executives would not address the move to HBO. A PBS statement read in part, "Sesame Workshop's new partnership does not change the fundamental role PBS and stations play in the lives of families. "

"Our new partnership with HBO represents a true winning public-private partnership model," said Jeffrey D. Dunn, Sesame Workshop's CEO, in a statement. "It provides Sesame Workshop with the critical funding it needs to be able to continue production of Sesame Street and secure its nonprofit mission of helping kids grow smarter, stronger and kinder."

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