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"Sesame Street' is on the map in China

The U.S. children's show Sesame Street is finally coming to China after two years of delays caused by lack of a sponsor and questions over how to make it acceptably Chinese, organizers said last week.

Big Bird, one of the street's best-loved characters, was on hand at a news conference to announce the start of auditions for key performers in the Chinese series, to be produced in conjunction with Shanghai Television.

Sesame Street is a production of the Children's Television Workshop, and has been on the air since 1968, teaching children around the world how to wash their hands and count to 10.

Big Bird made an early foray into China in 1981 for a television special in which he went in search of a Chinese phoenix with the help of a young girl.

Now, he will be back in early 1998, in a series of 130 half-hour shows for which sponsorship has been promised by General Electric Co. of the United States.

He will be joined by a couple of Chinese characters being created for the show including Puff Pig, a blustering vegetarian, said CTW Vice-President Gregory Gettas.

A local journalist asked if Sesame Street was not a continuation of a process in which China's children are becoming ever-more enthralled by foreign cartoons.

"Many of the children's programs coming into China have a somewhat negative impact on viewers, but in terms of producing our own programs, we find we lack some of the desirable skills and knowledge," Ye said.

He stressed that the setting and characters in the Chinese Sesame Street would be entirely Chinese.

"We have held many, many meetings to consider the special needs and characteristics of Chinese children," he said.

About 60 percent of the content will be locally produced with 40 percent being selected from an international bank of Sesame Street material produced in a number of countries, including the United States.