Up close: Elmo, Katie, a serious topic and Emmy
The Emmy race for best nonfiction children's special is a fascinating matchup between two contenders who almost never lose — specials produced by "Nick News with Linda Elerbee" and "Sesame Street." "Sesame Street" holds the record for winning the most program awards at the Prime-time or Daytime Emmys (about 30) and "Nick News" has more than a dozen victories for best show, special or series, at both Emmys.
Now the contest is between Ellerbee's "The Face of Courage: Kids Living with Cancer" and "Sesame Street's" "When Families Grieve." The latter focuses on helping children to deal with the loss of a father who didn't come home from military service in Iraq or Afghanistan or, in one case, committed suicide upon returning because he couldn't cope with the unshakable trauma of wartime experience. "Sesame Street" estimates that 3,779 children have lost a parent due to the 5,398 deaths of U.S. soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. Such tragic shocking loss isn't restricted to military families, of course: 2.5% of U.S. children younger than 18 (2.5 million) have experienced the death of a parent from various causes.
"A few years ago we did a prime-time special called 'When Parents Are Deployed' to help kids cope with what occurs in military families," says Kevin Clash, producer of "When Families Grieve." "Afterward, we realized that we really need something to help kids if parents don't come home."
Sesame Workshop decided to apply the warm, fuzzy touch of Muppets to this sensitive topic, giving Elmo a starring role as he struggles with the news that his Uncle Jack has died. It also enlisted a host who has an intimate connection with family loss: Katie Couric, whose husband died of colon cancer 12 years ago, leaving her with two kids overwhelmed with devastating loss.
Coping with the death of loved ones is hard enough for everyone, "but children are troubled most of all because they don't have experience," Clash says. "They don't understand why they'll never see someone again. They don't know how to talk about it, what to say. We help them to grasp the news, deal with the shock and stay connected to the person. We teach them tools like writing down their feelings so they can express themselves."
In addition to the PBS telecast that aired in April, Sesame Workshop widely distributed two resource kits, one specially designed for military families and the other one for the general public. They included a DVD, guides and a book. Learn more here. Below, the full program "When Families Grieve."
Photo: Sesame Workshop