“On a magical night not too long ago, at a party for the opening of “Somebody Come and Play: 45 Years of Sesame Street,” at the Library for the Performing Arts, I met some of my generation’s heroes: Bob, Susan, Maria, and Oscar the Grouch. It was as joyous as one might hope. Beneath Super Grover and a cloud-dotted ceiling, Loretta Long, who plays Susan, gave me a big hug; Sonia Manzano, who plays Maria, talked about Maria’s time as a construction worker; Oscar told me he was having a rotten time. (Roscoe Orman, who plays Gordon, wasn’t there; Emilio Delgado, who plays Luis, was filming an episode of “House of Cards.”) When I saw Bob McGrath—Bob—across the room, he turned and waved as if he recognized me. I briefly, crazily reverted to my kid-brain, imagining that he had seen me through the television. Anyone who grew up with “Sesame Street” might understand.
The news, this week, that McGrath, eighty-four, Delgado, seventy-six, and Orman, seventy-two, had been laid off from the show hit people hard, and contributed to a “Sesame Street” malaise that’s been gathering for a while among old-school fans. On the other hand, of course, it’s a kind of miracle that these actors were still on the show in the first place, after more than forty years—as is Caroll Spinney, who plays Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch. Manzano retired last year; Long remains on the show. But for my generation—shaped by “Free to Be You and Me,” the Muppets, “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood,” and other progressive, respectful fare—the loss of so much of the original cast has provoked further nostalgia for what was.
We worry that the show is not just losing its veterans but losing its heart…”