Ed Wells & Kay Wilson Stallings on the Sesame Workshop Mission


Ed Wells, executive VP and head of global media and education, and Kay Wilson Stallings, executive VP of creative and production, showcased Sesame Workshop’s expanding slate and its focus on diversity and inclusion at the TV Kids Summer Festival.

You can watch the session, moderated by TV Kids’ Anna Carugati, here. “Our mission is to help kids everywhere grow smarter, stronger and kinder,” said Wells. “And with that as our mission statement, we know we have to be everywhere kids and families are. That’s both a geographical concern, platform concern and content issue.”

“You want to be where they live and breathe and work and go to school,” Wells continued. “You also want to be available on whatever platform they’re accessing. And you have to have the right content for the right audiences. And that can change by geography. It can change by circumstances. We have been on a mission to go beyond just Sesame Street and start building a broader catalog of content that can service kids and families wherever they are. We focus quite a bit on making sure that we put things through a local lens. We’re certainly no strangers to doing local productions or local versions of programs outside of the United States.”

On finding the best platform for its content, the team at Sesame Workshop looks carefully at the media environment in each market it operates in. In the U.S., Warner Bros. Discovery, HBO Max and PBS are the “flagship” platforms. “When we go into crisis situations like in the Syrian response zone, for instance, we would find that many of the kids and families there do have access to TVs and phones, and we can deploy our content through traditional TV-type platforms. Where we’re working with the Rohingya population, they don’t have access to phones, computers and personal TVs. So we’ll work with organizations that help us deliver our content, both through video and printables, downloads and other activities directly into the community. Radio is still a very big driver in many markets. It’s all about how we do our storytelling and how we take and adapt our curriculum across those different platforms to be as impactful as possible.”

Wilson Stallings then discussed how Sesame Workshop is developing a slate to be as “innovative and as impactful as possible,” with five pillars to its development pipeline. The first, Wilson Stallings said, consists of Sesame Street spin-offs such as Mecha Builders and The Not Too Late Show with Elmo. The organization is also spinning off other content, such as Ghostwriter for Apple TV+, and developing shows based on books such as E. B. White’s Charlotte’s Web. Non-scripted is another critical area, with doc series such as Through Our Eyes, and then there’s original IP like Bea’s Block and Esme & Roy.

“With any new content, whether it’s a new series or a new season, we start by assessing children’s critical needs,” Wilson Stallings said. “Where are the areas in which there’s a need for us to lean in? We talk with advisors; we talk with educators. We talk with subject-matter experts to help us understand in what ways we can be the most impactful. Once we have identified what a curricular area is, we have a number of writers and producers and animators and creative talent that we work with, not only within the Workshop but across the globe. We’re looking at how we can make the most impact.”

Wilson Stallings also discussed the creation of new Muppet characters for Sesame Street like Tamir and Ji-Young, part of the Workshop’s Coming Together initiative, “which is our opportunity to help children build up healthy racial, cultural and ethnic identities, as well a sense of belonging. We felt it was really important to develop these characters so that kids can see themselves. It was really important to create these characters that are racially, ethnically and culturally diverse.”

Wells then discussed how Sesame Workshop has been expanding its international activities. “We’ve been a global organization almost since we started. Over the past few years, we have intensified our efforts to bring a more robust offering of our content around the world on innovative platforms.” The organization is soon marking its 50th anniversary in Japan, where Wells said it’s now working with the SVOD platform UNext. “We’re bringing them Sesame Street. We’re bringing them some of the new IP that Kay just mentioned. And then also working with them to do books through their SVOD service. So kids have a number of different ways to engage with our content.”

Sesamstraße, the German version of Sesame Street on NDR, is also marking its 50th anniversary soon, Wells says.

Wilson Stallings then discussed Sesame Workshop’s efforts to discover new talent, including with an open submission policy. “We’re always encouraging people to send us any ideas that they feel might be in line with Sesame Workshop’s mission.”

Sesame Workshop also runs a writing fellowship program “to give opportunities to writers from racially underrepresented backgrounds,” Wilson Stallings said.

Wilson Stallings went on to discuss the organization’s social impact initiatives, among them Coming Together, around diversity; the autism initiative See Amazing in All Children; and Sesame Street in Communities, delivering resources for caregivers, educators and others working with children.

Wells, meanwhile, talked about what Sesame Workshop is doing to help kids in conflict zones, and noted the importance of the organization having a more significant presence within schools. “In Japan, we have developed a curriculum that we are now beta testing in a number of school districts. Domestically we have a relationship with McGraw Hill for textbooks. We just announced a deal with Discovery Education. We will be their provider of preschool to grade two content on a dedicated Sesame Workshop hub on the Discovery Education platform that will launch in the third or fourth quarter of this year. They’re one of the leaders in the space of supplementary education, and by working with them, we’re able to address a really broad student base and teacher base.”

Wells continued, “We have Sesame-branded health clinics in Japan, and we’re looking at replicating that in other regions. We think that’s a really interesting way to continue to take a lot of that content that Kay was talking about, those initiatives that we have, and repurposing it into a different setting. Last month, we launched our first educational play center, which we’re super excited about. And we think that this is a future scalable business for us worldwide. We launched our first one in Seoul, Korea, and we’re in discussions in the U.S. and multiple other markets worldwide to expand that concept.”