Tuning In to TV: Elmo puppeteer accused of underage relationship

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The puppeteer who performs as Elmo on “Sesame Street” is taking a leave of absence from the iconic children’s show in the wake of allegations that he had a relationship with a 16-year-old boy.

Puppeteer Kevin Clash, 52, has denied the charges, which, according to Sesame Workshop, were first made in June by the accuser, who by then was 23.

“We took the allegation very seriously and took immediate action,” Sesame Workshop said in a statement issued Monday. “We met with the accuser twice and had repeated communications with him. We met with Kevin, who denied the accusation.”

The organization described the relationship as “unrelated to the workplace.” Its investigation found the allegation of underage conduct to be unsubstantiated. But it said Mr. Clash exercised “poor judgment” and was disciplined for violating company policy regarding Internet usage. It offered no details.

“I had a relationship with the accuser,” Mr. Clash said in a statement of his own. “It was between two consenting adults and I am deeply saddened that he is trying to characterize it as something other than what it was.”

Sex with a person younger than 17 is a felony in New York if the perpetrator is at least 21. It was unclear where the relationship took place, and there is no record of any criminal charge against Mr. Clash in the state.

Mr. Clash, a divorced father of a grown daughter, added, “I am a gay man. I have never been ashamed of this or tried to hide it, but felt it was a personal and private matter.

“I am taking a break from Sesame Workshop to deal with this false and defamatory allegation,” he said.

Neither Mr. Clash nor Sesame Workshop indicated how long his absence might be.

“Elmo is bigger than any one person and will continue to be an integral part of 'Sesame Street' to engage, educate and inspire children around the world, as it has for 40 years,” Sesame Workshop said in its statement.

“Sesame Street” is in production, but other puppeteers are prepared to fill in for Mr. Clash during his absence, according to a person close to the show who spoke on condition of anonymity because that person was not authorized to publicly discuss details about the show’s production.

“Elmo will still be a part of the shows being produced,” that person said.

Though usually behind the scenes as Elmo’s voice and animator, Mr. Clash has become a star in his own right. In 2006, he published an autobiography, “My Life as a Furry Red Monster,” and was the subject of the 2011 documentary “Being Elmo: A Puppeteer’s Journey.”

He has won 23 daytime Emmy Awards and one prime-time Emmy.

Mr. Clash has been a puppeteer for “Sesame Street” since 1984, when he was handed the fuzzy red puppet with ping-pong-ball eyes and asked to come up with a voice for him. Mr. Clash transformed the character, which had languished as a marginal member of the Muppets family for a number of years, into a major star that rivaled Big Bird as the face of “Sesame Street.”

Besides “Sesame Street,” Elmo has made guest appearances on dozens of TV shows. He starred in the 1999 feature film “Elmo in Grouchland.” And he has inspired a vast product line, notably the Tickle Me Elmo doll, which created a sales sensation with its introduction in 1996.

NBC’s ‘Revolution’ snares Led Zeppelin songs

What tunes fit a postapocalyptic society? For NBC’s freshman drama “Revolution,” the answer is Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir” and “Since I’ve Been Loving You.”

The songs will be featured in next week’s episode of “Revolution,” on the same day that Led Zeppelin’s “Celebration Day” album and a companion documentary on DVD will be released.

Corporate synergy led to the deal for the onetime rock band that rarely allows use of its music in Hollywood projects. “Revolution” is produced in association with Warner Bros. Television, and Led Zeppelin has a deal with Warner Music Group’s publishing arm.

But it was Eric Kripke, creator and executive producer of “Revolution,” who brought his series and the band together.

When Warner-Chappell Music sent out an email asking if any producers on the studio lot would be interested in using Led Zeppelin songs, Mr. Kripke jumped at the chance.

“The speed and overwhelming enthusiasm with which I responded, I think, frankly weirded them out a little,” said the self-described “massive Led Zeppelin fan.”

“Revolution,” about an American family struggling with the nation’s sudden loss of all electricity and all the technology it powered, was in part inspired by the band’s music and its sense of “mythic adventure,” he said.

Warner made a logical pick with “Revolution”: The series benefits from a 10 p.m. Monday berth after NBC’s hit singing contest “The Voice” and started strong in the ratings, especially with the advertiser-favored young adult demographic.

The Led Zeppelin-accented episode of “Revolution” will air 10 p.m. Monday, Nov. 19. A “Revolution” promo spot featuring “Kashmir” will air throughout this week on NBC, with an extended version available on the network’s website.

‘Nashville’ teaches Burnett stories

To keep peace around the house, acclaimed musician T-Bone Burnett agreed to work on ABC’s “Nashville.”

Since Mr. Burnett’s wife, Academy Award-winning writer Callie Khouri (“Thelma & Louise”), developed “Nashville,” she wanted him on board. He had had success with various soundtracks — such as that for “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” — and his touch was something Ms. Khouri needed for her show.

Mr. Burnett laughs when he says he wasn’t sure he wanted to do it at first. But he gets serious when he talks about how he’s actually learning about storytelling from his experience on the show about two country-music divas squaring off in Nashville.

He also has learned a few thing about his wife’s artistic side.

“Working this close to her, during her writing process, I have learned a lot about drama,” Mr. Burnett said recently.

“Seeing the characters grow, having the plot, watching them expand, I see a lot about development. I’m learning a lot of helpful things about characters from this.”

Forty years of creating characters through his music and working alongside talents such as Bob Dylan along the way (and winning his own Oscar for best original song for “The Weary Kind” from “Crazy Heart”), Mr. Burnett has worked with Hollywood’s top shelf.

He guided Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon for their singing roles as Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash in the film “Walk the Line” and said he is impressed by the level of talent he’s encountered on “Nashville,” which airs at 10 p.m. Wednesdays.

Mr. Burnett said he doesn’t watch television much, even though he’s working regularly in it.

“I don’t have time for television,” he said, “especially if it is [standalone] episodes. I like long-form storytelling, where I can sit down and watch it all at one time.”

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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