‘Sesame Street’ Lets Go Longtime Cast Members Bob, Gordon and Luis [UPDATE]

Emilio Delgado, Bob McGrath, Pam Arciero, Alan Muraoka, and Roscoe Ordman attend Project Sunshine's 12th Annual Benefit Celebration.

Emilio Delgado, Bob McGrath, Pam Arciero, Alan Muraoka, and Roscoe Ordman attend Project Sunshine's 12th Annual Benefit Celebration. (Photo: Andrew Toth/Getty Images for Project Sunshine)

UPDATED: Friday, July 29

Sesame Street, the 46-year-old award-winning children’s show, cut three of its most senior cast members earlier this year, according to one of the actors that was released.

At a Q&A event at the Florida Supercon on July 2, Bob McGrath, a.k.a. “Bob,” informed the audience that he, Emilio Delgado (who played “Luis”) and Roscoe Orman (“Gordon”) were all released from the show as part of its re-tooling for HBO.

“As of this season, I have completed my 45th season this year. And the show has gone under a major turnaround, going from an hour to a half hour. HBO has gotten involved also. And they let all of the original cast members go, with the exception of Alan Muraoka — who is probably 20 years younger than the rest of us — and Chris Knowings, who is also young,” McGrath said. (His statement can be heard on the Muppet-centric podcast The MuppetCast, which broke this story.)

According to McGrath, the show will keep Loretta Long, who has played Susan, Gordon’s wife, since the beginning of the show.

McGrath, 84, had been with the Sesame Street cast since the show’s inception in 1969 — one of only two of the original cast members still with the show until this year. Formerly a successful singer in Japan, McGrath sang on many of the show’s early hit songs, such as “People in Your Neighborhood”:

Delgado, 76, joined the show in 1971, debuting as Luis the handyman at the same time as Raul Julia’s character Rafael. (Julia would go on to be a movie star before dying in 1994.) Later, Luis married Maria, played by Sonia Manzano, and the two would be instrumental in introducing Hispanic culture to Sesame Street viewers. (Manzano retired from the show in 2015.)

Though he wasn’t the original Gordon, Orman had played the character since 1974. Gordon was the patriarch of the Robinsons, an African-American family that had been on Sesame Street since the beginning. Orman also played “Trash Gordon,” a superhero made up for stories told to Oscar the Grouch.

In his memoir Sesame Street Dad: Evolution of an Actor, Orman wrote:

“If I could boast of no other major career accomplishment, having played a central role as I have in the development and continuation of this landmark series would alone have made my life sufficiently meaningful. The historical significance of Sesame Street and its surprising longevity have made my association with the show, in many regards, my life’s crowning achievement.”

McGrath said the cast changes were made as part of a major overhaul the show has undergone since its producers made a deal with HBO last year. In addition to cutting the show from an hour to a half-hour, McGrath remarked, HBO will premiere the newest episodes on HBO for nine months before they’re made available elsewhere, and change the focus to topics such as “self-regulation” and “executive function.”

UPDATE: Elizabeth Fishman, a representative from Sesame Workshop, reached out to KQED and provided this statement:

Bob McGrath, Emilio Delgado (“Luis”) and Roscoe Orman (“Gordon”) remain a beloved part of the Sesame family and continue to represent us at public events. To us, and for millions of people worldwide, they are a treasured part of Sesame Street. Since the show began, we are constantly evolving our content and curriculum, and hence, our characters, to meet the educational needs of children. As a result of this, our cast has changed over the years, though you can still expect to see many of them in upcoming productions. As we’ve stated previously, Sesame Workshop retains sole creative control over the show. HBO does not oversee the production.

UPDATE: Sesam Workshop reached out to McGrath, Orman and Delgado to see about bringing back to the cast. Read more here: ‘Sesame Street’ Looking to Bring Back Senior Cast Members After Uproar

Read more: Five Times Bob, Luis and Gordon from ‘Sesame Street’ Taught Us to Be Better

‘Sesame Street’ Lets Go Longtime Cast Members Bob, Gordon and Luis [UPDATE] 29 July,2016Kevin L. Jones

  • Ray Fischer

    I wonder if the producers regret selling out to HBO

    • Matthew

      Back around the time of Jim Henson’s death, he was planning to sell his company to Disney and work for them. But SESAME STREET was to be kept separate from the deal, though undoubtedly Michael Eisner would have loved to have gotten his hands on it. In retrospect after witnessing the post-Henson Elmofication of the show, and considering what a mess Time Warner has been since it merged with AOL, how much worse could a Disneyfied SESAME STREET have been?

      Deep down, we all knew this day was going to come eventually, when the show outlived its original cast members. But that’s not what’s happening here. They didn’t retire; they were fired.

      If there’s more to this story, let’s hear it.

      • yes, I just explained to my coworker that they were FIRED. That’s disappointing. The show has no redeeming value whatsoever now. If I’m a parent, do I let my children watch this someday?

        • Matthew

          Let ’em watch the reruns and only the reruns.

  • BOOOOOO!!!! HBO, shame!

  • NOTHING… lasts forever. Randy McDaniels, TLC.

  • James Gorman

    This is utter Horse Shit.

  • SGSJason

    LAME!!!

  • Montre Bible

    So in other words…they are canceling sesame street and making a new show with the same name.

  • Allure Nobell

    RIP Sesame Street. The neighborhood just got poorer in so many ways. They should just end it, honorably.

  • cptndrivethru

    “Self-regulation” and “executive function”? Sounds like they’re turning Sesame Street into less of a fun learning program and more of a reconditioning camp.

    • Paul Rizzo

      They are going to teach trickle down also now probably and how monopolies are not so bad.

  • Pat McCurry

    Hope selling out for the corporate dollar was worth it, Sesame Workshop. You’re Time Warner’s bitch now!!!

  • Annette Magjuka

    Why???!! This is a total lack of respect and a complete lack of understanding about what Sesame Street is all about.. People do not get fired from a neighborhood or family.

    • Lisa Gabbard

      Perfect response!

    • Drew Davis

      Not a lack of respect. They are all very elderly and have been doing the show for decades. Time to make way for some new characters. Reruns are still available for people who want to see them in their prime.

  • Meridith Yeoman

    Bob AND pretty much every person of color on the show? I was about to sign up for HBO so my kids could still have this show, but it’s clearly all about the money now. Sorry KQED, you deserve the first run episodes. This was a show for all of the children of our great nation, and these men were their role models.

    • Matthew

      They fired Gordon but not Susan. How are they going to explain this?

      • I feel really uncomfortable about this Matthew. Are thy going to teach children that fathers aren’t important anymore?

  • James M. Fabiano

    But hey, more time for Elmo and the wacky characters designed for selling toys!

    • Joe

      I can’t stand fricken Elmo, i don’t even really let my kids watch it anymore because of Elmo, he made Sesame Street dumb, it was cool in the 80 and 90s

      • Marie of Romania

        AMEN

      • Josh Bottomley

        But Elmo started in the 80s and was most popular in the 90s…remember the Tickle me Elmo craze of 1996???

    • jq747

      The Little Red Menace 😉

  • chairman_kaga

    What’s interesting is that my daughters, 5 and 3, used to love watching Sesame Street in the mornings. I can’t discern what’s specifically different other than the run time, but neither kid has any interest in the new show whatsoever. They still like to watch old episodes, which are thankfully made available on HBO Go. Just not the new ones. They can’t say why, either. They just don’t want to.

    • Matthew

      The first 23 years of SESAME STREET were a revelation in TV history: a place where all races and colors of people (and Muppets) and practically all species of animals and monsters were welcome and treated not only as equals, but as friends and family members. They didn’t deny the problems of the real world, they didn’t talk down to kids or lie to them, but at a time when New York was heavily associated with violent crime, urban decay and municipal bankruptcy, it was a rallying point and a well-deserved source of pride for the city. And the music was sublime, especially compared to the banal puerility of so much other music for children; after Joe Raposo and Jeff Moss died, it just wasn’t the same. Their deaths were as detrimental to the show as Jim Henson’s. And of course they didn’t shy away from acknowledging death when Will Lee died; they made Mr. Hooper die, too, rather than pass off some glib explanation about “moving away” or some such nonsense; the audience can see through that like cheap toilet paper.

      But by the time the 1990s rolled around, a new producer came in and demanded changes because he believed they would make the show more competitive with the likes of Nickelodeon, The Disney Channel, and especially (shudder) Barney the Dinosaur. They re-orchestrated the theme song, increased the focus on Elmo, and pushed some of the long-time favorites on the back burner while adding a gentrified addition (along with Ruth Buzzi), and then the attacks on PBS made it more necessary to get corporate money to sustain themselves. All of it just goes to show that if it ain’t broke, DON’T FREAKING FIX IT! Which is what makes it so sadly ironic that the guy who owned the Fix-It shop is one of the guys getting fired.

  • Paul Rizzo

    The letter “C” is for CANCELLED

  • nonyabizzz

    HBO wasn’t gonna kill it, eh?

  • Angelia Sukala

    In other Sesame Street news, Oscar the Grouch will be replaced this season by Ruby the Happy Recycler; Cookie Monster will be replaced by Lettuce Larry; and Big Bird will now be known simply as “Bird,” in an effort to combat body shaming.

    • JB

      That’s awesome.

    • msadf

      ???? RIP sesame street

    • HobokenGuy

      I know you’re just redirecting for a “political correctness” rant, but I don’t think this is why these beloved long-term cast members were let go. It’s completely off the subject.

      • Kind of – it isn’t political correctness, I agree. But it’s something similar from the other side of the political spectrum – rather than control speech to avoid offense, control behavior to not make waves and to be a good, well-behaved drone.

  • njudah

    they evicted the seniors for tech lol

    • Stacey J. Weinberger

      Hey, it’s happening in San Francisco for real.

  • Just Me

    OK, so Sesame Street will “kill off” all the old people from their neighborhood. They will begin teaching “self-regulation” and “executive function.” (Which every 5 year old needs to understand….sic) I’m glad my children reaped the benefits of the show in the 70’s. RIP Sesame Street!

  • Parkisaurus

    So what now, will HBO have the cast of Girls take their place? Bad move HBO.

  • QUICKLYLEARNING

    ouch age discrimination is alive and well in the “neighborhood” shame on them.

  • JB

    HBO — It’s offensive that you care so little about what makes Sesame Street so appealing (the neighborhood, for lord’s sake) and simply throw away people from an older generation. As if grandparents aren’t a vital part of our neighborhoods and families. You just cast out the spirit of the show that you spent money on purchasing. It’s a good thing that there are 45 plus years of old Sesame Street shows to keep children learning in an entertaining way — there really is no need to watch your new, chopped-up, watered-down, superficial version of the show. The reality that you couldn’t find a way to include these original cast members in your new format simply shows how far away from the real Sesame Street you are and what little understanding you have of what made the show wonderful. I was a member of the generation that soaked up the original shows. Kids could have been taught how to respect and interact with these characters as generations of children have before. It doesn’t help children to learn self-regulation and executive functioning to shorten the show or fire those who understand how to relate to child audiences. At best, you have severely misunderstood the show, and at worst you just killed Sesame Street. I just cancelled my subscription to HBO. Richard Pepler, you may be good at some business decisions, but you certainly don’t understand children or children’s programming.

    • msadf

      AMEN!!!! Can I share your comnent on FB??

      • JB

        YES!!!

  • ptjen

    This is just plain sad. I won’t be encouraging my grandchildren to watch the new show. We old people have to stick together…

  • Thomas Geiger

    Because self-regulation and executive function sound like two topics that will really draw in kids and make parents want to be engaged. The show has jumped the shark. But, it is consistent with the deterioration of the country as a whole.

  • Alexandra Sagov

    I hate the new Sesame Street, it’s lost all authenticity that once existed. Changing the format was a big mistake and makes it into just another computerized fake kids shows. I loved how it depicted a regular neighborhood, filled with a beautiful diversity of characters, cultures and social issues. It makes me sad and I believe creator Jim Henson would be wholly dismayed.

  • Carly Van Orman

    If they want my kids to watch it then they have to maintain my interest. This means more nostalgia and fun guest appearances and less Abicadabra and animation. Shortsighted. I’ll watch classic episodes instead.

  • Josh Bottomley

    I’m wondering if any of these commenters even watch this show??

    The main character, Chris, is black. LeeLa is Indian. Alan is Asian. Nina, who looks white, is actually Hispanic. I can’t think of a “white” character on the “Street” and I watch it every day with my daughter.

    Yes EVERY DAY. Because HBO has over 200 episodes available to stream, something PBS could never do. So if all u wanted your kids to watch was old episodes you could do that. Let’s not forget that HBO SAVED the show as it was losing money and almost lost for good.

    Yes it’s sad to see old characters go, but that happens on every show and in every business.

    My daughter is 2 and she can already count to 20 because of this show. She says to “stop and think” all the time.

    If you are hating on this move then you are just overly nostalgic. The show is as diverse, accepting, and loving as ever. And I love watching it with her. I can’t wait for more episodes.

    • since when do PBS shows have to make money?

      • JB

        EXACTLY!!! Public Broadcasting has never been about making money. We donate to keep it all going… oh, wait, that’s right. You just want to pay for channels (because you can afford them) and stream whatever you want. Sesame Street WAS available to everyone — nostalgic or not — it wasn’t just your 2-year-old who USED to have a right to watch it. Older people aren’t nostalgia. They’re people, and teaching that they are a vital member of society is important.

        • Josh Bottomley

          New episodes are aired on pbs after 9 months of exclusivity on HBO. So in September they will be on pbs AND HBO. And yes Sesame Workshop, not PBS was losing money. It has to pay the actors directors etc.

  • Melanie Kollet-Smith

    The management of Sesame Street are teaching our children and grandchildren that when people age they no longer have anything worthy to contribute to society. It is the wrong message to send to our children. Maybe the street they live on doesn’t have any elderly living on it, but mine has several. This will no longer be my Sesame Street.

  • Melissa Beasley

    HBO and Sesame Workshop are killing Sesame Street! I am longtime fan and current watcher and even before I had my now 3 year daughter, I would go on YouTube just to be nostalgic and watch classic episodes. I don’t understand shortening the series, as well as the educational component seems to be slipping as well. I am a third generation teacher so I am very familiar with Early Childhood Education and the expected quality. I don’t like the new format at all, the new actors are good but they seem to have lost the essence of Sesame Street. I never thought I would see the day when Sesame Street was GENTRIFIED!

  • john q public

    Not to worry. Now that HBO is in the mix there will be a new gender-ambivalent couple, Jane and Trixie; Pistol Pete, a fun and witty homosexual rabbit; Tranny Tim, a kindly old goose/gander; and Rodriguez, the undocumented mouse.

    It will be just the kind of show every rabid leftist wants your kids to watch. [That’s because liberals don’t have kids of their own; they have to steal yours to reproduce ].

    • well, actually, if you understood the concepts “self-regulation” and “executive function” and how they’re used in schools and in child psychology, you’d know that this is a right-wing corporate attempt to make kids well-behaved & tractable. No doubt they’ll be shopping episodes around to charter schools.

      • john q public

        Right wing? From HBO? Not likely. And if the initiative was to get kids to behave better in schools as you say, it seems to have been an epic fail.

  • seawells

    This is an absolutely awful idea, HBO. From this Gen-X-er who raised her children on Sesame Street, it may be time for me to consider going cable-free if this is how you wield your power, i.e. ungraciously, and with no respect for institutions.

  • Kate Lacy

    Golly Gee — I can hardly wait to have my 2 year old grand-daughter learn all about corporate decision making and rolling with laughter at the antics of a calm and thoughtful Oscar!! PLEASE let the changes be organic through honest appraisal of why the show morphs as it does, rather than “How can we let it die like the Fraggles?”

    • Matthew

      Or the Sinclairs from DINOSAURS; they went extinct.

  • jq747

    It’s obvious what’s happened.. HBO couldn’t wait to pension off three of the most senior and best loved Sesame Street characters. When HBO took over the show everyone predicted they’d f**k it up.. and guess what, they have. Dear HBO: Stick to the areas you do well, i.e. producing excellent dramas. Keep your grubby hands off children’s programming.

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Kevin L. Jones

Kevin Jones reports on the Bay Area arts scene for KQED. He loves his wife and two kids, and music today makes him feel old.

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