'Sesame Street' hits highest ratings in years

3:43 PM PST 05/24/2010 by Georg Szalai, AP

Reformatted 40th season also lands 14 Emmy nominations

NEW YORK -- In its 40th anniversary season, "Sesame Street" has hit its highest ratings in its core demo in several years.

Sesame Workshop, the non-profit educational organization behind the kids TV evergreen on PBS Kids Go!, on Monday touted a nearly 60% year-over-year ratings increase for February, the latest month, for which the public broadcaster reported figures. And it cited format and visual changes implemented this year to keep up with changing viewing habits as key drivers.

The 40th season, which premiered in November, is averaging a 3.5 Nielsen rating for the current TV season in the core kids ages 2-5 demo. A spokeswoman said this is the best season average since 2007 for the show, which airs Monday-Friday.

The producers said the show is maintaining its audience among 2-year-olds, but showing double-digit increases among 3- and 4-year-olds (up 21% and 32%, respectively, over last season).

For February, the K2-5 rating hit 3.5, compared with 2.2 in the year-ago period.

Given kids' changing viewing habits, "Sesame Street's" 40th season has been reformatted. Murray the Monster Muppet hosts each episode from different locations linking four longer segments with interstitials throughout the hour. The show also has new opening and closing sequences that combine colorful chalk-art animation with the Muppets of Sesame Street and a  re-versioned classic "Sunny Days" as musical back-drop.

"Sesame Street has not only garnered favor among preschoolers and caregivers with its new look and feel, the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences recently honored the series with 14 Emmy Award nominations," Sesame Workshop lauded the show's performance.

It also cited Harris Interactive research showing that "Sesame Street" was rated preschoolers' favorite show and that 54% of moms of viewers feel the show is on its way up.

"We are thrilled that kids and caregivers have responded so favorably to the new changes we made to Sesame Street," said executive producer Carol-Lynn Parente. "Each year our goal is to educate and engage children with exciting new content, and we are so happy that Sesame Street continues to be relevant and competitive in a constantly changing media landscape."
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