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Judy Freudberg, a writer who helped bring the sweet bright-red monster Elmo to life during a nearly 40-year career on the landmark PBS series Sesame Street, died June 10 of a brain tumor. She was 63.
Freudberg, who collected 17 Emmy Awards for her work on the kids series, also collaborated with Tony Geiss on Sesame Street’s first feature film, Sesame Street Presents: Follow That Bird (1985), and on two animated movies for executive producer Steven Spielberg: The Land Before Time (1985) and An American Tail (1986).
Soon after graduating from Syracuse University, the Memphis native joined Sesame Street for its third season in 1971 as a script typist and began writing for the PBS staple four years later. Freudberg was one of the creators and developers and the head writer for the 15-minute “Elmo’s World” segment that typically closed the hourlong show from November 1998 to November 2009.
She talked about creating “Elmo’s World” in an August 2010 interview with writer Jessica Max Stein.
“When Sesame Street first started, it was the only game in town,” she recalled five months after leaving the show. “So they could get away with a lot more. They weren’t worried about competition.
“And then we were told, around season 30, 12 years ago, that we were losing our audience, especially with about 20 to 30 minutes left in the show. We were the only hourlong program on; children’s television was almost all 30-minute shows. And that’s when we came up with “Elmo’s World,” to go in the last part of the show, to win back their attention. And it worked.”
Freudberg and Molly Boylan were nominated for a Daytime Emmy for outstanding writing in a children’s special for the 2001 direct-to-video Elmo’s World: Wild Wild West.
Freudberg wrote hundreds of Sesame Street segments for such celebrities as Whoopi Goldberg, Lily Tomlin, Bill Irwin, B.B. King, Jodie Foster, Ellen DeGeneres, Maya Angelou, Michael Jeter, Shari Lewis, Gregory Hines and Susan Sarandon.
For Sesame Street’s 35th season in 2004, Freudberg co-wrote with Lou Berger the primetime special Sesame Street Presents: The Street We Live On, which was nominated for an Emmy in the outstanding children’s program category.
Freudberg’s other writing credits include several Sesame Street songs and books and episodes of The Upside Down Show for Nickelodeon.
Survivors include her sisters Jean and Joan and her brother Lee.
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