LOS ANGELES – Can a puppet survive a sex scandal?
Sesame Workshop told us on Tuesday that Kevin Clash, the voice of “Sesame Street” character Elmo, had resigned amid allegations of sexual relations with at least two underage men.
The problem for "Sesame Street" is its peppy red puppet is singularly defined by Clash’s one-of-a-kind voice, prompting many to question Elmo’s future.
We asked Hollywood media and image experts what the kids' show and its related products should do with their big star now accused of statutory rape.
“Kids’ properties require extra sensitivity and in order to protect a brand like Elmo, PBS needs to move quickly to find a replacement," Hollywood producer and marketing consultant Mark Joseph. "There is no margin for error when it comes to kids’ properties, and what might be forgiven in other contexts are not in that world.”
Joseph said the “new voice” should be as similar as possible to Clash's to avoid confusion among Elmo's young viewership.
Plus, Elmo isn't just a TV star. "Sesame Street" and its associated businesses have to contend with the reality that Elmo is an international merchandising phenomenon, with toys, video games, cuddle pillows, music and software, all which rely on its puppeteer’s voice.
“Sesame Street should hire a new voice and distance themselves from Clash as soon as possible,” said Ronn Torossian, CEO of 5WPR. “The $75 million in annual sales Elmo generates is larger than Clash, and in the big picture, I don’t believe the young kids who love Elmo will be affected by this crisis.”
Others shared similar optimism with regard to Elmo’s post-Clash career.
“There will be not be any long-term damage to the brand, no more than Santa Claus is injured when a department store Santa Claus turns out to be a child molester," remarked Adam Hanft, CEO of Hanft Projects, a New York-based marketing company. "Elmo transcends the hand up his back,”
“Sesame Street” honchos agree, saying earlier that Elmo was more than Clash's voice, and would be heard from again.
"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," Sesame Street's rep told us.
Danielle Jones-Wesley contributed to this report.