Ever since it launched in America in 1969, Sesame Street has played a big part in the early childhood of kids in many countries around the world (including Pakistan). Now the show is set to run in a country where it's never been on the air before: Afghanistan. But the Afghan version of Sesame Street will be significantly different from the show as it airs in other countries. Any content that might be seen as encouraging children to sing, dance, or even bark like a dog will be removed.
According to the show's producers, the decision to avoid songs and dances came about because they expect Afghan parents to frown on their children singing and dancing in front of the TV. Instead, characters will encourage viewers to "exercise". As for the barking, Afghan-American executive producer Tania Farzana told The Guardian that they "tested a scene where Ernie is barking like a dog and getting Bert to copy him, but we found that parents were dead set against it. A dog is considered to be unclean, so the parents didn't understand it".
Afghanistan's Sesame Street - which will be called 'Baghch-e-Simsim' - is a co-production between the non-profit Sesame Workshop and Moby Media, an Afghan company that has already brought western TV formats like 'Deal or No Deal' to the airwaves. Moby Media is no stranger to controversy: contestants on one of their western imports, an 'American Idol'-style show called 'Afghan Star', have received death threats for singing on-air.
'Baghch-e-Simsim' will also involve a degree of social confrontation: for instance, the young actress in a film about a girl's first day at school was deliberately chosen from the Hazara community, a minority ethnic group that has faced discrimination in the country. The show is intended to help improve literacy and math skills in the country, while also exposing kids to people who may be different from themselves. Charlotte Cole, vice president for international education at Sesame Workshop, said "children will learn about the great diversity in this country".