Sesame Street's New Muppet Faces 'Mean-Girl' Syndrome

Oscar the Grouch loves reading "Trash." But he's not the only critter who expects a little "mean-girl" controversy with a new Muppet fluttering into "Sesame Street."

Meet 3-year-old fairy-in-training Abby Cadabby, the first new character in 13 years to be introduced on "Sesame Street," where there have never been too many girl Muppets.

Of course, there's Elmo's tomboy friend, Zoe, who hangs out in a tutu and barrettes, and the emerald-blue, bilingual Rosita.

The pink and sparkly Abby, who flutters around with dragonfly wings and a magic wand, is decidedly more girlie than her peers.

To be expected, there's a lesson in Abby, as she struggles through the travels of being the new kid on the block, as the show kicks off its 37th season this week.

Carol-Lynn Parente, the executive producer, says she hopes the new character will be another healthy role model, and will help combat the "mean-girl syndrome" that she says is on the rise among youngsters.

"Abby, being a fairy, allows us to teach diversity and accepting of other's differences, because we don't have a fairy on 'Sesame Street,'" Parente said. "She's able to show everyone what it's like to be a fairy and what it's like to be magical."

Gender Issues More Than Child's Play

"Sesame Street" didn't take on gender issues in its early years, but there's always been a noticeably greater amount of guy Muppets.

Garbage-can denizen Oscar, who reads "The Adventures of Trash Gordon" to pet worm Slimy, has always had that gross-out goodness that little boys love.

Cookie Monster always seemed to be of undetermined gender, at least until a few years ago, when he revealed that his name was "Sid" -- and that he also had a love for broccoli.

Big Bird, meanwhile, seems to maintain a "don't ask, don't tell" policy about his policies.

And in the world of Muppet sexuality, Ernie and Bert became the talk of Sesame Street in the early 1990s, perhaps because they spent a little too much time together, and are constantly bickering like husband and wife.

Some people began to think they were a little more than friends. A North Carolina preacher even started a campaign on his radio show railing against what he considered to be their homosexuality.

Of course, part of this controversy can be blamed on Spy magazine founder Kurt Anderson, who jokingly wrote, "Bert and Ernie conduct themselves in the same loving, discreet way that millions of gay men, women, and hand puppets do. They do their jobs well and live a splendidly settled life together in an impecabbly decorated cabinet."

The controversy got bad enough for the Children's Television Workshop to issue an infamous 1993 news release, assuring the public that the two were just "good friends."

"Bert and Ernie, who've been on Sesame Street for 25 years, do not portray a gay couple, and there are no plans for them to do so in the future," the release went on to say. "They are puppets."

Still, that doesn't address Sesame Street's male-heavy Muppet population, so Abby arrives with many challenges.

Tinkerbelle Wannabes Need Not Apply

Certainly, porky diva Miss Piggy has always been the Muppet's No. 1 felt female, but she's never found a place on Seseme Street, and has always been voiced by a man, starting with the legendary Frank Oz.

"Certainly her magical background, with her wings and her magic wand, is something that they really like, but Abby is far different than the mold of what most people think in fairies," Parente said. "She's smart, and she's funny, and she has this, this desire to just learn everything."

The show has always sought to keep current, and the new season begins with Grammy winner John Legend performing a duet with Hoots the Owl, and a guest spot from "Ray" star Jamie Foxx.

Abby will be portrayed by new Muppeteer Leslie Carrara-Rudolph, and her long lashes and frilly outfits confirm that she enjoys dressing up.

She's no wannabe Tinkerbelle. She embodies the hopes and dreams of all contemporary girl fairies, but with deep roots in tradition.

"We thought of earthy fairies, and she started out with a little bit more of a snout and with a big ponytail on the top of her head," Parente said. "Then we wound up with pigtails and a much smaller nose."