'Sesame Street' Threatens Lawsuit Over Gay Muppet Rumors

ByABC News
April 16, 2002, 12:05 PM

April 9, 2002 -- -- Just like Tom Cruise, Muppet stars Ernie and Bert are threatening to sue to prove that they're not gay.

Rumors have long dogged those two felt legends. They're roommates. They tend to sing a lot of silly songs. One of them has a curious obsession with his rubber ducky. But all that doesn't mean anything. Not that there's anything wrong with being a gay Muppet, but the Children's Television Workshop has threatened to take legal action against Peter Spears, the director of Ernest and Bertram, a documentary spoof of two male puppets who become heated lovers.The 8-minute movie ends with a distraught Ernie shooting himself in the head. At Sundance several weeks ago, Ernest and Bertram generated some buzz and seemed destined to play at similar film festivals. But with lawyers threatening, Spears says that's in serious jeopardy. Rumor-Mongering on Sesame Street

Hoping to negotiate one more showing of the film, Spears hesitated to be interviewed and lawyers for Ernie and Bert would do no more than acknowledge that they've targeted Spears.

Even before this incident, Ernie and Bert have been under constant attack. In 1993, TV Guide received dozens of letters railing against Sesame Street for condoning a homosexual relationship. Shortly after, a North Carolina preacher began a campaign on his radio show to ban them for their immorality.In Hollywood Urban Legends, critic Richard Roeper traces the rumors of Ernie and Bert's sexuality to Spy magazine founder Kurt Anderson, who once joked that "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 impeccably decorated cabinet."The situation grew so unpleasant that the Children's Television Workshop had to issue this 1993 press release: "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. They are puppets, not humans. Like all the Muppets created for Sesame Street, they were designed to help educate preschoolers. Bert and Ernie are characters who help demonstrate to children that despite their differences, they can be good friends."Bert's Taliban Connection