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'Sesame Street' aims to teach lesson to Times Square Elmo

By Laila Kearney

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Elmo and Cookie Monster have long delighted young viewers on TV's "Sesame Street," but the recent antics of New York street performers dressed as the beloved characters have drawn the ire of city officials and now the show's producers.

Sesame Workshop, which owns the rights to Big Bird, Ernie and the assorted puppet monsters on the 45-year-old program, said on Tuesday it was drafting plans to stop performers who dress up as the characters from appearing in Times Square, where they pose for photos with tourists and then demand tips.

"Sesame Workshop has not authorized the appearance of any Sesame Street costumed characters on public streets in any city," said the nonprofit group that produces the internationally broadcast children's program. "We care about our fans and the image of our brand and, like everyone else, we care about public safety on our streets."

The statement came days after a man dressed as Spider-Man was arrested in Times Square for punching a police officer who scolded him for demanding money from tourists.

The motley group of performers has drawn increasing complaints from city leaders and law enforcement officials who view them as a nuisance.

Last year, a man dressed as Cookie Monster was arrested on suspicion of shoving a 2-year-old child whose mother failed to tip him, and a man dressed as Elmo was arrested in 2012 after going on an anti-Semitic tirade.

Sesame Workshop said it had been meeting with other "concerned" groups, including the companies that own the licenses to some of the other characters appearing in Times Square, to decide what to do about unauthorized costumed street performers.

The group declined to answer questions about its plan or say whether it would file a lawsuit or back proposed legislation aimed at regulating the performers.

Mayor Bill de Blasio said on Monday he was considering new licensing requirements and other rules to rein in the costumed performers.

"This has gone too far, and it's time to take some real steps to regulate this new reality," de Blasio said. "Once we have regulation, we'll be able to say very clearly to everyone who does that work: 'Play by the rules or you won't be working here anymore.'"

(Reporting by Laila Kearney; Editing by Scott Malone and Peter Cooney)

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