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Elmo the Muppet readies for his own starry HBO talk show

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There was a time not too long ago when Broadway star Ben Platt was interviewed by a monster. A perfectly nice monster, of course. It was Elmo.

Elmo asked Platt what was his favorite music to sing. Cookie Monster interrupted to ask what was Platt’s favorite cookie. “Oatmeal chocolate chip,” replied Platt in one exchange.

“Good answer,” said Cookie Monster. “But, then again, there’s no such thing as bad cookie.” After a stellar group rendition of the song “C Is for Cookie,” Elmo presented his guest with a placemat. “A placemat for Ben Platt,” commented Cookie, proud of the rhyme.

This meeting of furry monsters and human singer is part of a new Sesame Workshop family friendly talk show on HBO Max called “The Not Too Late Show with Elmo.” It began streaming May 27.

Other guests during the initial 13-week episode run include Kacey Musgraves, the Jonas Brothers, John Mulaney, Lil Nas X, Miles Brown, Blake Lively, Dan + Shay, Andy Cohen, Hoda Kotb, Josh Groban, Olivia Wilde, Sara Bareilles, Jason Sudeikis, Sofia Carson and Ciara.

The show is the brainchild of Elmo — don’t tell him differently — and employs his Muppet friends: Cookie Monster is the sidekick, Rosita is the stage manager, Abby Cadabby is the writer, and various monsters are the directors, riffing on the idea that everyone wants to direct.

“Throughout the 15-minute duration of the episode, Elmo is talking about one specific bedtime ritual, like putting on your pajamas or reading a book or brushing your teeth," said Ben Lehmann, executive producer of “Sesame Street” and “The Not-Too-Late Show.”

“Obviously, the whole thing is meant to be playful and a fun family experience so, rather than spend a lot of time talking, we spend more time playing games like Hot Potato or Tic-Tac-Toe,” he said.

The talk show business may be ruthless, but late night hosts Jimmy Fallon and John Oliver make appearances and help sharpen Elmo's interview skills. Elmo challenges Fallon to a stare contest, which is not entirely fair since Elmo doesn't have eyelids.

During a visit to “The Not-Too-Late Show” set in New York City before the pandemic shutdown, the technology used was both high-tech and low. Three digital cameras, a teleprompter and a microphone boom were employed, but a half-moon prop was dangled over Elmo’s desk on a pole with a wire, like a fishing gear. A crew member cut fake cookies into a crescent shape.

The team putting the show together was able to keep on schedule despite the virus pandemic. Equipment was moved to staffer's homes so post-production, editing and sound effects could be done remotely.

The show's emphasis on children's nighttime routines comes exactly at a time when parents are looking for stable schedules. Sesame Workshop has also offered helpful resources and activities online during the pandemic. “It's an important time to be there for families and kids, so we're trying to do our part as best we can,” Lehmann said.

In an interview after the taping, Elmo said he was having a great time. “It’s wonderful meeting new people. Elmo gets to meet new guests on the show every day,” he said. “Elmo gets to learn about everybody, too. It’s wonderful.”

He said his favorite games include teddy bear dressing races, monster makeovers, freeze dances and tricycle races. Elmo promised plenty of music, sketches and games.

“There’s a lot of good stuff in store. You’ll see.” 

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