Sesame Street to introduce Muppet with Autism

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NEW YORK, New York. (CBS) ---- Entertaining and educating children on television for almost 50 years, the residents of “Sesame Street” have become household names. There’s Big Bird, Abby Cadabby and Oscar the Grouch. Some, like Elmo, Bert, and Ernie, need only one name.

Now they’re getting a new friend: Julia.

This week on 60 Minutes, correspondent Lesley Stahl visited the set of “Sesame Street” to report on the new Muppet. Julia has appeared in an online initiative since October 2015, and as some viewers may already be aware from these videos, Julia has autism. Now, she’s joining the gang of “Sesame Street” on television.

On “Sesame Street,” creating a new character means making a new Muppet, and in the video embedded in the player above, Stahl visited the Jim Henson Workshop to see how it’s done.

What did it take to build a character like Julia?

“Well in this particular case, it takes a lot of sensitivity,” Stahl said. She interviewed Rollie Krewson, a puppet designer often referred to as “Elmo’s mom,” who has been with Jim Henson’s company since the 1970s. Krewson created Julia’s Muppet with consideration down to the smallest detail.

“Her eyes had to be a certain way because she has to have an intense look, but she has to look friendly,” Krewson told Stahl. “Her hair had to be made so that her bangs weren’t in her eyes and that her hair didn’t fall into her mouth. And she couldn’t have any adornments in her hair—no barrettes, no ribbons.”

Her clothes are equally intentional. Her purple dress is loose, without distracting bows, buttons or ribbons. Even her eyes can change, depending on the scene; Krewson includes a half-closed version and a totally closed version so that if Julia gets upset and overwhelmed, she can close her eyes.