It seemed simpler in 2019, when HBO Max was still an apple in the eyes of AT&T executives trying to figure out what to do with WarnerMedia. They announced a deal with Sesame Workshop to shift decades of Sesame Street’s back-catalogue, plus the upcoming five years of new episodes, to the forthcoming streamer HBO Max. Nearly three years later, HBO Max is under new management, and Warner Bros. Discovery has apparently spiked a massive chunk of the Sesame library from its service, amid a larger content reduction. HBO Max announced earlier this week, buried in a longer list of titles, that “select Sesame Street specials” would be removed, but that was downplaying it. More than 200 episodes have been removed, first spotted by Joe Hennes, editor of ToughPigs, a fan site dedicated to Sesame Street and other Muppets media.
As ToughPigs lays out, there’s now a huge gap between season 1, which now has just 5 episodes, and season 39, with some odd entries thrown in in between: 14 episodes from season 5 and 10 episodes from season 7. “By my count, there were over 250 legacy episodes on the streaming service from the first 38 seasons of the show,” Hennes writes. “As of this morning, only 29 episodes from those years remain.” Variety estimated that Sesame Street’s episode count on HBO Max had been reduced from about pre-purge 650 to 456.
In a statement acknowledging the cuts, HBO Max called Sesame Street a “crown jewel” of its kids programming. “We are committed to continuing to bring Sesame Street into families’ homes, including the newest season premiering this fall and the nearly 400 episodes of the most current and historic seasons that remain on Cartoonito on HBO Max,” the streamer wrote.
Now, there’s still quite a lot of Sesame Street content on HBO Max. It still has its hub on the service similar to HBO’s, Studio Ghibli’s, TCM’s, and HBO Max’s other programming buckets. The newer seasons 39 through 52 are still there, as well as several spinoffs and related ephemera. But many classic, mainline Sesame Street episodes that were once on the service are nowhere to be found. We have its premiere episode, sure, but we don’t have the first rendition of the beloved Oscar song “I Love Trash” or other milestones from the show’s early years. HBO Max may still be Elmo’s world, but it’s a bit smaller now.
This post has been updated to include a statement from HBO Max.