Do Children's TV actors have a special responsibility?

I’m putting this here because it’s about TV.

According to this link, PBS Kids Sprout evening host Melanie Martinez was fired because she appeared in some risque videos before she took the job at Sprout. (The videos themselves are available on YouTube; search for “technical virgin”.)

I find this interesting because Sonia Manzano and Emilio Delgado, who play Maria and Luis on Sesame Street, have had other roles; Ms. Manzano has guest-starred in some shows, like Law and Order, aimed at adults and Delgado has not only guest-starred, but had a recurring role on the show Lou Grant.

There are numerous actors who are identified with their characters to the point where they are pretty much typecast. There is also at least one urban legend about the death of such an actor.

So the question is this: Should the actors who appear in children’s TV shows not seek other work in order to protect their shows’ reputations? Should producers and networks hold their actors responsible for things they did before they began work in children’s TV? What about after they leave?


From your description, I got the impression that the videos she had appeared in were the kind designed to get an audience of 22-to-55-year olds ready for bed :wink: . From the link, though, it appears that they fall more into the category of adult humor and satire than of soft-core porn. (I’m not gonna go searching YouTube on my dial-up connection.) I’m not sure how that affects the answer to your question, though.

The videos had no nudity and very little language. However, they were definitely adult-themed.


Short answer: no, no and no.

They are actors. It’s a job. In an ideal world, nobody would give a crap what the actors do aside from when they are on screen and in character.

That said, I understand parents’ discomfort if a well-beloved children’s show actor is all over the press having done something really awful or unseemly which would provoke a lot of questions from the kids. But the fault there is not so much with the actors as with the press who can’t bear to show restraint when there is scandal to be made.

Considering the world we live in, if the actor happened to land a hugely popular role and thus is considered a hero to bazillions of little kids, it would probably be good of them to try to keep out of the scandal-sheets until their popularity wanes. As for acting roles, however, I think all bets are off. They need to work, so let them work. If the kid wonders why Fuzzy Wuzzy Bunny is now a psycho killer on “Law & Order,” parents can gently explain the concepts of acting and paying bills.

They all have a responsibility to be more & more like Xuxa every year.

Answer to title question: yes, but . . .

Answers to questions in OP: No, maybe and maybe.

It is not fair to someone to suggest that becoming involved with children’s television means that they will need to live the rest of their life in a squeaky clean manner.

On the other hand, even though it isn’t fair, persons who become involved with children’s television need to recognize that they will be held up to greater scrutiny than other actors will and should make the choice of whether they want to be involved with “adult” or “children’s.” And certainly there are big name box office stars who realize at some point that it might be fun to watch a movie starring “Daddy” with the children without being embarassed by the content. I’m pretty sure that I’ve heard both Eddie Murphy and Johnny Depp connected with anecdotes along this line.

It’s a little unfair but not totally out of line for an interview question for a proposed Children’s TV actor to be “Have you ever been involved with roles or pictures or videos (etc.) which would be embarassing to us if they came to light later?” Anyone who denied knowledge of such a thing would thus be in the wrong if something came to light later.

On the other hand, I can imagine the candidate denying any potentially embarrasing past, only to have their past come back to haunt them, not through deliberate deception, but through differing ideas of what would be embarassing to the studio.

I do think that things like YouTube and Google and our increased ability to keep tabs on anyone semi-famous or with a unique name mean that children’s TV actors are likely to not have any ability to keep their past private and someone who starts out as a children’s TV actor is likely to have that follow them into their future life.

And so a recent Power Ranger thread mentioned the porn? that one of the Rangers has gone on to do.

And there is a part of me which says, what is wrong with society that we don’t do a better job of separating the actor on the TV show from the person he or she is off screen.

Like Paul Rubens/Pee Wee Herman or the story that inspired this thread.

Amusing fact: Steve from Blue’s Clues played a wimpy high schooler who murdered a jock who tormented him on Homicide: Life on the Streets in 1998. He was on Blue’s Clues from 1996-2001, so this apparently did not conflict with his day job.

Being fired for being other than squeaky-clean happens this side of the Atlantic too. A number of Blue Peter presenters have resigned / been fired after being found to have not been squeaky clean.

There’s also the actress who played Po on “Teletubbies” who went on to do a lesbian porn vid several years ago. I don’t know what the fracas was about; it’s not like anyone could have recognized her.

Do I think they have a special responsibility? I believe that’s up to THEM to answer, not me. I’ll deal with whatever decision they make. They don’t owe me anything.

It’s quite possible that childrens’ entertainers might have a clause about this in their contract, and that clause is probably a lot more specific than “something which might be kind of embarassing”. In that case, then they certainly have an obligation, in so far as anyone has an obligation to honor a contract they willingly enter into.

Allison Bartlett O’Reilly, who played (plays?) Gina on Sesame Street, had a role on The Sopranos for a bit, even appearing partially nude in bed with Steve Buscemi in one scene. Apparently, the Childrens Television Workshop didn’t object, because the audiences for the two shows are so different that it’s unlikely any kids would be traumatized, and she wasn’t exploiting her kid-show character in any way, so there wasn’t any realistic chance of someone thinking that CTW endorsed her Sopranos appearance.

I can see an issue if an actor did something risque while filming a children’s series, especially if there were contractual provisions on this. But she did this not very racy film before she even auditioned. What kid in the target audience is going to be able to see the video anyhow?

Keep them from doing racy billboards and magazine covers, but it is going to be hard to find a lot of actors willing to do kids shows if there is a pre and post-job morals clause.

Oh, come on, this is so obviously a case of a network exec asshole having a hissy fit and firing someone for little or not reason that I can’t believe any sane individual would give even a moments’ consideration to their position. It’s sheer, unmoderated assholery, and deserves to be roundly condemned by all.

Yeah, but he only played a murderer. It wasn’t. . . you know . . . sex.

Seriously, what the hell is wrong with the management at PBS Sprouts?

Heh heh heh hee!

Ron Jeremy, from the IMDB:

I think it’s fucked up. It’s not hardcore pornography, for gosh’s sakes. How likely is it that the audience (little kids) are going to find/watch the technical virgin stuff?

I expect this from the ABC/Disney types, but PBS?

I disagree. I agree that this particular example emphasizes the capriciousness and unfairness of the network exec, especially given the details that we have about the Children’s TV actor’s role, and that the video was made prior to her involvement with the children’s TV show.

On the other hand, just because this is an example of capriciousness, unfairness, even jerkishness does not mean that there is no element of validity to the claim. Even if the answer from almost all sides is that Children’s TV actors do not (and should not) have a special responsibility, it still may be an issue worth pondering. I certainly believe that the issue is broader than the illustration MsRobyn has used.

Hippy Hollow, individual PBS stations recieve a not insignificant amount of their funding from individual viewers who send in money during pledge drives. (You may already know this, sorry if I come across as preachy and know-it-all). Individual viewers are likely to be very concerned with the messages that their children recieve from PBS, and very likely to contact the station with their objections. So it is not surprising to me if PBS feels a need to be more careful about having actors with squeaky clean pasts that some other networks, especially for their children’s shows.

Whether this makes the actions right or not, is a more complicated issue.

Doesn’t just happen to children’s performers. Paige Davis was fired from Trading Spaces a few years back. The official line was that the show was moving to a hostless format but the gossip was that the PTB were pissed off about (among other things) her doing a fake striptease at Broadway Bares to raise money for AIDS relief.

But then, the same show kept Carter Oosterhouse, who’d been in an actual Playboy video (although apparently in a non-sexual role). SO figure that one out.

It wasn’t until I was in my mid-teens that I stopped thinking that mainstream press (newspapers, news on TV, etc) was boring and not worth my time.

Are people really afraid that five-year-olds are going to see the expose story on Nightline and have nightmares about their beloved Mrs. So-and-so having a three way or snorting coke or whatever? Little kids don’t find stuff like that out unless they find it out from their parents. If the kids are little enough, they don’t even understand the words used to describe such a thing.

I can imagine a “Special Report” break in the middle of Sesame Street. The kid’s all excited because he thinks it’s another Kermit skit, but it isn’t. Instead, it’s Kurt Loder relating some story about how one of the two guys inside the costume of Mr. Snuffalumpagus was found in a compromising position with the woman whose husband voices The Count. At the end of it, the kid’s thinking, “What costume?”

I have changed my mind in a subtle but significant way. The answer to title question should be No, But . . . rather than yes. The remainder of my post stands. I’m not sure that an individual Children’s TV actor has a special responsibility, but she should be aware that taking that role may put her into a position where her past and future roles are scrutinized more carefully than they otherwise might be.