From United Press International

“Sesame Street” begins its 17th season today with a new element.

For the first time, all the characters will see Mr. Snuffleupagus, a shaggy, long-trunked creature who until now was presumed by the “Street” people to be Big Bird’s imaginary friend. The audience has known all along he was real.

Like much of what seems casual on the “Street,” there’s a serious reason behind Mr. Snuffleupagus’ new role.

“In this day of child abuse,” said Dulcy Singer, executive producer of the public TV series, “we felt it important for children to feel they could talk to adults and be believed. We didn’t want to do anything to discourage children from going to their parents.


“Also some of the letters we received indicated that the business of Big Bird trying to convince the adults that Mr. Snuffleupagus was real had gone on so long it was frustrating to children.”

Later in the season, Susan and Gordon--its two major adult role models--will be adopting a baby, Miles. In real life, Miles is the 11-month-old son of Roscoe Orman, who plays Gordon.

Singer said that while they will discuss adoption, the primary reason for introducing Miles is to emphasize and explore families.

The subject of Miles’ adoption will be a hot topic on the “Street” Dec. 24, and he will make his first appearance on Christmas Day.