Company Town

‘Sesame Street’ sues STX film studio over Melissa McCarthy puppet movie

“Sesame Street” characters pose next to a street sign at West 64th Street and Broadway in New York in 2009, on the eve of the 40th anniversary of the broadcast of the children’s television show.
(Stan Honda / AFP/Getty Images)

“L” is for “lawsuit.”

The parent organization behind “Sesame Street” is suing the studio STX over the upcoming Melissa McCarthy movie “The Happytime Murders,” alleging that the sexually explicit comedy set in an imaginary world of humans and puppets infringes on its trademarks and intellectual property and degrades the long-running children’s television show.

The complaint alleges that the movie — which STX is scheduled to release in August — tarnishes the “Sesame Street” brand by depicting “Sesame”-like puppets in adult situations, including scenes depicted in a recently released trailer that show seedy puppet characters engaging in drug use, gun violence and sex.

Sesame Workshop, formerly known as the Children’s Television Workshop, filed the suit last week in federal court in New York. It said the movie’s marketing tagline — “No Sesame. All Street” — “deliberately confuses” consumers into believing that “Sesame Street” is associated with and has endorsed the movie.


The nonprofit organization, which is based in New York, is asking the court to prevent STX from infringing on its protected trademarks and intellectual property. Sesame also is seeking unspecified damages.

A spokesperson for Burbank-based STX Entertainment said the filmmakers partnered with Jim Henson Co. on the movie. The late Jim Henson helped to create many of the original “Sesame Street” characters. His son, Brian, is the director of “The Happytime Murders.”

STX’s attorney said in a statement: “While we’re disappointed that ‘Sesame Street’ does not share in the fun, we are confident in our legal position. We look forward to introducing adult moviegoers to our adorably unapologetic characters this summer.”

“The Happytime Murders” is set in a fictional Los Angeles where humans coexist with an underclass puppet society. McCarthy plays a law enforcement official who teams up with her ex-partner puppet to investigate a possible serial killer.


STX recently released a red-band trailer for the movie showing Muppet-type characters as prostitutes and shady criminals. In one scene, a puppet engages in explicit sex and then ejaculates repeatedly.

Sesame said in its complaint that it isn’t trying to prevent STX from marketing or distributing the movie. Instead, the organization said that STX’s decision to “invoke and commercially misappropriate Sesame’s name and goodwill” has tarnished the brand.

“Sesame takes no issue with [the] defendants’ right to make their movie, and to market it — lawfully — however they see fit,” the plaintiff argues in the complaint.

“But defendants cannot impermissibly appropriate and trade on Sesame’s mark, brand, and goodwill to market a movie that has no nexus to Sesame Street.”

Sesame Workshop said it has asked STX to drop all references to “Sesame Street” in its marketing material, but claims the studio has refused.

STX, which finances and distributes movies and TV projects, has released “I Feel Pretty,” starring Amy Schumer; “Molly’s Game,” starring Jessica Chastain; and the “Bad Moms” comedies.



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