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Former "Sesame Street" writer Mark Saltzman caused an internet stir this week when he revealed to the LGBTQ website Queerty that he imagined Bert and Ernie as a "loving couple" when writing sketches for the pair.
Some "Sesame Street" fans gleefully cheered on the longtime roommates, while others accused Saltzman of "sexualizing" them. In the middle of it all, Sesame Workshop, which produces the long-running PBS children's show, released a clarification stating, as puppets, Bert and Ernie "do not have a sexual orientation."
Now, the Emmy winner tells TODAY his remarks were misinterpreted. He never said Bert and Ernie were definitively gay. "Maybe they were gay when I was writing them," Saltzman explained, "but I never felt I had the authority to declare them to be gay. I'm sure when straight writers were writing Bert and Ernie, they were straight."
'Like any writer, I brought my experience into it, my experience of living with another guy who was the opposite of me," he added. "That's as simple as it was."
Saltzman explained that he drew from his relationship with his late partner, Arnold Glassman, a "meticulous" film editor.
"He was a Bert. And I confess to being an Ernie. I live in chaos and it's anything for the joke. I'll completely drop the subject if I think of something funny. That can drive Berts crazy," he said.
The tension made for charming and funny stories about how opposites can get along.
Saltzman doubts if any "Sesame Street" fans would have objected had he revealed he'd based Bert and Ernie on a heterosexual relationship.
"I think if I had given that interview and said, 'Oh you know when I was working for 'Sesame Street,' I was kind of an Ernie and my wife was kind of a Bert and I drew off our marriage to write them, no one would have cared," he said.
No one would have mentioned sex either, he believes.
"Why is it when a gay relationship is mentioned, suddenly everyone thinks of sex?'" he asked, later adding, "It's a show for pre-schoolers, get your mind out of the gutter."
Though Frank Oz, the puppeteer who helped create Bert and Ernie nearly a half century ago, said on Twitter on Tuesday that the characters were not gay, Saltzman believes it's up to viewers to decide what kind of a relationship the duo have.
But, Saltzman adds, it would be a "shame" to rule out any possibility.
Just as pre-school kids need to see male friendships depicted on TV, children of same-sex parents take comfort in imagining Bert and Ernie as a loving couple, he said.
Saltzman believes "Sesame Street" will eventually feature an out LGBTQ character. He hopes the character will be a human being — and not a puppet.
"In my time, when 'Sesame Street' was dealing with big real-life issues, they didn't relegate it to the puppets. The puppets were for teaching numbers and how to share," he said.
Saltzman imagines the show will bring the character — or characters — to Sesame Street without much fuss. "It would be something like introducing two characters as Eleanor and her wife Linda. And that would be the end of it," he shared.
He added, "And so many pre-schoolers watching it will be like, 'Oh, they're just like my moms."