By Daniel Trotta
(Reuters) - Plans to save Big Bird, the fuzzy yellow character on U.S. public television's "Sesame Street," from possible extinction are taking shape in the form of a puppet-based protest next month dubbed the "Million Muppet March."
The demonstration is planned for November 3 at the National Mall in Washington, D.C., three days before the general election.
Before the presidential debate between Democratic President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney had concluded on October 3, two men who had never met each floated the Million Muppet March idea on social media. They immediately united to defend public broadcasting.
Romney pledged during the debate to end the U.S. federal government's subsidy for the Public Broadcasting Service despite his professed love for Big Bird, one of the characters on PBS's 43-year-old children's educational program "Sesame Street," which features the Muppets.
Michael Bellavia, 43, an animation executive from Los Angeles, and Chris Mecham, 46, a university student in Idaho, separately came up with the Million Muppet March idea in response.
Big Bird, played by actor Carroll Spinney in an 8-foot (2.5-metre) bird costume, is strictly speaking not a member of the group of puppet characters known as the Muppets.
Bellavia bought the Internet address www.millionmuppetmarch.com during the debate and discovered Mecham had already started a Facebook page by the same name.
Within 30 minutes of the end of the debate they were on the phone with each other, planning the march.
"I figured, why just make it a virtual show of support? Why not take this opportunity because it seemed like there was already a growing interest in it and actually make it an active, participatory event," Bellavia said. "I literally just said, 'It's happening.'"
Both men consider themselves fans of "Sesame Street," perhaps the best-known program on PBS, which received $445 million of $3.8 trillion in federal budget outlays in 2012.
Coming from rural Idaho, Mecham said he was aware how important public broadcasting was in sparsely populated areas that receive no other signals over the air.
"Romney was using Muppets as a rhetorical device to talk about getting rid of public broadcasting, which is really so much bigger than Sesame Street," Mecham said. "While he was still talking I was thinking of ways I could express my frustration at that argument. Before the debates were over I had put up the Million Muppet March Facebook page."
The two men said they immediately decided to work together.
Mecham is a writer who is studying political science at Boise State University out of his interest in healthcare policy.
Bellavia is president of the animation studio Animax Entertainment, founded by former Second City actor Dave Thomas.
They may fall short of attracting a million people, or Muppets, to the event, but they do hope to create what Bellavia called a "lovefest" featuring skits and musical performances with Muppets.
"It does seem like we might get close to the biggest ever assemblage of puppets in one place," he said, "and probably the most ever puppets marching on Washington."
The Million Man March was a gathering held on the National Mall on October 16, 1995 to promote civil rights, with an emphasis on African Americans, and was led by rights advocate Louis Farrakhan. (Editing by Eric Walsh)
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