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Tyco preschool already had Sing & Snore Ernie on the drawing board before ticklish Sesame Street sibling Elmo became the must-have toy of 1996.

Nonetheless, a few key points Tyco Preschool President Neil Friedman learned from that frantic Christmas helped turn Sing & Snore Ernie from a sleeper into the hit of the 1997 season. The second hit prompted Tyco to introduce yet another interactive plush-Tickle Me Cookie Monster.

"When Ernie was named the Family Fun toy of the year in 1997, I knew we had another hit on our hands," says Mr. Friedman, who freely admits he decorates home and office with the popular "Sesame Street" characters. "That award gave us a lot of media coverage, generating incredible interest in Ernie."

This time, Tyco was prepared to meet the continuing demand of retailers throughout the holiday season with plenty of the $30 bedtime-ready Ernies, as well as Elmo and Cookie Monster.

"There was no feeding frenzy and there was no price gouging," says Mr. Friedman.

Interactive/mechanical plush is rapidly becoming an established toy segment, with other companies eager to push their way in. Mattel, already a dominant force, extended its toy leadership by acquiring Tyco Toys in March.

Advertising for Ernie was handled by D'Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles, but ads for the interactive plush now will be handled by Mattel agency Y&R Advertising, New York.

"There's a lot of fondness for the Sesame Street characters, and today's parents a lot of play value in these characters," says Mr. Friedman. Besides, it's awfully hard to resist a pajama-clad kid declaring "I feel great" after sharing a nap with a snoring Ernie.

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