Bert and Ernie of "Sesame Street" may only be puppets, but that hasn't stopped audiences from speculating over the years that the two roommates may be more than just best friends.
A longtime writer from the beloved children's show appeared to confirm they were in fact a "loving couple" on Tuesday, only for its creators to deny the pair are together or have a sexual orientation.
Mark Saltzman, who was a staff writer between 1981 and 1990, told the website Queerty he had based the pair's dynamic on his own long-term relationship with film editor Arnold Glassman.
"I remember one time that a column from the San Francisco Chronicle, a preschooler in the city turned to mom and asked 'are Bert & Ernie lovers?' And that, coming from a preschooler was fun," he said.
"And that got passed around, and everyone had their chuckle and went back to it. And I always felt that without a huge agenda, when I was writing Bert and Ernie, they were. I didn't have any other way to contextualize them.
"I was already with Arnie when I came to 'Sesame Street.' So I don't think I'd know how else to write them, but as a loving couple."
Saltzman added the Bert and Ernie's interactions mirrored his own with Glassman, who was his partner for more than 20 years until his death in 2003.
"I wrote sketches... Arnie's OCD would create friction with how chaotic I was. And that's the Bert and Ernie dynamic."
But Sesame Workshop, which produces the show, denied the pair's relationship was anything more than platonic.
"As we have always said, Bert and Ernie are best friends. They were created to teach preschoolers that people can be good friends with those who are very different from themselves," the non-profit organisation said.
"Even though they are identified as male characters and possess many human traits and characteristics (as most Sesame Street Muppets do), they remain puppets, and do not have a sexual orientation."
Bert and Ernie's relationship has long been questioned by viewers.
In 2011, gay rights activist Lair Scott launched an online petition signed by some 7,600 people that called for the pair to get married on the programme to teach acceptance of gays and lesbians, spawning an extensive online debate on the topic as well as less popular pages opposing the two characters tying the knot.
In response, the show issued a similar statement to that released on Tuesday.
That did not prevent the pair from appearing on the cover of the prestigious New Yorker magazine in 2013, shortly after the US Supreme Court legalized gay marriage across the country.
They were shown cuddling up on the couch watching a television that showed the Supreme Court judges.