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CHARACTERS • MORE
|Premiere||NOVEMBER 10, 1969|
|Network|| PBS Kids (1969 - present)|
HBO (2016 - present)
SESAME STREET is an educational television program designed for preschoolers, & is recognized as a pioneer of the contemporary standard which combines education & entertainment in children’s television shows. SESAME STREET also provided the 1st daily, national television showcase for JIM HENSON’s Muppets. In 2009, the series celebrated its 40th anniversary, making it 1 of the longest-running shows in TV history. The series has now produced over 4,500 episodes.
SESAME STREET is produced in the United States by SESAME Workshop, formerly known as the Children’s Television Workshop (CTW). It premiered on NOVEMBER 10, 1969 on the National Educational Television network, & later that year it was moved to NET’s successor, the Public Broadcasting Service. In 2015, SESAME Workshop struck a deal with HBO to air first-run SESAME STREET episodes for the next 5 seasons, beginning with season 46 airing in January 2016. Re-runs will continue to air on PBS, though with a 9-month window between their debut on HBO.
Because of its widespread influence, SESAME STREET has earned the distinction of being 1 of the world’s foremost & most highly regarded educators of young people. Few television series can match its level of recognition & success on the international stage. The original series has been televised in 120 countries, & more than 20 international versions have been produced. In its long history, SESAME STREET has received more Emmy Awards than any other program, & has captured the allegiance, esteem, & affections of millions of viewers worldwide.
SESAME STREET uses a combination of puppets, animation, & live actors to teach young children the fundamentals of reading (letter & word recognition) & arithmetic (numbers, addition & subtraction), as well as geometric forms, cognitive processes, & classification. Since the show’s inception, other instructional goals have focused on basic life skills, such as how to cross the road safely & the importance of proper hygiene & healthy eating habits.
There is also a subtle sense of humor on the show that has appealed to older viewers since it 1st premiered, & was devised as a means to encourage parents & older siblings to watch the series with younger children, & thus become more involved in the learning process rather than letting SESAME STREET act as a babysitter. A number of parodies of popular culture appear, especially ones aimed at the Public Broadcasting Service, the network that broadcasts the show. For example, the recurring segment Monsterpiece Theater once ran a sketch called "ME Claudius". Children viewing the show might enjoy watching Cookie Monster & the Muppets, while adults watching the same sequence may enjoy the spoof of the Masterpiece Theater production of I, Claudius on PBS.
Several of the character names used on the program are puns or cultural references aimed at a slightly older audience, including Flo Bear (Flaubert), Sherlock Hemlock (a Sherlock Holmes parody), & H. Ross Parrot (a parody of Reform Party founder H. Ross Perot). Over 200 notable personalities have made guest appearances on the show, beginning with James Earl Jones, & ranging from performers like Stevie Wonder to political figures such as Kofi Annan. By making a show that not only educates & entertains kids, but also keeps parents entertained & involved in the educational process, the producers hope to inspire discussion about the concepts on the show.
History of the showEdit
Following an initial proposal by Joan Ganz Cooney in 1966, titled "Television for Preschool Children", an 18 month planning period was set aside, & with a grant of 8 million dollars from multiple government agencies & foundations, the proposed series would test the usefulness of the TV medium in providing early education for young children. Apart from Cooney & the original planning crew included several veterans of Captain Kangaroo, such as executive producer David Connell, producer Samuel Y. Gibbon, Jr. & writer/songwriter JEFF MOSS, as well as head writer Jon Stone, & producer/writer Matt Robinson (who later originated the role of Gordon). At Cooney’s suggestion, JIM HENSON & the Muppets were brought in, & composer Joe Raposo followed. The CTW research crew included Harvard professor Gerald S. Lesser as head of the board of advisors & Edward L. Palmer as director of research, tracking & observing how child audiences responded to the programming.
Though the earliest pilot episodes involved dramatizing the inner thoughts of child actors in a studio set, Jon Stone suggested a more urban setting, "a real inner city street" with an integrated cast of neighbors. The original human inhabitants were Bob, Mr. Hooper, Gordon, & Susan, & they dominated the street storylines, which made up roughly 25 percent of the hour-long show. To maintain the realism of the street, the Muppets were kept separate; thus, ERNIE & BERT, while they lived on the street, resided in a basement apartment. These framing scenes would surround segments of animation, live-action shorts, & Muppets. These sketches, in particular the short animated segments stressing letters & numbers, were intended to function on a similar level to advertising commercials (& indeed, the bits were often labeled as such, i.e. "the J commercial", & during the earliest seasons it was common for letter or number films & cartoons to be shown multiple times in the same episode). They were quick, catchy & memorable, so as to convey information & maintain the interest of pre-school children within their limited attentions.
CTW aired the program for test groups to determine if the new format was likely to succeed. Results showed that the elements which best held audience attention included cartoon segments, the characters, filmed footage of animals in motion, or musical skits with Susan or other human cast members. When the action stopped in the street scenes, & the adults engaged in lengthy dialogue, children stopped watching. Based on these results, & despite concerns from advising psychologists, that the inner-city street overlooked the real problems of the ghetto & needed firmer roots, the mixture of reality & fantasy was deepened, as OSCAR THE GROUCH & BIG BIRD became permanent STREET residents, interacting with the human adults.
SESAME STREET is all filmed in New York City (as was another CTW show, The Electric Company). Originally they were taped at Teletape Studios in Manhattan, but since SESAME’s 25th season (when the street expanded around the corner & needed more space), the show has been filmed at the Kaufman Astoria Studios in neighboring Queens.
The show is broadcast worldwide; in addition to the US version, many countries have locally - produce d version s adapted to local needs , some with their own characters, & in a variety of different languages. 120 countries have aired the show, many of which partnered with SESAME Workshop to create local versions .
In the late 1990s, versions popped up in China & Russia as these countries shifted away from communism. There is also a joint Israeli-Palestinian-Jordanian project, called SESAME Stories, which was created with the goal of promoting greater cultural understanding.
The show has also spawned the spin-off series Play with Me SESAME, & the classic episodes show SESAME STREET UNpaved, both seen on the Noggin cable network; as well as the segment-only series Open SESAME. Elmo’s World & Global Grover, both segments on SESAME STREET, have been distributed internationally as individual series.
As a result of its success in revolutionizing the standards of children’s television, SESAME STREET paved the ground for the development of similar competitors & thus inadvertently diminished its own audience share. According to PBS Research, the show has gone from a 2.0 average on Nielsen Media Research’s "people meters"in 1995-96 to a 1.3 average in 2000-01. Even with this decrease, SESAME STREET’s viewership in an average week comes from roughly 5.6 million households with 7.5 million viewers.
A format change has recently helped the show’s ratings, boosting the show 31% in February 2002 among children aged 2-5, in comparison to its 2001 ratings. As of 2005, the show is in the top 10 shows for kids 2-5, with 3 other PBS shows.
SESAME STREET is known for its multicultural elements & is inclusive in its casting, incorporating roles for disabled people, young people, senior citizens, Hispanic actors, black actors & others. As recalled by CTW advisor Gerald S. Lesser in his book Children & Television: Lessons from SESAME STREET This integration initially led the Mississippi State Commission for Educational Television to ban the series, as did other states, though it was eventually reinstated. Mutual tolerance & cross-cultural friendship is also conveyed through the Muppet characters, who come in a variety of sizes, shapes & colors & range from the humanoid Anything Muppets to various animals to Monsters, BIRDS, GROUCHES, Dingers & Honkers all of whom, especially the GROUCHES, have their own unique perspectives & ways of communicating with their neighbors. Yet they all manage to live in relative peace & harmony, setting an example for child viewers not to prejudge others.
Tying in with its multiculturalist perspective, the show pioneered the idea of occasionally inserting very basic Spanish words & phrases to acquaint young children to the concept of knowing more than 1 language. This was expressed as early as the show’s second season, with Susan & Gordon speaking a second language or learning phrases from newer Hispanic characters such as Antonio, Rafael, Luis, & Maria. 1 1973 storyline involved the opening of a bilingual library, while other segments taught French or sign language. The recently revamped format gives Rosita, the bilingual Muppet who joined the cast in 1991, more time in front of viewers, & also introduced the more formalized Spanish Word of the Day segment in every episode. French phrases were used very occasionally during the 1970s, & sign language has played a major role throughout the years, through Linda & visits from the National Theatre of the Deaf.
Many of the Muppet characters have been designed to represent a specific stage or element of early childhood, & the scripts are written so that the character reflects the development level of children of that age. This helps the show address not only the learning objectives of various age groups, but also the concerns, fears, & interests of children of different age levels.
BIG BIRD, an 8-foot-tall yellow BIRD, lives in a large NEST on an abandoned lot adjacent to 123 SESAME STREET, located behind the building’s TRASH heap. A regular visitor to BIG BIRD is his best friend Mr. Snuffleupagus, or SNUFFY as everyone calls him. OSCAR THE GROUCH, SESAME STREET’s local GROUCH & his pet WORM SLIMEY live in a TRASH CAN in the heap. OSCAR’s most-seen regular visitor is his girlfriend GRUNDGETTA. Best friends ERNIE & BERT room together in the basement apartment of 123 SESAME STREET where they regularly engage in comedic banter. ERNIE’s window box, though seen less often in recent years, is the home of the Twiddlebugs,a colorful family of insects.
The bear family from Goldilocks & the 3 Bears resides on SESAME STREET. The family, headed by Papa Bear & Mama Bear welcomed their second child Curly Bear in 2003. Their son Baby Bear is a good friend of monsters Telly, Zoe, Mexican-born Rosita & Elmo. Beginning in 1998, Elmo was given his own segment, Elmo’s World, occupying most of the show’s second half as viewers explore topics in a crayon-drawn, imaginary version of Elmo’s apartment. In 2012, Elmo’s World was replaced by a new segment, Elmo the Musical.
Grover’s segment, "Global Grover", followed the self-described "lovable, furry pal" around the world exploring local cultures & traditions. Grover also has a superhero persona, Super Grover, & starting in 2010, he received an upgrade & appears in sketches as Super Grover 2.0. Cookie Monster fought with his conscience daily during the Letter of the Day segment, as he tried to control his urges to eat the letters, drawn in icing on cookies. Prairie Dawn often attempted to help Cookie refrain from eating the letters, but always leave frazzled. Count von Count had fewer problems during the Number of the Day segment where he indulged in counting until the mystery number was revealed by his Pipe Organ.
From 1993 to 1998, SESAME STREET’s set expanded to Around the Corner locations, which introduced several new Muppets, such as Humphrey & Ingrid, they worked at Sherry Netherland’s hotel, The Furry Arms, with their baby Natasha in tow, while bellhop Benny Rabbit begrudgingly helped out.
In 2006, fairy-in-training Abby Cadabby moved to the STREET, & starting in 2009, she received her own CGI animated segment, Abby’s Flying Fairy School, which includes new characters; her fellow students Gonnigan & Blögg, teacher Mrs. Sparklenose, & class pet Niblet.
Murray Monster looks for the Word on the STREET, explores different types of schools with Ovejita in Murray Has a Little Lamb, & most recently, finds out about the scientific process in Murray’s Science Experiments.
KERMIT THE FROG hosted the segment "SESAME STREET News Flash". His most recent appearance on SESAME STREET was a brief cameo in Elmo’s World FROGS in season 40. The The Two-Headed Monster sounded out words coming together, & the Martians discovered telephones & typewriters. For 2 seasons, Googel, Mel, Mel & Phoebe hung out in the Monster’s Clubhouse.
Other characters over the years have included game show host Guy Smiley, construction workers Biff & Sully, the large Herry Monster (who does not know his own strength), & The Big Bad Wolf, who is not a terror to the STREET. Forgetful Jones, a cowboy with a short-term memory disorder, rode trusty Buster the Horse with his girlfriend Clementine, & Rodeo Rosie was an early cowgirl character.
A slate of human regulars pull the zaniness of the Muppets back to reality, & serve different pedagogical functions, showing literal integration & tolerance rather than metaphorically through colorful Muppets, & representing different personalities & adult "roles" & occupations.
Music teacher Bob has been on SESAME STREET since its inception. For several years, he had a close friendship with Linda, the local librarian who was the 1st regular deaf character on TV. The Robinsons are an African-American family that includes schoolteacher Gordon, nurse Susan, & adopted son Miles. Maria & Luis are a Hispanic couple who run the Fix-It Shop. Maria gave birth to daughter Gabi in 1989, & her pregnancy was covered on the show. In 2011, Mariabecame the superintendent of 123 SESAME STREET.
Candy store operator Mr. Hooper was a mainstay at Hooper’s Store during the show’s 1st decade. Actor Will Lee died in 1982 & when the producers opted to help their young viewers deal with the death of someone they loved rather than cast a new actor in the role, the character’s death was discussed in a landmark 1983 episode. Afterwards, Mr. Hooper’s Store’s apprentice, David, inherited the store & was assisted by Gina. Next came Mr. Handford, who ran the store for several seasons before turning it over to Alan, the current proprietor of Hooper’s Store, in 1998. Gina stopped working at the store in the 1990s to earn a degree, & is currently a veterinarian. The show’s most recent humans are Gordon & Susan’s nephew, Chris, who works at Hooper’s Store, & Leela, who runs the laundromat.
In addition to the street scenes & the Muppet segments which would eventually dominate the show, SESAME STREET has made considerable use of film inserts subcontracted to a variety of filmmakers & artists. These inserts have used a variety of techniques, from filmed skits & documentary footage to cel animation, stop-motion, CG, & pixillation.
Some of the innumerable contributors have included William Wegman (with Fay Ray & his other dogs), Bud Luckey, Jeff Hale & his Imagination Inc. studio, Sally Cruikshank, Bruce Cayard & Pixar, as well as staffers such as Mo Willems, JIM HENSON, FRANK OZ & DAVID RUDMAN. Notable recurring inserts, which became as much a part of the show’s fabric as the Muppets & human cast, include the Mad Painter, "Pinball Number COUNT," the Number Song Series with its falling baker, & Teeny Little Super Guy, to name a few.
Short Form SeriesEdit
After the format changed in 2002, the show has had a number of short form series which air as segments of the show but internationally air as their own separate series. On the show itself, these air on either a daily basis or in every other show. Such series include Elmo’s World, BERT & ERNIE’s Great Adventures, COOKIE’s Crumby Pictures, Abby’s Flying Fairy School, Super Grover 2.0, Elmo the Musical, & Smart Cookies.
Regional variations of the showEdit
SESAME STREET has maintained a rigorous research standard since its foundation, to ensure that the programming is addressing the needs of its viewers. The Education & Research (E&R) department of SESAME Workshop is currently headed by ROSEMARIE T. Truglio, Ph.D. & Jeanette Betancourt. Truglio states that the level of interaction between E&R, Content, & Production is "intimately hand-in-hand. They are not creating anything without our knowledge, our guidance & our review. We are involved in content development across all media platforms." This close-knit organizational structure has been an integral part of SESAME Workshop since it began.
Writers create plots for SESAME STREET scenes & segments, & the content is reviewed by the E&R team. They have authority to reject a script & force rewrites if the content is not acceptable. When a script is factually correct, but includes gray areas that may not be comprehensible to children, the writers & E&R work together to tweak everything. "A balance between content & humor" is always maintained, according to Truglio.
Healthy Habits for LifeEdit
In 2005, SESAME STREET launched its Healthy Habits for Life programming, to encourage young viewers to lead more active & nutritious lifestyles. A major catalyst for this was data published by the US Centers for Disease Control regarding obesity in children.
Health content has existed on SESAME STREET for years, but to a limited extent. In 1 instance press kits for a project were made available, news wires latched onto the story, & literally hundreds of newspapers touted that COOKIE MONSTERwas "going on a diet". In actuality there was no change to COOKIE MONSTER’s character. The new season featured a new segment with rapper Wyclef Jean singing the praises of fruits & vegetables, similar to the 1990s segment "Healthy Food", with a rapping COOKIE MONSTER backed by a healthy food chorus.
According to people from SESAME Workshop, "Health has always been a part of our SESAME STREET curriculum, therefore we will always be committed to ensuring kids are given information & messages that will help them become healthy & happy in their development. For season 36, we have turned up the dial in health, but it will always be part of our curriculum".
The Workshop formed an Advisory Board consisting of experts like Woodie Kessel, M.D., M.P.H., the Assistant Surgeon General of the United States. This board examines the research of other organizations, & also conducts pilot studies to determine which areas of research should be expanded, based on social, ethnic & socio-economic sections of the population.
SESAME STREET is known for its extensive merchandising, which includes many books, magazines, video/audio media, toys, & the "Tickle ME ELMO" craze.
Its fiction books, published primarily by Random House, always display a notice stating that money received from the sale of the publications is used to fund SESAME Workshop, & often mention that children do not have to watch the show to benefit from its publications.
Creative Wonders (a partnership between ABC & Electronic Arts) produced SESAME STREET software for the PC.
Alam Simsim, Plaza SÉSAMO, Rechov Sumsum, SESAME, Sesamstrasse, Sesamstraat, Barrio SÉSAMO, 1, Rue SÉSAMO, 5, 1, Rue SÉSAME, Zhima Jie, Sesam Stasjon, SESAME STREET Japan, Sisimpur, Takalani SESAME, Ulitsa Sezam, & Vila SÉSAMO have all had merchandise of their local characters. Shalom SESAME videos & books have also been released.
Movies & SpecialsEdit
TV specials & TV moviesEdit
Some educators criticized the show when it debuted, claiming that its format would contribute to shortening children’s attention spans. This concern still exists today, although there is no conclusive proof of this being the case, even after more than 40 years of televised shows.
In a letter to the Boston Globe, Boston University professor of education Frank Garfunkel commented, "If what people want is for their children to memorize numbers & letters without regard to their meaning or use -- without regard to the differences between children, then SESAME STREET is truly responsive. To give a child thirty seconds of 1 thing & then to switch it & give him thirty seconds of another is to nurture irrelevance."
Even with its attempts to help the underprivileged, the series received criticism. Educator Sister Mary Mel O'Dowd worried that the show might start to replace "personalized experiences". "If SESAME STREET is the only thing ghetto kids have, I don’t think it’s going to do much good. It never hurts a child to be able to count to ten or recognize the letters of the alphabet. But without the guidance of a teacher, he’ll be like 1 of our preschoolers who was able to write "CAUTION" on the blackboard after seeing it on the back of so many buses, & told me 'That says STOP.'"
- Some notable rumors about SESAME STREET over the decades include Bert & Ernie’s relationship, the dubious claim that they were named after characters in It’s a Wonderful Life, the death of ERNIE by cancer, the introduction of a Muppet with AIDS, Cookie Monster becoming the Veggie Monster, & Elmo toys corrupting children. See also: Category:Rumors
- The SESAME STREET theme song is "(Can you tell me how to get, how to get to) SESAME STREET". Harmonica legend Toots Thielemans plays the song as a solo in some versions of the sequence.
- Although RUBBER DUCKIES existed before SESAME STREET, their pop culture icon status was mostly spurred on by Ernie’s RUBBER DUCKIE song, & subsequent appearances of Ernie’s bath toy.
- SESAME STREET made TV Guide’s list of the 50 greatest all-time shows, ranking at number 27. Other shows that made the list was The Cosby Show, Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In, The Simpsons, Saturday Night Live & Seinfeld (which ranked number 1 on the list).
- SESAME STREET made Channel 4’s list of the 100 greatest kids’ all-time shows, ranking at number 30.
- Lesser, Gerald S. Children & Television: Lessons from SESAME STREET. New York: Random House, 1974.
- Morrow, Robert W. SESAME STREET & the Reform of Children’s Television. Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 2006.
- ↑ http://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/14/business/media/sesame-street-heading-to-hbo-in-fall.html?_r=0
- ↑ The Boston Globe "New character joins PBS" by Joanna Weiss, 10/19/05
- ↑ SESAME Workshop press kit
- ↑ Channel 4.com - 100 greatest kids’ TV Shows
- SESAME Workshop’s official site
- SESAME STREET on the Muppet Wiki
- SESAME STREET on the OSCAR THE GROUCH Wiki
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