The History of Sesame Street

It is a television program that has educated and entertained generations of children. Conceived by Joan Cooney and Llyod Morriset in the mid 1960s, it was pitched as an experiment to test the usefulness of TV technology as an educational tool. Debuting in 1969, the show’s earliest episodes differed greatly from the show we know and love today. Originally centered on dramatizing the inner thoughts of children, its real-life cast quickly came to be overshadowed by the use of Jim Henson's Muppets, and its various animated segments that stressed the learning of letters and numbers. Broadcast in over 120 countries, with more than 20 international versions, and several spin-offs, it continues to educate and entertain children across the globe today. In this video, WatchMojo.com takes a look back at the History of Sesame Street.
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The History of Sesame Street


It is a program that has educated and entertained generations of children. Welcome to WatchMojo.com and today we’ll be taking a look at the history of Sesame Street.

Originally conceived of as a program called “Television for Preschool Children”, it went on to not only pioneer TV-based educational programming, but continues to set the standards decades after its debut.

Conceived by Joan Cooney and Llyod Morriset in the mid 1960s, it was quickly pitched as an experiment to test the usefulness of TV technology as an educational tool. As a result, it easily found funding from several government agencies and foundations.

Debuting in 1969, the show’s earliest episodes differed greatly from the show we know and love today.

In the early days, its premise was centered on dramatizing the inner thoughts of child actors. This was supplemented with Sesame Street’s original cast of supporting characters. These included Bob, Mr. Hooper, Gordon and Susan.

To maintain a sense of realism for the young viewers, the Muppets, crafted by Jim Henson, were kept within their own personalized segments. This meant that characters such as Bert and Ernie would never leave their basement apartment.

Separating these scenes were various animated segments that stressed the quick and catchy learning of letters and numbers. In fact, the show adopted the methodology of advertising commercials. Advertising had such a profound influence that entire segments and episodes that they were said to have been brought to its viewers by a particular letter or number.

As it soon became apparent with test groups, children were only interested in the animation and Muppets segments. This was due to the human characters engaging in tedious dialog scenes. As a result, the show eventually decided to combine its reality and fantasy elements. Because of this, characters like Oscar the Grouch and Big Bird became permanent street residents, and would regularly interact with the multicultural human cast.

However, due to casting black and Hispanic actors, the show became banned in several American states, including Mississippi.

Overcoming this, the show went on to do more than simply teaching kids the basics of language and numbers. It went on to address children’s concerns, fears and interests, all while preaching cultural tolerance.

Branching into merchandising, the show spawned its own franchise of books, audiotapes, videos and toys. These included the wildly popular “Tickle Me Elmo” doll, which became a consumer hit and cultural phenomenon.

Further transcending its television roots, it received its own feature-length films. These included 1985s “Follow That Bird” and 1999’s “The Adventures of Elmo in Grouchland.”

Today, Sesame Street continues to be one of the most popular children’s shows on the air, despite having a wide range of competitors. It has achieved this by staying current with culture, while continuing to feature countless guest appearances by various celebrities.

Of course, Sesame Street’s involvement with popular culture has also brought it several high profile scandals and rumors. A few examples include the censoring of Katy Perry’s guest appearance, the true relationship between roommates Bert and Ernie, and Cookie Monster’s transformation into the Veggie Monster.

In its many decades on the air, Sesame Street has been broadcast across 120 countries, spawned more than 20 international versions, and garnered countless spin-offs. Moreover, Sesame Street has been recognized with dozens of Emmy Awards for its focus on innovation and its efforts to continue motivating children across the globe to embrace the act of learning.
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