Quantcast
Connect with us

Sesame Street still going strong after 50 years

Published

on

Generations of children around the world have grown up learning their ABCs and 123s from the lovable muppets on “Sesame Street,” and as the pioneering television program turns 50, it’s as popular as ever.

It’s also about to earn one of America’s top cultural awards, to go along with a pile of nearly 200 Emmys — at a gala in Washington on Sunday, it will be the first TV show to earn the Kennedy Center Honors.

ADVERTISEMENT

Since its debut in November 1969 on American public television, the famous address has taken on many forms, in more than 150 countries.

In Afghanistan, it’s “Baghch-e-Simsim.” In Latin America, it’s “Plaza Sesamo.” And in Arabic-speaking countries, it’s “Iftah Ya Simsim.”

But the message — one that an estimated 86 million American children alone have watched and absorbed — is the same: the importance of education, inclusiveness, acceptance and kindness.

It just happens to be delivered by a cast of colorful characters from Bert and Ernie to Big Bird, Elmo and Oscar the Grouch.

They mingle with children — and a massive rotating cast of celebrity guest stars — to teach children the basics in a captivating mix of live action, songs, puppetry and laughter.

ADVERTISEMENT

“They figured out that if in 30 seconds you could sell toothpaste and soft drinks, why couldn’t you sell how to count, ABCs, decent social manners and behavior?” Robert Thompson, a professor of pop culture at Syracuse University, told AFP.

– Winning formula –

“Sesame Street” was the brainchild of Joan Ganz Cooney and Lloyd Morrisett, who co-founded the nonprofit Children’s Television Workshop (now known as Sesame Workshop) in 1968.

ADVERTISEMENT

The following year, the show launched — and just a few years later, was already an American icon.

The pair will accept the Kennedy Center Honors award on behalf of the program, which also featured the artistry of the late Muppets creator Jim Henson.

ADVERTISEMENT

“Yes, it was entertaining. But it really did try to teach a series of substantial pieces of curriculum. There were lessons taught on Sesame Street,” Thompson said.

“It was often like school — very entertaining school, but school nevertheless.”

And as the show was carried on public television network PBS, the series was able to reach children from all backgrounds — contributing to its overwhelming popularity.

ADVERTISEMENT

“Sesame Street really aimed at a demographic, a target audience that didn’t necessarily have the luxury of other kinds of curriculum,” Thompson noted.

“There were immigrants, Spanish speakers and people of color on ‘Sesame Street’,” he added — a welcome haven of diversity, even in 1970s America.

– Going global –

The show about what Thompson calls a “naively good and happly place” slowly gathered steam, and gradually was exported around the world, with countries offering their unique spins.

ADVERTISEMENT

In the 1980s, as he presented a cultural exchange program with the then Soviet Union, US president Ronald Reagan went so far as to express the hope that young Soviets would watch “Sesame Street.”

In South Africa, the show featured an HIV-positive character. In Afghanistan, the female character Zari promoted gender equality. In Ethiopia, Tsehai the giraffe spoke in Amharic about deforestation.

In the United States, “Sesame Street” has featured everyone from first ladies to actors, to pop stars to sports icons to United Nations leaders.

Michelle Obama appeared to promote her campaign against obesity. Hillary Clinton appeared to discuss health tips. NBA legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar talked with Big Bird about subtraction.

ADVERTISEMENT

“For 50 years, the cozy little neighborhood has taught us much more than numbers and words,” Abdul-Jabbar wrote in a column for The Hollywood Reporter earlier this year.

“While we can count on Count von Count to give us the good word on numbers, the other characters preach the gospel of compassion, kindness and fairness.”

Beyond the nostalgia factor for Generation X parents who grew up watching the show, its evergreen success comes from its ability to adapt, taking on issues as they come.

Cookie Monster has embraced healthier eating habits. Oscar the Grouch no longer lives in a garbage bag, but in a recycling bin. This year, the US show welcomed Karli, a Muppet foster child.

So how long can the show run? Sesame Workshop now produces the show in partnership with premium cable network HBO, though content is still available on PBS with a short delay.

ADVERTISEMENT

Will its streaming home on HBO Max be enough in the era of YouTube?

For Thompson, “those kind of values are never going to go out of style.”


Report typos and corrections to: [email protected].
READ COMMENTS - JOIN THE DISCUSSION
Continue Reading

Breaking Banner

Genocide expert breaks down how all of the ‘warning signs’ are present in Trump’s America

Published

on

Defense research scientist and genocide expert Brynn Tannehill laid out a terrifying warning on Thursday about President Donald Trump's administration.

As the United States Senate conducted an impeachment trial for the commander-in-chief, Tannehill posted an extended Twitter thread examining the situation in America from her perspective as a researcher studying the conditions that lead to genocide.

Here is what she wrote:

I study genocide. It's been a theme in my academic endeavours for nearly 30 years. More accurately, I study the conditions in the lead up to genocide, be they cultural, social, political, economic, etc... 1/n

Continue Reading

Breaking Banner

Year of Rat hails easy ride for Donald Trump — but bumps for Harry and Meghan

Published

on

As the world prepares to welcome the Year of the Rat, feng shui masters predict a lucky year for Donald Trump, but warn Harry and Meghan's futures are less certain as they make a bid for freedom.

Both the US President and the Sussexes have begun 2020 with a bang.

The former is facing down an impeachment trial -- and seeking re-election in November -- while the latter are beginning a new chapter in Canada after consciously uncoupling from the gilded but pressured career of being a working British royal.

But if experts in the field of Chinese horoscopes are to be believed, it is the US president that will have the easier journey this year.

Continue Reading
 

Breaking Banner

John Roberts caused a ‘crisis of democratic legitimacy’ — it’s ‘entirely fitting’ he has to preside over his mess: columnist

Published

on

Supreme Court Justice John Roberts was blasted in The Washington Post on Thursday for his culpability in creating the dynamics that resulted in President Donald Trump -- and his impeachment.

"There is justice in John Roberts being forced to preside silently over the impeachment trial of President Trump, hour after hour, day after tedious day," Dana Milbank wrote. "Roberts’s captivity is entirely fitting: He is forced to witness, with his own eyes, the mess he and his colleagues on the Supreme Court have made of the U.S. political system. As representatives of all three branches of government attend this unhappy family reunion, the living consequences of the Roberts Court’s decisions, and their corrosive effect on democracy, are plain to see."

Continue Reading
 
 
Help Raw Story Uncover Injustice. Join Raw Story Investigates for $1 and go ad-free.
close-image