On November 10, 1969, “Sesame Street,” a pioneering TV show that would teach generations of young children the alphabet and how to count, makes its broadcast debut. “Sesame Street,” with its memorable theme song (“Can you tell me how to get/How to get to Sesame Street”), went on to become the most widely viewed children’s program in the world. It has aired in more than 120 countries.

Sesame Street, Season 1 1969-1970

Sesame Street, Season 1 1969-1970

The show was the brainchild of Joan Ganz Cooney, a former documentary producer for public television. Cooney’s goal was to create programming for preschoolers that was both entertaining and educational. She also wanted to use TV as a way to help underprivileged 3- to 5- year-olds prepare for kindergarten. “Sesame Street” was set in a fictional New York neighborhood and included ethnically diverse characters and positive social messages.

Joan Ganz Cooney and some familiar friends.

Joan Ganz Cooney and some familiar friends.

Taking a cue from “Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In,” a popular 1960s variety show, “Sesame Street” was built around short, often funny segments featuring puppets, animation and live actors. This format was hugely successful, although over the years some critics have blamed the show and its use of brief segments for shrinking children’s attention spans.

From the show’s inception, one of its most-loved aspects has been a family of puppets known as Muppets. Joan Ganz Cooney hired puppeteer Jim Henson (1936-1990) to create a cast of characters that became Sesame Street institutions, including Bert and Ernie, Cookie Monster, Oscar the Grouch, Grover and Big Bird.

Jim Henson and his famous Muppets

Jim Henson and his famous Muppets

The subjects tackled by “Sesame Street” have evolved with the times. In 2002, the South African version of the program, “Takalani Sesame,” introduced a 5-year-old Muppet character named Kami who is HIV-positive, in order to help children living with the stigma of a disease that has reached epidemic proportions. In 2006, a new Muppet, Abby Cadabby, made her debut and was positioned as the show’s first female star character, in an effort to encourage diversity and provide a strong role model for girls.  Since its inception, over 74 million Americans have watched “Sesame Street.” Today, an estimated 8 million people tune in to the show each week in the U.S. alone.

Born in the early 1960s, I was approaching school age when Sesame Street debuted.  I remember watching the show and remember the numbering of episodes.  I can’t say that I remember watching the first episode, but here is a synopsis:

In the first episode of Sesame Street, Gordon takes a girl named Sally on a tour of Sesame Street, introducing her (and the viewers) to the various characters on the show. On the street, Sally meets the human cast — Gordon, Susan, Bob and Mr. Hooper — as well as two Muppet characters, Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch.

Gordon, Sally and Big Bird

Gordon, Sally and Big Bird

Ernie and Bert appear for the first time, and Kermit the Frog gives a lecture on the letter W, interrupted by an early version of Cookie Monster.

Ernie and Bert

Ernie and Bert

Kermit The Frog and the Letter W

Kermit The Frog and the Letter W

Also featured in this episode are the first installments of the “Number Song Series” and “Jazz” cartoons, the first appearance of a group of Anything Muppets, and the first performance of “One of These Things”. Carol Burnett is the first celebrity guest to appear on the show.

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NaBloPoMo November 2013

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7 responses

  1. Ann Koplow says:

    Great post! I love Sesame Street. AND another appearance by the wonderful Carol Burnett!

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  2. […] I was on a roll with my other post today about Sesame Street […]

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  3. Cassie says:

    Now that takes me back to childhood. Thanks for the great time capsule. 🙂

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  4. Emily says:

    I still love Sesame Street. I get “classic” Sesame on Netflix and enjoy sharing it with my children as well. Great post.

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