to an American icon. The first episode of Sesame Street aired today in 1969.
A man landed on the moon; a little weekend music festival mushroomed into Woodstock. And a big yellow bird and his fuzzy friends took up residence on a street where the air is always sweet and the sky is always sunny.
The year 1969 was a busy one for big events, and 40 years later, lots of anniversaries are popping up at the intersection of history and pop culture. But when it comes to stirring whirlwinds of memories and before-and-after reflections, the debut of Sesame Street is at the top of the list.
As proof of that status, take this simple test: Try to imagine a world without Muppets.
“I think it’s all but impossible to do, but even if you can, what a sadder and drearier world that would have to be,” says Michael Davis, author of the best-selling Street Gang: The Complete History of Sesame Street.
“It’s not just an iconic piece of a past magical time; it’s still standing, growing, evolving. Here’s a show on a medium where things often don’t last 40 minutes, and it’s lasted 40 years and is still going strong.”
Amazingly episode 4187 airs today.
When episode 4,187 airs Tuesday (the official anniversary date), Sesame Street will be a show broadcast in 140 countries around the world and averaging 5 million viewers a week in the U.S. It holds the record for most Emmy Awards given to a single show with 122. But numbers don’t really tell the story. Plenty of children’s shows regularly score higher ratings than Sesame Street.
“If you see the other stuff, it reminds you of how great Sesame Street is just because they’ve been going for so long and they turn out a very high-quality product,” says Michael O’Malley. The 40-year-old Rowlett native grew up watching Sesame Street and continues to watch with his children.
All that “other stuff” is just another sign of Sesame Street ‘s success.
In short Sesame Street is the gold standard when it comes to children’s programming.
Sesame Street recognized the power of the relatively new medium of television as a learning tool, with teachers and education researchers helping to create strategies for its on-air content.
“It’s still the gold standard in children’s television for its use of research and work with real children,” says Dr. Cynthia Schiebe, a New York-based developmental psychologist who specializes in media literacy. Henson and company made perhaps their most important breakthrough by making Sesame Street fun and smart, allowing all the lessons to flow from that.
It’s always been good entertainment first and good-for-you entertainment second, whether it was Bert and Ernie as an odd-couple comedy team, the Count as a silly-scary sophisticate or celebrities singing about this letter or rhapsodizing about that number. That 40-year procession of celebrities forms an encyclopedic timeline of pop culture fads and phases, from Carol Channing and Itzhak Perlman to Natalie Portman and Jack Black.
Michelle Obama adds her name to the list of first ladies visiting Sesame Street that began with Barbara Bush and continued with Hillary Rodham Clinton and Laura Bush. The current first lady visits in Tuesday’s episode to help the Muppets with a vegetable garden. Decades after Muppet star Kermit the Frog first sang about the difficulties of “being green,” this season will focus on nature and the environment. (Source: After 40 years, ‘Sesame Street’ still stands out – Dallas Morning News)
Here’s the “original” opening:
Here’s the 40th season opening:
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