Sesame Street

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File:70sesame.jpg
The United States Postal Service considered the show one of the 1970s' greatest influences on culture; the show was thus honored with a millennium series stamp of Big Bird.
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From A Celebration of Me, Grover, showing much of the main cast of Sesame Street. Left to right, a penguin, Elmo, Zoe, Big Bird, Grover, Bert, Ernie, Cookie Monster.

Sesame Street is an educational television program designed for preschoolers, and is recognized as a pioneer of the contemporary standard which combines education and entertainment in children's television shows. Sesame Street is well known for the inclusion of the Muppet characters created by the legendary puppeteer Jim Henson. More than 4,000 episodes of the show have been produced in 36 seasons, which distinguishes it as one of the longest-running shows in television history.

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, and later that year it was moved to NET's successor, the Public Broadcasting Service.

Because of its positive influence, Sesame Street has earned the distinction of being the foremost and most highly regarded educator of young people in the world. [1] No television series can claim as high a level of recognition and success on the international stage. The original series has been televised in 120 countries, and more than 20 international versions have been produced. In its long and illustrious history, Sesame Street has received more Emmy Awards than any other program, and has captured the allegiance, esteem, and affections of millions of viewers worldwide.

Overview

Sesame Street uses a combination of puppets, animation, and live actors to teach young children the fundamentals of reading (letter and word recognition), arithmetic (numbers, addition and subtraction), colors, and the concept of time (clocks and days of the week). Included are segments which focus on basic life skills, such as how to cross the road safely and the importance of proper hygiene and healthy eating habits. Skits and segments are sometimes parodies of popular or well-known television productions.

There is also a subtle sense of humor on the show that has appealed to older viewers since it first premiered. A number of spoofs and parodies of popular culture appear, especially ones aimed at the Public Broadcasting Service, the network that hosts the show. For example, during the "Me Claudius" segment, the children viewing the show might enjoy watching Cookie Monster and the Muppets, while adults watching the same sequence may enjoy the spoof of the Masterpiece Theatre production of I, Claudius; this series of segments is known as "Monsterpiece Theater."

Several of the characters on the program were conceived to attract an older audience, such as the characters Flo Bear (Flaubert), Sherlock Hemlock (a Sherlock Holmes parody), and H. Ross Parrot (based on Reform Party founder Ross Perot). Well over two hundred notable personalities, from celebrities like James Brown to political figures such as Kofi Annan, have made guest appearances on the show. Wikipedia's list includes 179 different individual/group appearances, and does not include multiple appearances. The inclusion of sophisticated humor is purposely intended to encourage parents to watch with their children. By making the show something that not only educates and entertains kids, but also keeps parents entertained and involved in the educational process, the producers hope that more discussion about the concepts on the show will occur.

History of the show

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Fat Blue (left) with Grover, in A Celebration of Me, Grover. Over the course of the show, many hundreds of Muppet skits have been accumilated, allowing the Workshop to release full-length collections of skits, like the aforementioned.
Main article: History of Sesame Street

The show's original format called for the humans to be shown in plots on the street, intermixed with the segments of animation, live-action shorts and Muppets. These segments were created to be like commercials—quick, catchy and memorable—and made the learning experience much more like fun. The format became a model for what is known today as edutainment-based programs.

CTW aired the program for test groups to determine if the revolutionary new format was likely to succeed. Results showed that test watchers were entranced when the ad-like segments aired, especially those with the jovial puppets, but were remarkably less interested in the street scenes. It was a quick and easy choice for the producers to add Muppets to the street scenes, although psychologists had warned against a mixture of fantasy and reality elements. A simple dose of cartoon-like characters let the humans deliver messages without causing such viewer uninterest.

Sesame Street, along with several other Sesame Workshop–produced shows (such as The Electric Company, produced when the company was still CTW) are all taped in New York City. Originally they were taped at the Teletape Studios at 81st and Broadway in Manhattan, but the bankruptcy of Teletape's parent company, Reeves Entertainment, forced these productions to move and they remain to this day at the Kaufman Astoria Studios in neighboring Queens.

The brownstone architecture of Sesame Street, as well as the concept of neighbors from different backgrounds living in the same area, sharing their life experiences, is based on a neighborhood in Brooklyn called Brooklyn Heights, where the creators lived when they first started the show.

Broadcast history

The show is broadcast worldwide; in addition to the U.S. version, many countries have locally produced versions adapted to local needs, some with their own characters, and in a variety of different languages. Broadcasts in Australia began in 1971. In Canada, beginning in 1970, 15-minute shows called Canada's Sesame Street were broadcast, and by 1972 an edited version of the one-hour American program was airing featuring specially filmed Canadian segments. In 1995, the American version was replaced by a half-hour, all-Canadian version of the series entitled Sesame Park. Since the original Sesame Street was still accessible to Canadians, and more familiar, the format change didn't interest with audiences, and was cancelled in 2002. One hundred and twenty countries have aired the show, many of which partnered with Sesame Workshop to create local versions.

In recent years, Sesame Street has made what area educators consider to be critical advances in its international versions. In the late 1990s, versions popped up in China and 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 "classics" show Sesame Street Unpaved, and the segment-only series Open Sesame. Elmo's World and Global Grover, both segments on Sesame Street, have been distributed as individual series.

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Bob singing "People in Your Neighborhood" with Ralph Nader in the 1980s. Since then, Nader has been vocally critical of some of PBS' funders for Sesame Street, particularly McDonald's and LaserQuest.

Funding for season 35 of Sesame Street is provided by the Ready To Learn The No Child Left Behind Act and the U.S. Department of Education, The Public Broadcasting Service, Chuck E. Cheese's, and McDonald's. Major funding for Sesame Street is provided by The Corporation for Public Broadcasting and by contributions to your PBS station from "Viewers Like You."

Ratings

As a result of its success in revolutionizing the standards of children's television, Sesame Street has 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.

This places Sesame at 8th place in the overall kids' charts, as of 2002. It is actually the second most-watched children's television series for mothers aged 18–49 who have children under the age of 3.

A format change has recently helped the show's ratings, boosting them up 31% in February 2002 among children aged 2 to 5, in comparison to its ratings in 2001.

Characters

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Rosita poses.


Main article: List of Sesame Street characters
See also: Characters that are Exclusive to books or movies, Grouches, Monsters, celebrities, from international versions. Also Characters ordered by date of debut, Characters ordered by last known appearance

Sesame Street is known for its multicultural element and is inclusive in its casting, incorporating roles for disabled people, young people, senior citizens, Hispanic actors, Black actors, and others. While some of the puppets look like people, others are animal or "monster" puppets of different sizes and colors. This encourages children to believe that people come in all different shapes, sizes, and colors, and that no particular physical "type" is any better than another.

Tying in with its multiculturalist perspective, the show pioneered the idea of occasionally inserting very basic Spanish words and phrases to acquaint young children to the notion of a foreign language, doing so almost three decades before Dora the Explorer debuted on Nickelodeon. Perhaps in response to the popularity of Dora, the recently revamped format gives Rosita, the bilingual muppet who "immigrated" in 1993 from the Mexican version of the show, more time in front of viewers, and also introduced the more formalized "Spanish Word of the Day" in every episode.

Each of the puppet characters has been designed to represent a specific stage or element of early childhood, and 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, and interests of children of different age levels.

The Muppets

Big Bird, an eight-foot-tall yellow canary, lives in a large nest on an abandoned lot near 123 Sesame Street, located behind the building's garbage heap. A regular visitor to Big Bird is Aloysius Snuffleupagus, known simply as Snuffy. Oscar the Grouch and his pet worm Slimey live in a garbage can in the heap. Friends Ernie and Bert room together at the apartment of 123 Sesame Street, where they regularly engage in comedic banter. Ernie's flowerbox was once a hotspot for Twiddlebugs, a colorful family of insects.

The Bear family of Goldilocks and the Three Bears resides in Sesame Street. The Jewish family headed by Papa Bear and Mama Bear welcomed Curly Bear, a second child. Baby Bear meanwhile is a good friend with monsters Telly, Zoe, Mexico-born Rosita and Elmo. Elmo has his own segment near the end of each episode, in which viewers explore topics in Elmo's World, an imaginary version of his house.

Grover's regular segment, Global Grover, follows the self-described "cute, furry monster" around the world, exploring local cultures and traditions. Cookie Monster fights with his conscience daily during Letter of the Day, as he tries to control his urges to eat the letters, shown as icing on cookies. Prairie Dawn often attempts to help Cookie refrain from eating the letters, but always leaves frazzled. Count von Count has fewer problems during the Number of the Day segment, where he indulges in counting until the mystery number is revealed by his pipe organ.

Humphrey and Ingrid ran The Furry Arms with baby Natasha in tow, while bellhop Benny Rabbit begrudgingly helped out.

Kermit the Frog hosted the segment Sesame Street News Flash. The Two-Headed Monster sounded out words coming together, and the Yip-Yip aliens discovered telephones and typewriters. For two seasons, Googel, Narf, Mel and Phoebe hung out in the Monster's Clubhouse.

Incidental characters include television personality Guy Smiley, construction workers Sully and Biff, the large Herry Monster (who does not know his own strength), and The Big Bad Wolf, who is not a terror to the Street. Forgetful Jones, a cowboy with a short-term memory disorder, rode his trusty Buster the Horse with his girlfriend Clementine, and Rodeo Rosie was an early cowgirl.

The humans

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Gabby, Elmo, and some kids sing the Kitten-Bird-Cow song, in front of 123 Sesame Street.
Main article: Human characters on Sesame Street

A slate of human regulars pull the zaniness of the Muppets back to reality. They were not always meant to serve this purpose. The show lost test viewers' attention during the Street Scenes, meaning Muppets needed to be added, like sugar into medicine.

Music teacher Bob has been on Sesame Street since its inception. He dated Linda the local New York Library librarian, who was the first regular deaf character on television. Linda owns Barkley, a Muppet dog. The Robinsons are an African-American family that includes schoolteacher Gordon, nurse Susan, and adopted son Miles. The Puerto Rican Rodriguezes include Maria and Luis, who ran the Fix-It Shop, which was turned into the Mail-It Shop; Maria gave birth to daughter Gabby in the 1980s, and her pregnancy was covered on the show.

Candy store operator Harold Hooper was a mainstay, at Mr. Hooper's Store. Actor Will Lee died in 1982, and 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, Hooper's apprentice David took over, followed by later owners Gina, Mr. Handford, and Alan. Gina stopped running the store in the 1990s, to earn a PhD and became a veterinarian.

The Noodles on Elmo's World are meant to provide a vaudevillian perspective on subjects, contrary to most of the show's human characters.

Famous guest stars and various children from New York schools and day-care centers are a constantly changing part of the cast.

Regional variations of the show

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Basil the Bear from Canada's Sesame Park, in a knight's armour.

Some countries have actually created their own completely unique versions of Sesame Street, in which the characters and segments represent their country's cultures. Other countries simply air a dubbed version of Sesame Street, or a dubbed version of Open Sesame. Among various other countries, the UK simply broadcast the American show, on Channel 4.

Locally produced adaptations of Sesame Street, include:

Other countries include Greece (on ERT, later on a private network), Poland and Mexico. In 2004, one Japanese network cancelled the dubbed American Sesame, while another created a local version. Sesame Street was discontinued recently in Britain.

See also: List of characters from international versions of Sesame Street

Research

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Sesame Street was one of the first kids television series devoted to promoting the arts. The art of Keith Haring, filmmaking of William Wegman and his Weimaraner dogs, Big Bird conducting the Boston Pops, or simply Telly Monster playing a triangle.

Sesame Street has maintained a rigourous research standard since its foundation, to ensure that the programming is addressing the needs of its viewers. The Education and Research (E&R) department of Sesame Workshop is currently headed by Rosemarie T. Truglio, Ph.D. and Jeanette Betancourt, Ed.D.. Truglio states that the level of interaction between E&R, Content, and Production is "[i]ntimately·hand-in-hand. They are not creating anything without our knowledge, our guidance and 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 and segments, and the content is reviewed by the E&R team. They have authority to reject a script and 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 and E&R work together to tweak everything. "A balance between content and humor"[2] is always maintained, according to Truglio.

Since 1988 Sesame Workshop has provided great volumes of content on its website [3] and others such as Random House [4]. Content ranges from birth to school-age, and includes information on dozens of topics, such as appropriate parenting techniques, dealing with children's fears, development of literacy, and maintenance a good health.

Research is funded by government grants, corporate and private donations (including, recently, The Prudential Foundation for the Sesame Beginnings program), and the profits gained from the sale of Sesame Workshop merchandise.

Healthy Habits for Life

In 2005, Sesame Street launched its Healthy Habits for Life programming, to encourage young viewers to lead more active and 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 one instance press kits for a project were made available, news wires latched onto the story, and literally hundreds of newspapers touted that Cookie Monster was "going on a diet". In actuality there was no change to Cookie's character. The new season featured a new segment with rapper Wyclef Jean singing the praises of fruits and vegetables, similar to segments in the 1990s which featured Cookie doing nearly the same.

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 and messages that will help them become healthy and 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, and also conducts pilot studies to determine which areas of research should be expanded, based on social, ethnic and socio-economic sections of the population.

Elmo's effect on the series

See Elmo

Merchandising

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The cover of the book Brought to You by . . . Sesame Street #1! shows several of Sesame Street's muppet characters.

Sesame Street is known for its extensive merchandising, which includes many books, magazines, video/audio media, toys, and 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, and often mention that children do not have to watch the show to benefit from its publications.

Today there is a live touring show, Sesame Street Live, which has toured since 1980. There is also the Sesame Place theme park in Langhorne, Pennsylvania, near Philadelphia (USA), and a Plaza Sésamo theme park in Monterrey, Nuevo Leon, Mexico. In addition, there is a three-dimensional movie based on the show, at Universal Studios Japan.

Current licensors include Nakajima USA, Build-A-Bear Workshop (Build-An-Elmo), Hasbro (Sesame Street Monopoly), Wooly Willy, and Children’s Apparel Network. For Sesamstaat, Rubotoys is a licensor since February 2005. In recent years adults have been encouraged to remember their childhood through retro-targetted products, like action figures from Palisades. Figures include (order of release) Super Grover, Ernie, Guy Smiley, Oscar the Grouch, and the Two-Headed Monster.

The Sesame Beginnings line, launched in mid-2005, consists of apparel, health and body, home, and seasonal products. The line is targeted towards infants and their parents, and products are designed to increase interactivity. Most of the line is exclusive to a family of Canadian retailers that includes Loblaws, Fortinos, and Zehrs.[5]

Creative Wonders (a partnership between ABC and Electronic Arts) produced Sesame Street software for the PC.

Internationally

Plaza Sésamo, Sesamstraße, and Sesamstraat have all had merchandise of their local characters. Shalom Sesame videos and books have also been released.

In 2004, Copyright Promotions Licensing Group (CPLG) became Sesame Workshop's licensing representative for The Benelux.

Movies, videos, and specials

This list is incomplete, but highlights the most important specials.

Television specials and telefilms

Feature films

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Follow that Bird feature film DVD cover.
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The Street We Live On DVD cover depicts (counter-clockwise from left) Elmo, Zoe, Grover, and Ernie.

Videos

During the 1980s videos were distributed by Random House. Since the early 1990s their tapes (and now DVDs) have been distributed by Sony Wonder, as has their music. Many of the TV specials have been released on tape and/or DVD.

Criticism

Some educators criticized the show when it debuted, feeling that it would only worsen children's attention spans. This concern still exists today, although there is no conclusive proof of this being the case, even after more than 35 seasons 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 and 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 one thing and then to switch it and give him thirty seconds of another is to nurture irrelevance."[6]

In the magazine Childhood Education, Minnie P. Berson of State University College at Fredonia asked "Why debase the art form of teaching with phony pedagogy, vulgar sideshows, bad acting, and layers of smoke and fog to clog the eager minds of small children?" The "vulgar sideshows" have since won a record 101 Emmys, suggesting a measure of disagreement from the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences.[7]

For an animation on the letter "J", the writers included "a day in jail" at a time when words beginning with "J" were sparse. This drew criticism from San Francisco Chronicle columnist Terrence O'Flaherty, despite executive producer David Connell's assertion that kids are familar with the word through shows like Batman and Superman.[8]

Even with its attempts to help the underpriviledged, 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 one of our preschoolers who was able to write "CAUTION" on the blackboard after seeing it on the back of so many buses, and told me 'That says STOP.'"[9]

Rumors

Urban legend has it that Bert and Ernie are engaged in a homosexual relationship, as they are apparently adult human males portrayed sharing a bedroom (though with separate beds). The producers constantly deny this, however, insisting that the characters are "merely lifeless, hand-operated puppets."[10] The pair's relationship bears similarity to that of Laurel and Hardy, who were also occasionally shown sleeping together; this became such a comedy staple as to be adopted by Morecambe and Wise in the 1970s, all of whom were similarly asexual. The Odd Couple is another contemporary comparison. A joke featured in an episode of the TV show Family Guy was based off this rumor.

In 1990, puppeteer Jim Henson's death spurred rumors that Ernie would be "killed off" the show, much the way the character of Mr. Hooper was after actor Will Lee's passing some years earlier. Rumor said that he would be either killed by a vehicle, AIDS, or cancer. There is no legitimacy to this rumor, but as producers took their time recasting a puppeteer for Ernie, this delay allowed the claims to burgeon.

In 2002, Sesame Workshop announced that a HIV-positive character would be introduced to Takalani Sesame, the South African version of the show. Many conservatives and religious groups wrongly presumed that the American version would be getting a "gay Muppet", but the HIV-positive character is only present on this international version of the show.

Trivia

  • 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.
  • Jack's Big Music Show on Noggin is produced by David Rudman and Adam Rudman, with puppeting by David, Alice Dinnean, and John Kennedy, all Sesame employees or alumni.
  • In 2005, Sesame Workshop had sent a Letter to the satrical website, I-Mockery, that was a response to their review of the pornographic ROM Hack, Ernie and the Muppets Take It All Off. They had told them not to show anything Sesame Street related in the future. While the review to the Hack was kept, the download to the ROM Hack was removed. The reviewer then responded "Getting a letter like that from Sesame Street was like watching a part of my childhood die".
  • Although rubber duckies existed before Sesame Street, their pop culture icon status was mostly spurred on by Ernie's "Rubber Ducky" song, and subsequent appearances of Ernie's bath toy.

Notes

  1. ^  Karen Barss et al., "Enhancing Education: A Children's Producer's Guide: Sesame Street: Case Study", Corporation for Public Broadcasting (accessed June 29, 2005)
  2. ^  Template:Citenewsauthor
  3. ^  Template:Citenewsauthor
  4. ^  Template:Citenewsauthor

See also

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Direct and indirect parodies:

  • Avenue Q, a Broadway musical that mirror various elements of the show.

Lists:

References

  • David Borgenicht, Sesame Street Unpaved: Scripts, Stories, Secrets, and Songs, 1998 and 2002 reprint, ISBN 1402893272
  • Caroll Spinney, J. Milligan, The Wisdom of Big Bird: (And the Dark Genius of Oscar the Grouch): Lessons from a Life in Feathers, 2003, ISBN 0375507817
  • Christopher Finch, Jim Henson: The Works - The Art, the Magic, the Imagination, 1993, ISBN 0679412034
  • Shalom M. Fisch, Rosemarie T. Truglio, "G" Is for Growing: 30 Years of Research on Children and Sesame Street, 2000, ISBN 0805833951

External links

de:Sesamstraße es:Barrio Sésamo eo:Sesame Street fr:1 rue Sésame it:Sesame Street he:רחוב סומסום nl:Sesamstraat ja:セサミストリート pl:Ulica Sezamkowa pt:Sesame Street sv:Sesam (TV-program) zh:芝麻街