"Can you tell me how to get, how to get to Sesame Street?"
— Opening themenote Official location is in Manhattan, New York City. It is unclear where in Manhattan the street is, though.
Joan Ganz Cooney of the Children's Television Workshop (now Sesame Workshop) created this hourlong PBS series in 1969. Initially, it was created as a means of preparing young inner-city children for kindergarten. Instead, it got to everybody and became one of the all-time great educational shows.The show teaches literacy, counting, simple logicnote "Which key fits" and the What Happens Next machine (see below) demonstrate tools of logic and reasoning such as trial and error, process of elimination, and cause and effect, and social skills through a kaleidoscopic mix of puppetry, animation and short films. In a radical departure for the time, it was designed to deliberately mimic the fast pace and style of TV advertising in order to 'sell' learning to kids: An Aesop-friendly story featuring the recurring characters on the Street would be intercut with rapid-fire 'commercials' for that day's 'sponsors' ("Sesame Street has been brought to you today by the letters A and S, and the number 7...").The show was — and still is — also revolutionary in having an elite squad of educators and child psychologists pore over every single aspect of every segment in the whole show. Sesame Street has been called a living laboratory, and the show has been constantly tweaked to introduce new curriculum and improve its educational value. The show was completely Retooled in 2002 to respond to new child development research. As per The Other Wiki:Sesame Street underwent an obvious, dramatic makeover... The new format emphasized rituals and repetition, featured brighter, more cartoon-colorful real-life characters and sets, and more exaggerated, simplistic mannerisms in addressing the screen and seeking viewer interaction. Regular segments... are almost identical from one episode to the next, with only minor story details changing between shows.The set has expanded and contracted over the years but in classic form is a typical New York cul-de-sac, with a brownstone apartment block, a convenience store, a boarded-off vacant lot, and a big open area at one end used as a playground. This urban setting, multiracial human cast (plus guest stars, including Jesse Jackson and Bill Cosby) and multicoloured Muppets added to the hip, inclusive feel.Although aimed at preschool children, Sesame Street deliberately includes enough mainstream pop culture references to entertain older children and parents as well, the better to encourage family involvement in the learning process. A cameo appearance on the Street quickly became celebrity chic, showcasing such diverse stars as Stevie Wonder, REM, Madeline Kahn, the Star Wars droids, Paul Simon, Mel Gibson and Patrick Stewart. All of this has had the side benefit of the show developing a very strong adult fanbase over the decades, as the original audiences have grown up and introduced the show to their children.On November 11, 2009, Sesame Street celebrated its 40th anniversary, making it the longest-running and most successful children's show in American TV history. For the sake of education, we hope it stays around for at least 50 more.The human cast has varied over the years, but the core has remained relatively stable: Black married couple Susan and Gordon (and later their adopted son Miles), who work as a nurse and a junior-high science teacher, respectively. Puerto Rican college student Maria and (until 1990) black student and store clerk David. White freelance musician Bob and (until 2003) his deaf librarian girlfriend Linda. Hispanic "Fix-It Shop" owner Luis, who later married Maria. They have a daughter, Gabriella.When Will Lee — who played crotchety storekeeper with a heart of gold Mr. Hooper — died mid-season in 1983, the show tackled the character's death head-on, with honesty, dignity and respect, in what is still considered a milestone of children's programming. His store's ownership has changed hands a number of times — Mr. Hooper left the store to his assistant David, who sold it to black retired firefighter Mr. Handford following his own departure, who handed over ownership to Japanese-American Alan in 1998 — but the store retains Mr. Hooper's name to this day.Various specialised Muppets, created and performed by Jim Henson and his crew, star alongside the humans. The Sesame Muppet characters were initially intended as parts of the "commercial" shorts that would only air on occasion, but they became such a hit that the show was tweaked very early in the season to include them into the core structure. They were developed separately from the rest of the Henson stable and are the property of Sesame Workshop; with the exception of Kermit the Frog, they only very rarely cross over into the Muppet Show universe. Disney's acquisition of the Muppet Show characters in 2004 now prohibits Kermit from appearing in new Sesame Street footage anymore without permission; since then, he has made exactly one new footage appearance as a cameo in a 2009 episode.
Memorable Muppets include:
Kermit the Frog, seen most often in the guise of a trenchcoat-sporting roving reporter, whose 'fast-breaking exclusives' on fairy tales and other Street developments tended to run into the same problems as Wally Ballou's;
Sweetly naive Big Bird, developmentally age six but physically eight-foot-two, who makes his nest in the vacant lot and is 'parented' by the human characters;
Giant... Hawaiian woolly-mammoth-type-thing... Mr. Snuffleupagus, Big Bird's not-so-imaginary friend, originally always justout of visual range of the grownups but eventually revealed a decade or so in, out of fears that he was teaching kids they wouldn't be believed if they had something important to tell;
Odd Couple roommates Bert and Ernie, the former a seriously uptight fan of pigeons and oatmeal and the latter an imaginative dreamer and prankster;
Cookie Monster, the googly-eyed personification of appetite ("Me want COOKIE!! OMNOMNOMNOM!!!") much to the consternation of whoever was currently trying to teach him Valuable Lessons (counting, sharing etc.) using a plateful;
Prairie Dawn, a pretty, prim, sometimes bossy little overachiever, who gets a lot more facetime lately thanks to being one of very few major female Muppets in the cast;
'Loveable, furry old Grover', a blue monster whose endless enthusiasm and good intentions repeatedly run up against a less-than-impressed universe (especially when he puts on a cape and helmet and, er, 'flies' as Super-Grover);
Various other fuzzy monsters, notably Telly, a neurotic worrywart with a strange enthusiasm for triangles; Herry, an athlete who Does Not Know His Own Strength; the gibberish-talking Two-Headed Monster who sounded out words, and Zoe, a ballet-dancing preschooler added in later years;
Abby Cadabby, a pink-and-purple 'fairy-in-training' who — despite having a cell phone for a wand — is perpetually wowed by basic learning concepts in the human world ("That's so magical!");
Elmo, a cutesy-voiced red monster with a 'psychological age' of three and a half and a distinctive habit of referring to himself in the third person ("Elmo not sure this good idea..."). A later addition to the cast who became Urkel-level ubiquitous after the spinoff "Tickle Me Elmo" toy proved a mega-hit for Christmas 1996. (As a public television broadcast in a country whose government does not fully fund public broadcasting, the show is heavily dependent on merchandising revenues, so...) He was eventually given his own regular 15-minute segment, ''Elmo's World'', soon spun off into a series in its own right outside the US. Whether all this is a good thing or not is the subject of much adult skepticism — to put it kindly — especially among fans of the show's earlier years.
In-Universe: Cookie Monster did a sendup of "Elmo's World", called "Cookie World".
Aloha Hawaii: A multi-episode story arc in 1978 had the main human characters traveling to Hawaii, along with Big Bird and Snuffy. The latter learned that Hawaii happens to be the point of origin for all Snuffleupagi.
Ambiguously Jewish: Mr. Hooper. On rare occasions the show would make it more explicit, as when Bob wished him a happy Hanukkah in the Christmas Eve special, or when Big Bird inquired about the different languages the characters could speak and he mentioned that he learned Yiddish as a boy. The actor Will Lee was himself Jewish.
The Count may be a Space Jew. (His lietmotif is actually a Roma tune, but it happens to sound identical to Klezmer.) Meanwhile, Oscar the Grouch has Israeli relatives, as seen in "Shalom Sesame", and they don't seem to be Israeli Arabs.
And Starring: Beginning in Season Two (1970) and continuing to this day, Caroll Spinney receives this billing for Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch, since they are (or once were) considered to be the most important Muppet characters on the show, having been conceived specifically for interaction with the live actors on the street.
Although previously occasional, such as home video and DVD released that feature him in the lead, Kevin Clash as Elmo began to receive such billing on a regular basis as well as of 2010, until his departure from the show... does it really need to be explained why?
The Artifact: Telly was originally "The Television Monster", an example of a child who watched too much television - the prototype even came complete with wildly spiralling eyes from sitting too close. This characterization has largely died away, leaving only his trademark nervous personality.
Cookie Monster's Extreme Omnivorous trait is due to him originally starting out as a generic monster whose main trait was to devour nearly everything he came in contact with. Long after he's been established as the "Cookie Monster" preferring mostly cookies, the extreme omnivorous aspect hasn't exactly been dropped...
Ascended Extra: Elmo first showed up as a background Muppet in the early 1970's, and was sometimes referred to as "Baby Monster". It wasn't until 1984 that Kevin Clash gave him his famous voice and identity. A video showing Elmo's evolution can be found here.
Aside Glance: Of course very common in a show that commonly Breaks The Fourth Wall including the people and Muppets alike. However, the most noted would probably be scenes when a human character is dealing with an annoying or eccentric character (usually a Muppet).
Balloon-Bursting Bird: One animated segment had a Jerk Ass asking for a big, bigger, and biggest balloon (popping the first two he's offered); the biggest balloon causes him to fly up into the sky, but it gets popped by an equally big bird soon after.
In another insert, balloons shaped like the letters from A to Z were popped by a speeding bird.
In yet another animated insert, produced by Cliff Roberts, a bird demonstrated subtraction by popping balloons with its beak.
Baths Are Fun: Any number of skits and songs are on the series to promote this, the most well-known being "Rubber Duckie." "Baby Bear's Bath Song" is another major one. Many of them were released on the album Splish, Splash, Bath-time Fun.
Birthday Episode: For Linda, where Bob teaches everyone how to sign "Happy Birthday to You". Big Bird's birthday was the focus of a PBS pledge drive special in 1991.
Bittersweet Ending: Episode 1839, in which the death of Mr. Hooper was explained to Big Bird. Just as Big Bird is hanging up Mr. Hooper's picture, he meets some new neighbors and their baby.
Blessed with Suck / Driven to Suicide: Everything King Minus touches ceases to exist. This includes the princess he wanted to save; he annihilated himself in horror after that.
Blowing a Raspberry: The movie in which Elmo goes to Grouchland features the Queen of Trash demanding one hundred of these "raspberries" in a set time.
To clarify, this is because she initially assumed that Elmo was no different than the movie's villain, Huxley. After all, Elmo had previously gotten into an argument with Zoe that ended with him screaming "it's mine!" So the Queen of Trash, under the assumption that Huxley would never "give" anything, asked Elmo to "give" her 100 raspberries to prove he was capable of giving as well as demanding.
Canon Discontinuity: Because of the passage of time and as their child audiences grow up, some concepts need to be retaught. One 2006 episode saw Bob introducing his deaf niece to Telly and Elmo and teaching them the concept of deafness, never mind the fact that they had previously known (and in Bob's case, even courted) Linda.
A season 35 episode showed a flashback from the 1970s where Gordon, Bob, and Luis formed a teenage band, despite them all being grown up when the show began (and Luis wasn't there at the beginning). Also, in this flashback, Luis already has the hots for Maria, while they wouldn't fall in love until season 19.
The Cast Showoff: Emilio Delgado (Luis) has played the guitar on the show, as seen here. He also played it again in a more recent episode.
Carroll Spinney who is also an artist (and has made several books and TV shows in the past to boot) drew the picture of Mr. Hooper (and other people on Sesame Street) for the episode where they discuss Mr. Hooper's death.
Catch Phrase: Dozens; learning is all about repetition, after all.
Chaos Architecture: For the first season, the street was completely straight (as are actual New York City streets) with only a plank fence separating Hooper's Store and 123 - the backdrop usually seen behind the fence in the arbor was behind the construction doors of Big Bird's nest (and there were more doors), and the end of the street is blocked off by an incredibly tall fence (as Big Bird's nest area was actually a construction site). By the second season, the street was curved and gained it's familiar arbor area with the garage and tire swing; while no in-universe explanation is given, in Real Life, this was done to give the show greater range of camera angles, since the straight street (along with being shot on videotape) made the show feel as if it were a televised stage play.
The Around the Corner era could count as well, the sudden appearance of an entire new section of street past Big Bird's nest, that was also later dismantled, and turned into a dead-end alley.
The Count also acted a bit more like a vampire in his early appearances, moving his hands around as if hypnotizing others as well as walking around with his cape across his face. His laugh was also louder and more sinister as opposed to the softer chuckle of today.
Snuffy started out with a rather odd and perpetually sad personality as well as speaking with a rather creepy, echoing, sad voice. It wasn't until when Marty Robinson took over as the voice actor was when, though still sad occasionally, his personality became relatively more cheerful and his voice had a wider range of emotions.
Bert has also openly insulted Ernie in a few early episodes, such as calling him a "ding-a-ling" in one insert.
Then again, there appeared to be a lot of instances with characters openly insulting another in those earlier seasons.
Cookie Monster behaved more like a toddler: he interfered with others (though unaware he was doing so), was occasionally fussy when he didn't get his way and was scolded by other characters when he misbehaved. It wasn't until his Signature Song "C is for Cookie" in 1971 that Cookie Monster's personality was firmly established.
Character Outlives Actor: Northern Calloway, who played David, left the show in 1989 due to being ravaged by stomach cancer. He died several months later. David was said to have moved to a farm to live with his grandmother. Gordon's sister Olivia moved away, never to be heard from again, when her actress Alaina Reed Hall left the show to play Rose on NBC's 227. She died sometime back in 2010. Both of these actors had been long mainstays who played major characters. You can see David in this clip and Olivia in this clip.
Christmas Carolers: In the Elmo's World special, "Happy Holidays", Elmo is repeatedly visited by a quartet of carolers who keep singing, "We Wish You a Merry Christmas" - they have lovely singing voices, but screeching and irritating speaking voices.
Not to mention A Special Sesame Street Christmas, which first aired on CBS — the same year as Christmas Eve on Sesame Street (and the same network as The Star Wars Holiday Special) — and is known primarily for being less "utterly adorable" than it was utterly awful.
Then there's the brilliant Elmo Saves Christmas featuring Harvey Fierstein and Maya Angelou.
And there's Elmo's Christmas Countdown, and the utterly pointless A Sesame Street Christmas Carol which, you guessed it, is Yet Another Christmas CarolClip Show comprised of the "main" plot with clips from Christmas Eve on Sesame Street, Elmo Saves Christmas and Elmo's World: Happy Holidays half-assedly connected with the plot.
How Can Santa Deliver All Those Toys?: Subverted. In Christmas Eve on Sesame Street, Oscar's question is, more accurately, "How can Santa fit down the chimney?" Big Bird nearly freezes waiting up for the answer, and doesn't get one. Elmo Saves Christmas reveals that he has a time-traveling reindeer.
Chuck Cunningham Syndrome: Sadly, numerous Muppet characters have gotten the hook over the years. One, Don Music, the piano player who would bang his head against the piano in frustration, had to be discontinued when kids at home started doing the same thing. Another, Harvey Kneeslapper, was let go because his signature laugh was too much of a strain on Frank Oz's vocal cords. Then there was Roosevelt Franklin, arguably one of the first breakthrough Sesame Street Muppets, who had to go as he was considered to be a negative cultural stereotype (he was the only African-American Muppet at the time and was seen mostly in detention after school). Finally, Professor Hastings, a teacher whose lectures were so dull that he'd put himself to sleep while he was giving them, was discontinued because he was too dull.
With the exception of Mr. Hooper and David, any character who stopped appearing on the show stopped appearing without any on-screen explanation of what happened to them.
Clark Kenting: Parodied by Super-Grover, whose bespectacled alter-ego is "Grover Kent, ace doorknob salesman for ACME Inc."; which leaves the fact that they both just happen to be furry blue monsters wholly unexplained.
Clown Car: One of these is used for a counting lesson. A mini hatchback (with a police siren) came in driving around in circles, then stopped to let out 10 clowns (each counting from 1 to 10 as they came out) before they all climbed back into it (counting backwards this time), after which the hatchback left.
Clown Car Base: Oscar's trash can, which among many other things contains a pet elephant named Fluffy. And an indoor pool.
Clutching Hand Trap: In a episode from the mid-70s, Oscar has his hand stuck in a jar. Throughout the episode, the adults try many methods of prying his hand out, even by greasing it with lard. Turns out he wanted to look at his rock collection that he kept in the jar. The adults convince him to let go and his hand comes out easily; the adults then pour the rocks into his hand. Immediately after, Luis comes by with an old alarm clock in pieces as a gift to Oscar. Luis puts the pieces in the jar, which Oscar immediately grabs. He finds his hand stuck once again as the closing credits begin.
Since "The Happy Birthday Song," of all songs, is a copyrighted song (yes, believe it or not, "The Happy Birthday Song," is copyrighted), DVDs that feature a character's birthday remove this song. For example, Old School Vol. 2 has a Street Scene where Maria brings David a typewriter for his birthday, but before she sings happy birthday to him, the scene fades out.
The entire Old School Vol. 3 set falls victim to this, because they couldn't use their own theme song on the set. None of the episodes on the set has their respective main titles, and two episodes that originally featured a special instrumental rendition of the theme song for travel montages have music replacement.
The Collector of the Strange: Bert and bottlecaps. Telly and triangles. Ernie tried to collect ice cubes once, but he caused them to melt on him.
Commuting on a Bus: Several of the human cast, but most notably Bob and Susan, since season 29. Also happens to the Muppets from time to time, usually due to concerns over the character's particular impact on young audiences.
Companion Cube: Big Bird's teddy bear, Ernie's rubber duckie, Zoe's pet rock.
Content Warnings: On the "Old School" DVDs: "These early episodes of Sesame Street are intended for grown-ups, and may not meet the needs of today's preschoolers". A bit unnerving for now-adult fans, but it must be remembered that the target audience of Sesame Street is very young children. Word of God is that the main concern — however awkwardly it was phrased — was that seeing early episodes with a goofy Big Bird, bright orange and surly Oscar, younger versions of the humans, and no Elmo would be a Mind Screw for contemporary toddlers. Another, more subtle, difference is that the early episodes reflect a certain inner-city malaise: Life is hard and we may never move beyond the station we were born into, but we can have a good time while we're here.
Ironically, the disclaimers only appear before the first episode of each of the first two volumes. It doesn't appear on the outside packaging for consumers to see before purchasing.
Prior to the episode where Big Bird learns about Mr. Hooper's death, parents were thoroughly warned about the content, and encouraged to watch the episode with their children, if at all.
Certain online videos, especially those pertaining to military service, start with a suggestion that parents screen them in advance before watching them with their children.
Cool Old Guy: Mr. Hooper (until his death), then Uncle Wally, and now Bob, more recently, have all fit this trope over the course of the show's history.
Cousin Oliver: (Unintentionally) Lampshaded in the late 90s and early 2000s, when Baby Bear would occasionally be seen babysitting his baby (as in infant) cousin, who always garnered attention from other residents for how cute he was. Oh, and his name? Cousin Oliver. This was before Curly Bear.
Counting to Potato: In this skit, a little girl trolls Kermit the Frog as he attempts to recite the alphabet with her:
Girl: A, B, C, D, E, F, Cookie Monster!
What makes it more adorable is that according to thisJim Henson biography, the girl thought up the joke without prompting, and Henson improvised Kermit's responses on the spot.
Two words: Veggie Monster. To paraphrase from the link, Sesame Street did a segment in 2005 where another character sings a song entitled "Cookies Are a Sometimes Food" with Cookie Monster, about eating a balanced diet; at the end Cookie declares that "Now is sometime!" and eats his cookies anyway. The media simplified this and ran with it to the point where to this day, you'll find people complaining that Cookie Monster has been turned into (or even been replaced by) a "Veggie Monster".
Before the debut of Kami, the HIV-positive Muppet, news media were in uproar, under the mistaken impression that this character would feature on the American version of the show. However, the character was only ever intended to be used in the South African version, where childhood HIV and AIDS are huge problems. Likewise, despite some of the more extreme claims, Kami's HIV status does not mean she is gay; by definition, the Muppets do not have a defined sexuality. To make this clearer, Word of God is that Kami contracted HIV from a blood transfusion as an infant.
Kermit the Frog became the host and main character of The Muppet Show, of course. Another early Jim Henson Muppet, Rowlf the Dog, appeared with Kermit in the promotional pitch reel for Sesame Street (and made a single cameo appearance in the "Song of 9" from the show's first season) before becoming a Muppet Show regular himself. Big Bird guest-starred in one Muppet Show episode, Ernie and Bert in another. Still another episode had practically all of the Sesame Muppets turn up in one sketch. And then there was A Muppet Family Christmas...
One 1980 episode had C-3PO and R2-D2 stop by Sesame Street to deliver a message to Oscar the Grouch; the duo would later return later that year for another episode.
In 1996, one episode revolved around Shari Lewis and Lamb Chop visiting Big Bird's nest.
The first few seasons featuring inserts with the stars of other popular shows at the time, for example:
Batman and Robin demonstrate how they use educational techniques in nabbing villains.
The Cartwrights recite the alphabet, though Hoss has to have a little help in the end
Fonzie once demonstrated on and off with his favorite jukebox, and also once shows Richie how cool it is to brush your teeth.
Dance Party Ending: The nineteenth season finale is Luis and Maria's wedding; the episode ends with everyone dancing to a salsa remix of the theme song at the reception.
Deadpan Snarker: Bert or Oscar, normally. Though the writers have infused many of the characters with this trait when the sketch calls for it.
Defective Detective: Sherlock Hemlock, even more so in the early 1990s Mysterious Theater segments, where it was usually his puppy companion Watson who figured out the case.
Destroyed For Real: Big Bird's nest area in the 5-part hurricane story arc from 2001: the hurricane blew down all of the construction doors surrounding the area, the nest itself was blown apart into a mess of scattered twigs and sticks, the whole area was reduced to a shambles (and even though Oscar and his can were in Bob's apartment as the hurricane blew through, the rest of Oscar's domain was also blown to smitherines). It took the adults two days to help clean up the debris as well as put the doors back up, and another two days for them all to help Big Bird build a new nest.
Did You Just Punch Out Cthulhu?: In the TV MovieDon't Eat the Pictures several of the human cast and muppets are accidentally locked in the NYC Metropolitan Museum of Art overnight. Big Bird's subplot involved him and Snuffleupagus helping the 4000 year old ghost of an Egyptian boy confront the god Osiris when he refused to let the boy into the afterlife. Repeat: Big Bird confronted a god and told him he was wrong.
Digging to China: The Big Bird In China TV-movie special. Oscar and Telly feel left out, so they decide to dig (Oscar makes Telly do all the actual work). As soon as they get there, Oscar decides that "Ehhh, it's not so special!" and immediately turns around to go home.
Disney Acid Sequence: Many early episodes had a series of sketches on numbers (1 through 10) that involved a baker who holds in his arms that number of desserts but falls down a flight of stairs, ruining the desserts in question. The sketches started with a very flashy animated intro in which the voices of kids are heard counting up from 1 to 10, then back to 1, and finally up to the featured number in the sketch, in choral voice over, while that number, in animated form, zoomed around the screen.
Drink Order: A '70s skit has Ernie tending Hooper's store and presenting Bert with his favorite beverage, "a tall, cool glass of unflavored soda water". He then (after tasting and pronouncing it too dull) starts adding "improvements" that gradually turn the drink into a strawberry ice cream soda, to Bert's great displeasure.
In general, Bert loves Figgy Fizz soda.
Big Bird loves him some birdseed milkshakes.
Telly loves milk.
In an 80s episode, David takes on the responsibilty of living up to Mr. Hooper's egg creams, much to Gordon and Telly's intrigue.
Dripping Disturbance: In one early episode, one sketch with Bert and Ernie involves a dripping faucet that keeps Bert awake, so he sends Ernie to take care of the problem. How does Ernie solve the problem? By turning on a radio to play loud music to drown out the dripping. Then, when Bert tells Ernie that he still can't sleep because of the radio music, Ernie turns on a vacuum cleaner to drown out the music.
Driven to Suicide: Everything King Minus touches simply ceases to exist, including the damsel he tried to save. His reaction gives new meaning to the phrase "died by his own hand".
Eagleland Osmosis: It was rumored that in a British primary school, a teacher showed this clip to her class and later asked where milk comes from. Their response? America.
This was no fault of the Children's Television Workshop. The CTW, when asked, will help other nations to create their own versions of Sesame Street tailored to the host nation's cultures, concerns, and budget. BBC turned down the CTW's offer, due to the outcry from teachers who were horrified by Sesame Street's content. They also felt CTW's involvement would be insulting, considering the BBC already had 20 years of experience producing children's educational programs.
Early-Installment Weirdness: Early seasons were much slower-paced, and frequently relied on lectures (such as the aforementioned segment about how milk is made), making it more in line with competitors such as Mister Rogers' Neighborhood and Captain Kangaroo. Also, some segments tended to repeat at least twice, since they acted like TV commercials. They abandoned this around the mid 1970s.
Some of the Muppet characters looked and sounded very different, too. Oscar, for example, was orange, and only his head was visible. Big Bird missed most of the feathers on his head, and had the mindset of a dim-witted adult bird rather than a child. Plus, Grover was green. And Ernie and Bert talked with New York accents.
Animated segments outnumbered Muppet segments, too. Also, the characters broke the fourth wall more frequently, addressing their audience as well as introducing and commenting on segments, as if they tied into each other more.
In a first season segment where Ernie cleans up the apartment, Ernie points out his paperclip collection. Later on, Bert would be the one who collects paperclips, while Ernie would typically think they are boring.
Today's viewers seem disoriented when the see what the street used to look like back in the old days, with litter and dead leaves cover the sidewalk, the grit and grunge the buildings had, the sounds of traffic, car horns, sirens, and whistles heard in the background.
Ernie and Bert were far more frequently seen on the street with other characters up till the mid-70s, since Jim Henson and Frank Oz were more readily available, though after The Muppet Show and subsequent movies took up much of their time, Ernie and Bert were then relegated to strictly inserts, as Jim and Frank were only able to dedicate one week out of the year for such.
Although always possessing a golden voice, Bob wasn't always a music teacher; in fact, during the show's earliest episodes, he was shop teacher instead.
The first season featured performances of popular (and copyrighted) songs; it was not uncommon to listen to Bob sing "[[Theatre/Hair Good Morning Starshine]]," or the Muppets belt out some tunes of The Beatles. Of course you won't be seeing these on DVD, which is why YouTube is your best bet.
Election Day Episode: The Season 15 finale sees "No Electioneering" signs plastered all over the street, as Big Bird learns that David and Olivia are off to the voting booths because it's Election Day. David and Olivia explain to Big Bird that people vote for who they want to run in certain offices in the government, so Big Bird and Snuffy decide they want to vote too, but they can't because they're not old enough to register to vote (and because Snuffy was still "imaginary" at the time).
Emo Teen: Abby's classmate Gonnigan. He's shy and pessimistic, wears a striped hoodie, has a floppy hairstyle, and becomes transparent when he's nervous (which is a lot of the time).
Expy: The many co-productions around the world contain their own versions of Big Bird. One example is Abelardo in Plaza Sésamo (Mexico's version), a large green parrot (and officially Big Bird's primo— urm, cousin).
Elmo is international now, too. His South African equivalent is named Neno.
Exiled from Continuity: Not quite played entirely straight with Kermit the Frog. He doesn't appear too often on the show now that he's owned by Disney, but classic clips featuring him occasionally show up (particularly on the "Old School DVD's".
Every Episode Ending: Up to three letters of the day and two numbers of the day are reviewed and given sponsor credits.
Up until the mid-90's, this was followed by "Sesame Street is a production of the Children's Television Workshop". The funding credits then were shown, which were initially silent, then had a tune known by fans as "Funky Chimes" playing from 1972-92, and finally used an instrumental of the then-current "calypso" version of the theme from 1992-95.
In the mid-to-late 90's, every episode ended with a "Coming soon on Sesame Street" bumper, with Big Bird saying "Toodle-oo!" to wrap it up.
Extreme Omni Goat: In an interstitial cartoon demonstrating "zero". A complaint was received from the Dairy Goats Association, leading to a follow-up clarifying that dairy goats only eat healthy, sensible foods. See them both, one after the other, here.
Extreme Omnivore: Cookie Monster. Oscar eats some extremely strange food combinations — like sardine ice cream with chocolate sauce — but they are generally at least edible.
Fairy Companion: Abby Cadabby, who is a serious point of contention for some fans, as it looks disturbingly like the character was designed by a marketing committee. However, the book "Street Gang" — while quite frankly admitting that that is how Zoe was designed, and how much she was hated by the writers because of it — takes pains to point out that Abby was created in the traditional manner by the show's longest established writer.
Filler: The televised version of Abby in Wonderland was combined with a cover version of "(I Believe in) Little Things" and the street scenes from "The Golden Triangle of Destiny" in order to fill an hour.
Also through the years, various tricks were used to fill the hour. These included the inserting of one of several stock segments – such as the famous "dot bridge" (dots would be placed, one at a time, on the screen, to form a 6-by-5 grid) – to repeating segments to a quick clip of someone (either a mainstream celebrity or cast member) making a comment a la Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In. Sometimes, the end theme and "sponsors of the day" was simply started early over a generic street scene, but the camera just pulling away from the action in progress.
Flanderization: An inevitable side effect of Long Runner crossed with Loads and Loads of Characters. Some stand out more than others, though: Zoe was originally a little girl monster who enjoyed dancing, among other things, but now she is never seen without her pink tutu. Also, Telly used to be merely fond of triangles instead of obsessed with them like he is now.
Game Show Appearance: Big Bird and Oscar appeared semi-regularly in episodes of the original version of Hollywood Squares (with Big Bird calling host Peter Marshall 'Mr Marshmallow'), and Elmo has appeared on the revival versions.
Kermit appeared with his 'friend' Jim Henson, and Big Bird with his 'friend' Carroll Spinney, on separate episodes of the syndicated version of What's My Line?.
Getting Crap Past the Radar: Parental action groups largely hadn't been invented or weren't equipped to handle this kind of kiddie-TV innovation in the early years, leading to such dazzling high points as the aforementioned Lefty, slapstick practical joker Harvey Kneeslapper, and Roosevelt Franklin, the first (and still the only) Muppet hip-hop poet. Can you imagine a modern preschool show ending up with classic moments like this? Not to mention the reference to a Rusty Trombone (see Urban Dictionary) in Oscar's song "I love trash".
Cop: "My name's Stan. I'm the Man. You just got ten years in the can for stealing the Golden An..." Lefty: "Awwww...I shoulda ran!"
An episode featuring Gaby trying on an old fairy costume has Elmo, Telly and Baby Bear coming up to her with Baby Bear saying to the other two, "Hey fellas, check out those great lookin' wings!"
Old Lady: You could lose your purse and you might lose something worse on the subway...
Kermit is trying to give a lecture about the letter B, but Cookie Monster keeps breaking parts off to make them look like different letters, making Kermit become progressively more frustrated and use Stealth Insults that begin with each letter. Eventually, it looks like an F:
Kermit: Now, the letter 'F' starts a number of words I can think of...
The Count and a Countess are watching their show "Twenty-Something." In the show, Prairie Dawn barges in the Count couple's home to tell them about a great guy she met who is "20-something." The couple is displeased...- because she didn't specify whether he was 21, 22, 23... 29.
Prairie: I just love coming over here. You guys are so supportive. *A beat of uncomfortable silence between Prairie and the Counts who exchanges glances at each other and the viewers*
One episode had Elmo and several children seeing who could cry the loudest, a game they called The Crying Game.
The Les Miserables parody has a lesson about body language. As Cookie Monster's character look upon a character that's evidently modeled after the prostitute character from the source material, the narrator woefully notes that Cookie Monster "noticed what she was doing to her body."
Hammerspace: Oscar's trash can is often implied to be this.
Head Desk: Muppet composer Don Music had a habit, when unable to find a rhyme, of slamming his forehead into the keys of his piano in sheer frustration. Which is why you don't see him anymore.
An early Ernie and Bert segment from 1969 featured this at the end: Ernie slowly drives Bert nuts by his counting, and then Bert just loses it and bangs his head on a table in the background, and then runs screaming right past the camera and out the door. The ending would usually be cut from reruns due to concerns that kids would imitate Bert's head-banging.
In one of Prairie Dawn's pageants about "heavy" and "light", one character named Monty is struggling to hold up a boulder and another named Merry is holding a feather. Monty eventually drops the boulder onto Prairie's piano, nearly crushing it. Then, Merry places the feather on top, completely crushing it.
Leitmotif: During the years when Mr. Snuffleupagus was only seen by Big Bird, Snuffy's entrances and exits were accompanied by one of these.
Long-Runner Cast Turnover: With the exception of three performers – Carroll Spinney (Big Bird and Oscar), Bob McGrath (Bob) and Loretta Long (Susan), who have been there since Day 1 in 1969 – the entire cast has turned over since the first episode aired in November 1969. The longest-tenured cast members after them, aside from Muppet performers, are Emilio Delgado (Luis) and Sonia Manzano (Maria) with both first appearing in 1971, and Rosco Orman (Gordon, who in 1974 became the third actor to play the role); Allison Bartlett O'Reilly (Gina, joining in 1986) the next longest-tenured. Everyone else has come and gone with much shorter runs on the show.
Loud of War: An early Bert and Ernie sketch has the duo engaging in one of these when Ernie hogs the TV set, and Bert turns the record player on to drown him out, which leads to Ernie turning the radio on to drown out the record player, then Bert responds by turning a blender on to drown out the radio... all of which leads to a fuse blowing and the power going out in their apartment.
Manipulative Grouch: Oscar really likes to mess around with others, especially Elmo, Big Bird, and Telly.
Mustache Vandalism: The segment where muppet cowboys compare a "Wanted" poster of Cookie Monster with the actual Cookie Monster. When their suspicion peaks, Cookie Monster distracts them long enough to draw a mustache on the poster. The cowboys notice the disparity, and apologize to Cookie Monster for suspecting him. Cookie Monster amiably tips his hat ... and lots of stolen cookies tumble out...
Mythology Gag: Season 40 is filled with them, ranging from props with an hidden reference on them to onscreen cameos from some of the performers. Click here for a complete list.
Negative Continuity: In the 35th anniversary special, The Street We Live On, Grover takes Elmo back in time to the Sesame Street before he was born, via a magic time traveling taxi cab. Via flashbacks, Grover takes Elmo to Maria and Luis's wedding, however, Elmo was the ring bearer at the wedding (and was constantly worrying about dropping the rings). In fact, Elmo can be seen in the flashback. Can't really imagine how that got past the writers, producers, editors, etc.
The song "One Way" also opens with the line "I'm so lonely, I wish I was dead".
As does "On The Subway" ("So hot I could die...").
Niche Network: In Elmo's World, Elmo's TV tunes in to these kinds of channels to teach kids.
The Nicknamer: Oscar the Grouch is this for almost all of his Sesame Street neighbors; to him, Gordon is "[[Don't Explain the Joke Curly," Big Bird is "Turkey," Maria is "Skinny," Bob is "Bright Eyes," Telly is "Worry Wart," Elmo is "Little Red Menace," among others.
No Fourth Wall: Often follows the common kids' TV convention in which the viewer is assumed to be "visiting" the show's characters.
Episodes of Sesamstrasse (the German version) from 1978-88 — when the show took place in a studio — took it Up to Eleven, where some episodes involved the studio crew helping the characters out.
Not Allowed to Grow Up: The human characters age normally but the Muppets and Monsters will stay the same age. Often times retcons are used when talking about stuff or flashbacking to things that they "should" have been too young for, such as Elmo being at Maria's and Luis' wedding.
Not-So-Imaginary Friend: Mr. Snuffleupagus was one of these for about a decade. This was eventually changed because it infuriated children, seeing Big Bird driven crazy by everyone's disbelief. Also, as per above, it occurred to the writers that perhaps having all the adults disbelieve Big Bird sent a very irresponsible message.
Numerological Motif: In 2003, the budget people called for the show to be limited to 25 episodes a year. Lou Berger, the head writer at the time, pointed out that you can't exactly fire a letter of the alphabet, so now they each get one episode a year.
The season premieres are usually the only episodes of the whole season to feature all of the human actors on the show, because they can't afford to do so more often than that. Often, this was used to showcase new and returning actors and establish personalities. note A prime example is the fifth-season premiere, aired in November 1973, where a "typical day on Sesame Street is shown, with not only the either human cast but every one of the Muppet characters as well.
During much of The Seventies and (at least) early-to-mid Eighties, each year the show would have a week's worth of winter-themed episodes. Actually, two weeks: the first week would show snow falling, and the second week the whole street would be covered in snow. This didn't last too awful long, and even now whenever they do Christmas specials there's very little snow cover, as Oscar once explained in an interview, "It used to snow, but it got too expensive."
From Seasons 33 to 38, "Do De Rubber Duck" had become an annual treat for viewers.
One Mario Limit: Good luck finding any character named "Elmo" from after the late 70s. The same goes for Grover, Bert and Ernie to a lesser extent. Oscar is luckily a common enough name to avoid this (especially since there's another famous Oscar in modern pop culture).
Only Sane Man: Averted to extreme, as most of the cast acts pretty eccentric at times, but this is due to them attempting to simultaneously teach preschoolers about letters and numbers.
Out of Focus: Several characters after first Elmo and later Abby Cadabby came to dominate the show. Prairie Dawn has basically disappeared, and other longtime characters such as Oscar the Grouch and the Count aren't seen as much as previously. Saddest of all, Big Bird is only a periodic guest star. This may be an example of Real Life Writes the Plot, as Jerry Nelson (the Count) suffered through several years of declining health before his death in 2012, and as septuagenarian Caroll Spinney has continued to perform as Big Bird and Oscar into his late 70s.
Further examples of Real Life Writes the Plot: Even before Jim Henson's death and Frank Oz' retirement, their commitment to outside projects starting in the mid-80's affected how often their characters appeared in new segments.
Parental Bonus: If not the actual originator of the concept, then Sesame Street is certainly the most sophisticated. Includes parodies of current celebrities, movies and songs, such as 'Monsterpiece Theater', a Masterpiece Theatre spoof hosted by Alistair Cookie. It's really doubtful that preschoolers would get a Waiting for Godot parody. Or, for that matter, one based around The 39 Steps.
The Latin American version of this show, Plaza Sesamo, features the recurring sketch "Los Monstros Tambien Lloran" ("The Monsters Also Cry"), a parody of telenovelas named after a classic Mexican example (Los Ricos Tambien Lloran ["The Rich Also Cry"]) of the form.
The Pirates Who Don't Do Anything: Gordon is a teacher (first an elementary school teacher, then later a high school science teacher), we even hear him state in the first episode that he's home early because a teachers meeting was called off. However, because he's rarely seen in a classroom (and it's not an exaggeration to say that he hasn't been seeing teaching in countless years), many casual viewers aren't aware of this fact. In fact, Mad TV once lampshaded this in a skit about the recession hitting Sesame Street, and Gordon - now riding an ice cream cart - remarks, "Oh, I lost my job doing whatever it is I did before."
Pretty in Mink: In a Christmas special, one of the (human) women wears a rabbit fur jacket.
Initially, with Mr. Hooper. Will Lee, the actor who played the beloved shopkeeper, died in December 1982, and his last completed episodes aired a couple of months later. With several weeks left in the 1982-1983 season, excepting for older segment videos, Hooper was notably absent from the Street, and no reference was made to his absence or why. Then came time to plan for the 1983-1984 season and the inevitable discussion about how to address Hooper's absence once and for all. One of the initial suggestions was indeed this trope – state that (offscreen) he retired and sold his shop to David, had his farewell/going away party during the off-season and had moved away and was not coming back. But that wouldn't be honest, nor would hiring another actor to play Hooper, whom astute viewers would immediately recognize as a "fake" and reject. The episode that became the stuff of legends and a landmark in television programming was the ultimate solution.
David. Northern Calloway, who was experiencing mental health and other personal issues in the late 1980s, had left the show after the end of the 1988-1989 season (he was either fired or resigned, depending on which story one believes), and – since David was still fairly prominent well into 1989 – his departure was explained with the Season 21 opening episode, aired in November 1989. Here, Gordon receives a postcard and reads it to Elmo, explaining David had moved to Florida to care for his grandmother and manage her farm. David is still presumed to be alive, as to this day he has not been referred to. Calloway, meanwhile, continued to see his life spiral downhill, and in January 1990 suffered a massive nervous breakdown that killed him.
Also: Roosevelt Franklin, the Martians, Sherlock Hemlock, Sam the Robot.
Raiders of the Lost Parody: "The Golden Triangle of Destiny"; after 'Minnesota Mel' shows up and tells Telly and Chris about said triangle, Mel gets a 'charley horse', so Telly gets his own costume, calls himself 'Texas Telly' and takes his place.
Really Dead Montage: Mr. Hooper would've gotten one, but the producers decided it would confuse the younger viewers.
Real Life Writes the Plot: The September 11 World Trade Center attack served as the basic underlying framing device for the Season 33 premiere episode, in which Hooper's Store catches fire, much to Elmo's horror. Though, he does get invited to the local firestation, and sees what firefighters do to save people's lives, which helps Elmo with his fears.
Real Time: Used sometimes, and occasionally lampshaded.
Fifteen fingers (with a friend); In fifteen seconds, this film will end...
Reality Ensues: An early episode has Big Bird run for President of the United States and get elected. Turns out, he has no idea how the office works. Needless to say, he doesn't last very long in the role.
Reality Subtext: In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, PBS reaired the week-long story arc from Season 32 (2001) - with a new introduction with Gordon explaining to parents that children can be frightened by such devastation, whether directly effected by it, or from seeing the coverage on TV. Since then, with devastating hurricanes becoming more commonplace, as of 2012, Sesame Workshop cobbled together the street scenes from the hurricane saga (specifically, the aftermath of the hurricane) into an hour-long special entitled Sesame Street Gets Through a Storm (also known as Friends to the Rescue on DVD), which is subsequently aired on PBS in response to any major hurricane, such as Sandy.
Recursive Import: Plaza Sesamo, the Mexican adaptation, airs in the U.S.; the only foreign adaptation to do so. This is justified, due to the expansive Hispanic community in the U.S.; why go through the trouble of dubbing or adding subtitles when the Mexican version does just fine?
Scandalgate: A crossover between Sesame Street and The MacNeil-Lehrer News Hour occurred during a PBS pledge drive in the '80s in which Robert MacNeil covered a presumed cookie theft by Cookie Monster known as "Cookiegate."
Second Person Attack: In the Elmo's World episode "Water", a boy is shown squirting a jet of water at the camera with a hose during a montage of kids playing with water.
Sequel Hook: From Christmas Eve on Sesame Street: "How do you think the Easter Bunny can hide all those eggs in one night?"
Serious Business: Under all the apparent silliness is a deep, deep dedication to their core educational mission, to the point of instantly dropping characters and concepts that might negatively impact young audiences. Sometimes can itself come off as over-the-top funny; as per this early short film wherein the process of getting milk from the cow to a baby's bottle is treated with just slightly less gravity than, say, the Normandy Invasion.
Aversion: No matter what you've heard, Bert and Ernie are not named for George Bailey's childhood friends in It's a Wonderful Life. Henson & co. have been driven crazy by that coincidence for years. This was lampshaded in Elmo Saves Christmas, where Bert and Ernie walk past a TV playing ''It's a Wonderful Life" and are surprised by the line "Bert! Ernie! What's the matter with you two guys? You were here on my wedding night."
Show Within a Show: Abby's Flying Fairy School; Bert and Ernie's Great Adventures; Elmos World; Elmo: The Musical. The first two alternate episodes; Elmo gets a dedicated eleven-minute block.
Society Marches On: The rules of what's allowed on children's television have gotten more restrictive over the years, to the point that the releases of the early episodes are labeled as being for adults only.
Sound Effect Bleep: A passing train covers up an, um, unusually grouchy string of words from Oscar the Grouch in Christmas Eve on Sesame Street.
Oscar: You are, without a doubt, the stupidest [...] bird I've ever met!
Speaking Simlish: The Two-Headed Monster, though sometimes he can speak a few English words, other times it's mostly gibberish.
Spinoff: PBS Kids Sprout's Play with Me Sesame repackages Muppet segments from this show with new material featuring Grover, Prairie Dawn, Bert, and Ernie.
Spotlight-Stealing Squad: For a while after Tickle Me Elmo's runaway success, it seemed that more and more of the show was becoming devoted to Elmo, to the point where it was less Sesame Street and more The Elmo Show. Thankfully, though, it was reverted before things got too out of hand, so that now the character focus is much more balanced again.
In the late 90s and early 2000s, the show was very Baby Bear-heavy. The character was very prominent during this period, likely due to puppeteer David Rudman having more time to commit to Sesame, to the point that he was almost considered a Scrappy to fans.
Steal the Surroundings: There was a routine in which Ernie, fed up with Cookie Monster stealing his cookies all the time, acquires a safe in which to put the cookies. When Cookie Monster comes by, he realizes that he cannot open the safe, so he just eats the safe.
Sting: Lampshaded and put to extensive use in "The Golden Triangle of Destiny".
The only other known dietary preference on the show is Big Bird's love of birdseed milkshakes.
"A La Peanut Butter Sandwiches!"
Unsatisfiable Customer: Mr. Johnson, Grover's customer in the "Charlie's Restaurant" skits, is sometimes this.
Vacation Episode: In addition to the aforementioned Aloha Hawaii storyline, there were a series of episodes where the characters went to Puerto Rico to visit Maria's family. Also, there were one-hour specials like "Big Bird in China" and "Big Bird in Japan".
Very Special Episode: Episode 1839, where Big Bird learns about death after Mr. Hooper (and Will Lee, who portrayed him) dies.
The last week's worth of episodes for Season 32 (2001), in which a hurricane hits Sesame Street, and destroys Big Bird's nest; the week-long story arc featured the Sesame residents working together to help Big Bird recover from his loss, and help him build a new (and stronger) nest.
The Season 33 (2002) premiere, Episode 3981, in which Hooper's Store catches fire, was written in response to the September 11 attacks.
Episodes associated with Luis and Maria's relationship - from falling in love, to getting married, to the birth of Gabi.
Wrong Genre Savvy: In Cutie and the Beast, the king decides that his daughter Cutie can only marry a prince. Grover, playing a beast, comes in and the king decides to let him marry his daughter (after an ordeal). When storyteller Bob points out that Grover is not a prince, the king says he knows but also knows that in stories like this the beast ends up being a prince. Not only does Grover not turn into a prince, but after getting kissed, Cutie turns into a monster.
Yoko Oh No: Hilariously invoked in an episode from Season 35, in which during a flash back, Gordon, Bob, and Luis had formed a garage band in The Seventies, but Luis is so smitten with Maria (whom he had just met), that Bob comments, "I hope this girlfriend Maria doesn't break up the band, man."
The Orange GoldAnything Muppet, though this is due to the fact that it always has the same features no matter what it is wearing when it appears.
Before becoming Mr. Noodle's Brother Mr. Noodle, Michael Jeter made a memorable guest appearance on the show, singing a remake of "Dance Myself to Sleep".
Before playing the villainous Huxley in The Adventures of Elmo in Grouchland, Mandy Patinkin appeared on the series proper in The Eighties as a New York cop helping Big Bird look for his missing teddy bear; unlike Huxley though, Officer George was incredibly dull and deadpan, leading many people to wonder if Patinkin was in a bad mood the day of taping, or would rather have not been on the show then.
You Monster!: In the Mine-Itis episode, Oscar celebrates it with Anchovy sundae Ice Cream and it made Leela and Elmo angry about it. Leela scolded Oscar: "You know what, Oscar? You are a grouchy monster. That's who you are! You need to tell us the cure for Mine-Itis." Oscar went like "Why do you want me to do a silly thing like this?" And Elmo replies "Because nobody on Sesame Street is sharing! That's why!"
Your Cheating Heart: The Count is actually a very, very mild, yet non-exactly-subtle example of this: he has two girlfriends (Countess Dahling Von Dahling and Countess Von Backwards), and seems to like to charm various different female Celebrity Stars.