Sesame Street is a long-running PBSnote children's television show that debuted in 1969. The Children's Television Workshop (CTW, now Sesame Workshop), a project spearheaded by producer Joan Ganz Cooney, created the show as a means to prepare 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 logic,note and social skills to its young audience through a kaleidoscopic blend of live acting, 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 multicolored 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, R.E.M., 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, 2019, Sesame Street celebrated its 50th 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 for many years the core remained relatively stable: black married couple Susan and Gordon (1969-2016) (and later their adopted son Miles (1985-2008), who work as a nurse and a junior-high science teacher, respectively; Puerto Rican college student Maria (1971-2015); black student and store clerk David (1971-1989); white freelance musician Bob (1969-2016); his librarian girlfriend Linda (1971-2002), who is deaf; Hispanic "Fix-It Shop" owner Luis (1971-2016), who later married Maria, and their daughter Gabriella (1989-2012). The main humans on the show are Alan (1998-present), Chris (2007-present), Nina (2016-present), and the newest Charlie (2020-present).
When Will Lee — who played crotchety storekeeper with a heart of gold Mr. Hooper — died mid-season in 1982, the show tackled the character's death head-on, with honesty, dignity and respect, in what is still considered a groundbreaking moment in 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 specialized 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 incorporate them into the core structure. They were developed separately from the rest of the Henson stable and are now the property of Sesame Workshop; with the exception of Kermit the Frog, they only very rarely cross over into the Muppet Show universe. note Disney's acquisition of the Muppet Show characters in 2004 means even Kermit can't be used in new Sesame Street footage without permission; since then he has made only two appearances outside of the archives, in a 2009 episode to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the show, and again in the show's 50th anniversary special in 2019.
Beginning in 2016, due to PBS having trouble paying the show's licensing fee, the show aired first on HBO, whose deep pockets have even allowed increasing the episode count to 35 per season, before airing on PBS Kids a few months later. The show also switched to a half-hour format. In July 2020, the series completed its run on HBO; beginning with season 51, the show premieres on the streaming service HBO Max, though it maintains its current relationship with PBS Kids.
Another noteworthy fact is that Sesame Street is or has been broadcast in more than 100 countries across the world. Many of these countries even have their own localized adaptations; these adaptations usually create entirely new scenes with their own human and Muppet characters, along with dubbed scenes from the American version. Notable adaptations are the Latin American, German and Dutch versions, which have all run from 1972, 1973 and 1976 to this day respectively. The German, Dutch, Latin American and South African versions, Sesamstraße, Sesamstraat, Plaza Sésamo and Takalani Sesame respectively, have their own pages, and a list of other international versions can be found here.
A list of works based off of Sesame Street can be found on the franchise index.
- 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;
- A giant Hawaiian woolly-mammoth-type... thing named Mr. Snuffleupagus (often just nicknamed Snuffy), Big Bird's not-so-imaginary friend, originally always just out 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;
- Green and flamboyantly grumpy trash-can resident Oscar the Grouch, designed as a way to gently mock bad attitudes—not, as is sometimes claimed, as a cute'n'fuzzy homeless person;
- 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's gotten a lot more facetime lately thanks to being one of very few major female Muppets in the cast;
- Count von Count, a vampire (or possibly not, depending on who you ask) who pursues his numerical fetish to the point where his victims would probably be thrilled with requests for their blood instead ("One! One irritated person! Two! Two irritated people! AH AH AH AH AH!");
- "Lovable, 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 cheese, triangles, and cheese triangles; Herry, an athlete who Does Not Know His Own Strength; the gibberish-talking Two-Headed Monster who sounded out words, Rosita, a cyan monster who is also Hispanic, 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 learning basic concepts about the human world ("That's so magical!"). In 2017, she got a monster stepbrother named Rudy.
- 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. Elmo would also become the host of Sesame Street's first formal spinoff, HBO Max's talk show parody The Not-Too-Late Show with Elmo.
- Julia, a little girl with orange hair and a ragged toy rabbit, who has autism. The character was introduced in storybooks and on the show's digital platforms in 2015, before appearing in live action on the show in the spring of 2017. The idea of the Julia character is to teach young children why sometimes a classmate or someone they might want to be friends with might seem aloof or withdrawn, preoccupied or otherwise exhibit other unusual behaviors, and that their rejection — such as when Big Bird questions why Julia ignored him and didn't seem to like him after being introduced — should not be taken personally. Her introduction gained much mainstream publicity, especially as Stacey Gordon, her puppeteer, has a son with autism. Additionally, her debut episode was considered so important that HBO waived their exclusivity window for it and allowed PBS to simulcast it.note In April 2019, in honor of Autism Week, several videos featuring her family were made.
Sesame Street is brought to you by the tropes:
- Tropes brought to you by the letters A through C
- Tropes brought to you by the letters D through F
- Tropes brought to you by the letters G through J
- Tropes brought to you by the letters K through N
- Tropes brought to you by the letters O through R
- Tropes brought to you by the letters S through Z
Tropes with their own pages
Sesame Street is a production of the Children's Television Workshop.