Sesame Street has produced nearly 5,000 episodes, won 193 Emmy awards and is now broadcasting in 150 different countries. But these five milestones in the first 50 years say so much about the success.
Since its first broadcast on November 10, 1969, millions of children with the classic theme "Can you tell me how to get into Sesame Street?" Grew up.
During this time, it has undoubtedly changed early childhood education around the world.
Here is how.
It all started in Harvard …
In the late 1960s, the co-founders of Sesame Street, Lloyd Morrisett and Joan Ganz Cooney, approached Harvard University's Graduate School of Education with a novel approach to teaching American children.
A development psychologist team worked with the Sesame founders to analyze the psychology of childhood and to use the relatively new medium of television to create entertaining lessons for children.
They tapped Muppets puppeteer Jim Henson to create characters like Big Bird, and the set looked more like a city street than a magical world. And the four human performers were multi-ethnic – a seminal decision for the era.
Joe Blatt, Professor of Harvard Education and Advisor on the show, said that the concept of using television – which was then thought to provoke only laziness and bad habits in children – was a "brilliant, daring, and exciting one for 1969 Move".
According to Prof. Blatt, the program used "powerful media strategies such as [advert] Jingles, like repetitions, to do things that help kids learn, rather than make kids want frosted flakes. "
The death of Mr. Hooper in real life
When actor Will Lee, one of the original four human performers, died of a heart attack in 1983, executives made the courageous decision to explain to children the concept of death.
Lee played the shopkeeper, Mr. Hooper.
"Big Bird, when people die, they will not come back," said the obviously grieving occupation of the doll and assured him – and the small audience – that after the death of people their memory lives on and others continue their work.
The script was tested on children before broadcast to make sure the children understood the message, says Prof. Blatt of the BBC. Earlier tests had led the show to throw away other lessons, such as a section on divorce, when they discovered that children did not understand it.
The decision to write Mr. Hooper's death on the show was "one of the first times they went dark," says TV editor Polly Conway of Common Sense Media, which reviews children's programs.
"They understand that children can handle complex issues if the information is passed on in an age-appropriate way," she says.
"And the answer is never to talk about death, it's about talking about death in a way that a four-year-old can understand, in a way that's thoroughly supported by children's research."
Since this lesson on death, executives have never broadcast segments featuring Mr. Hooper. "They said he would not come back," says Prof. Blatt. "And they stood by it."
An HIV-positive Muppet
To the surprise of the creators of the show, who introduced them as purely for the American public, the show was quickly adapted for international audiences. Even children in conflict areas or refugee camps can watch a version of Sesame Street.
Each co-production tries to help the children understand problems that affect their part of the world. In South Africa's Takalani Sesame, the figure Kami is an HIV-positive orphan doll whose mother died of AIDS. In Afghanistan, Zari and her brother Zeerak stand for gender equality and respect for women.
Mexico, Brazil and Germany were the first to broadcast synchronized versions of Sesame Street in the early 1970s.
Later, senior executives at Sesame Workshop pledged to work with television executives in countries around the world to produce programs specifically for local youth.
TV producers "bring the sesame model, this mix of curriculum and research, into one country and develop a new series with authentic goals that are relevant to the country," explains Prof. Blatt.
Sesame Street around the world
- Mexico Plaza Sésamo became the first international coproduction in 1972 together with Brazil Villa Sésamo.
- Germany sesame street debuted in 1973, followed by Holland Sesame train 1976.
- In Egypt Alam Simsim, the female character Khoka wants to empower girls to hope for great things
- In 1998, a joint Israeli-Palestinian co-production started, in which two different communities interact with each other
- In Bangladesh Sisimpur Characters gather around a banyan tree and tea and candy stores – traditional hangouts for the region
- Sesame co-productions work with displaced Rohingya and Arab children living in refugee camps
According to the 2006 documentary The World, co-founder Joan Ganz Cooney compared her work with missionaries according to Sesame Street, but instead of religion, the team spreads "tolerance and love and mutual respect."
Fifty years after its founding, more than 30 international teams custom-made local versions of Sesame Street content for more than 150 million children in 150 countries.
A homeless character
Starting in 2015, an online library titled Sesame Street in Communities will build on curricula that have been tested on children around the world to help American neighborhoods tackle everyday American struggles such as school shootings, addiction and abuse to cope with rapidly changing technologies.
In 2018, a seven-year-old pink muppet named Lily became the first sesame resident to experience homelessness.
The most recently added Muppet is Karli, a foster child whose mother fights drug addiction. According to Sesame, Karli's role is urgent, with at least 5.7 million US children under the age of 11 having a substance-addicted parent in the household.
Over the years, other Muppets have taught children autism, divorce and smartphones.
Elmo says at the congress
Sesame figures and the puppeteers and executives behind them have increasingly focused on activism, with Sesame Street residents playing a role in policymaking around the world.
In the midst of the obesity epidemic in 2006, sesame was praised for spreading health habits in which children were educated about diet and exercise.
Even Cookie Monster has declared cookies to be "sometimes food" and now provides children with a balanced diet.
In 2009, former First Lady Michelle Obama visited the studios of Sesame to shoot a section on healthy eating.
Earlier women, who returned to Barbara Bush in the early 1990s, also recorded sesame-quality clips, both in the US and in co-productions in Egypt and India.
In 2002, Elmo also became the focus of public policy when, according to the Washington Post, he was the first non-human or puppet testifying before the congress.
He was invited by former Congressman Duke Cunningham, who pleaded guilty to accepting bribes, to discuss music education.