Forty-five years ago, on November 10, 1969, Sesame Street, the pioneering TV show set in a fictional neighborhood of New York City, debuted on PBS with the mission of using television to help children learn.
With its memorable theme song, “Can you tell me how to get to Sesame Street,” the show has taught generations of kids the alphabet and how to count, and is now the most widely viewed children’s program in the world, airing in about 140 countries.
The show was the brainchild of Joan Ganz Cooney, a former documentary producer, whose goal was to create a program for preschoolers that was entertaining and educational. She also wanted to use TV as a way to help underprivileged toddlers prepare for kindergarten.
Sesame Street includes positive social messages and ethnically diverse characters, and features short segments with puppets, animation and actors. Critics blame the brief episodes for shrinking the attention span of children.
One of the program’s most popular aspects is the family of puppets known as the Muppets, Jim Henson’s cast of characters who include Bert and Ernie, Oscar the Grouch, Grover, the Cookie Monster and Big Bird.
Sesame Street is set at 123 Sesame Street in a fictional, two-story row house located on either the Upper West Side or Alphabet City on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. The Robinsons live on the first floor, the Rodriguez family on the second, and Bert and Ernie in the basement.
The building is a typical, gentrified city brownstone. To the left is a forecourt and entrance to a carriage house. The forecourt, or Arbor, is a playground. And to the right is a fence of old doors, in front of which is Oscar the Grouch’s trash can.
Behind the doors, Big Bird lives in his nest. Hooper’s Store is just down the street. In the late 1990s, the characters decided the neighborhood needed more green space, so they built a garden in a vacant lot.
Like most city neighborhoods, Sesame Street has its own subway station, which is a replica of the 72nd St. subway entrance. There is also a laundromat in the neighborhood that used to be the Fix-It Shop and Mail-It Shop.
Sesame Street began with a simple yet innovative idea: to use television to help kids learn. Since its start, some 77 million Americans have watched it and about eight million people tune in every week in the United States.
A survey in 1996 found 95 percent of US preschoolers watched the show by the time they were three years old. In 2002, Sesame Street was ranked #27 on TV Guide’s 50 Greatest TV Shows of All Time. It has received 118 Emmys, more than any other TV series.