Sesame at 40: The Word on the Street

Sunny daay, everything’s A-OK as we celebrate 40 years of Sesame Street. Michelle Obama appears on Tuesday’s 40th anniversary episode, doling out gardening tips to preschoolers (10 a.m., PBS). Viewers who haven’t visited the street in a few decades may notice changes in the old neighbourhood, which has been given a digital sheen.
It is hard to explain the impact this show had when it emerged in 1969. Kids shows hadn’t really changed that much since the ’50s when Sherri Lewis sewed a few buttons on a sock and called it Lamp Chop. Captain Kangaroo was still on the air every morning at CBS, and The Friendly Giant was still asking kids to look up, look waaay up, at CBC.
You could see the impact of the show on the big kids who grew up to be TV critics at the last press tour in Los Angeles. Reporters swarmed Grover and Cookie Monster (no longer voiced by Frank Oz but by David Rudman, above right), looking for quotes and sound bites but also just wanting to get close to some real TV stars. New Jersey Star-Ledger ace Alan Sepinwall got up close and personal with Cookie and Grover (played by Eric Jacobson, below, who also took over from Oz).
Also making the Muppet scene was Joel Keller from TV Squad (below, right) and Marc Berman from Mediaweek (bottom right with Abby Cadabby, voiced by Leslie Carrara-Rudolph, as well as Street star Maria, played by Sonja Manzano). After weeks of chasing around after the Kardasians or Jon and Kate, critics can’t get enough of these real TV stars.
The year 1969 was a pretty amazing one in history as well as on television. The tube was transitioning from the high concept campiness of shows like Hogan’s Heroes, The Beverly Hillbillies and I Dream of Jeannie to social awareness shows like Room 222, The Courtship of Eddie’s Father and the short-lived gem My World and Welcome To It.
It wasn’t always a smooth transition. That April, the Smothers Brothers were fired from CBS. Still, Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In was the most popular show of the day, and the snappy pace of that show as well as its spirit of zaniness had an influence over a lot of other television shows at the time–including, surprisingly–Sesame Street. Here come da bird!
Read more about it in the story I wrote for The Canadian Press which was posted here last week.

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