Sesame Street Celebrates 50 Years on Air

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BY Trevor Monroe

Staff Reporter

On Nov. 10, the children’s television show “Sesame Street” celebrated its 50th anniversary. The show aired for the first time in 1969, when there were not many educational television shows on air.

Cartoon shows that were in production at the time included “Captain Kangaroo,” “Romper Room” and “Tom and Jerry.” Another show on-air at the time that was dedicated to education for children was “Mr. Rogers,” with the goal that, “It was mostly teaching social skills,” according to the Associated Press.

Phillip Levine, a professor of economics at Wellesley College said in an AP News article, “There was nothing even remotely that contained any educational component at all for children.”

According to AP News, “The show was designed by education professionals and child psychologists with one goal: to help low-income and minority students aged 2-5 overcome some of the deficiencies they had when entering school.”

“Sesame Street” has a specific setting and cast of characters for the show. The multicultural cast and urban settings are included to make the target audience a large demographic.

The show was created by Joan Ganz Cooney and Lloyd Morrisett, who worked with Developmental Psychologist Gerald Lesser at Harvard University to create the series.

“Sesame Street is really important to me,” said professor Jerald Dunivan, the news reporter for WSHU. “It is something that made the world a better place. I loved how it showed an urban neighborhood with a diverse cast of characters. It was capable of showing some things that kids had to deal with.”

“Sesame Street” has a large cast of puppets who play the characters on the show. Elmo is the star of the series who is voiced and puppeteered by Ryan Dillon. Dillon has been playing Elmo since 2013 when Elmo’s previous actor Kevin Clash retired in 2012. Clash was the voice and puppeteer of the character since 1985.   

Some students recall watching the series when they were younger.

“I did watch Sesame Street when I was a kid,” said junior Andrew Santiago. “Big Bird was by far my favorite character out of the bunch.”

Big Bird is one of the tallest characters in the show with a height of over eight feet tall. Big Bird is played in a costume rather than a puppet.

Big Bird has been played by Caroll Spinney for a majority of the show’s history. He was replaced in 2018 by Matt Vogel.   

The show has introduced characters with certain disabilities, which included a puppet living in foster care who was HIV positive.

The show is also known for tackling tough topics like “death”. One of the hardest episodes was when the character Mr. Hooper died. The character was played by Will Lee, who passed away. The show involved Big Bird learning of his passing and coping with the death.

“Sesame Street” also tackled the events of 9/11. The plot of the episode revolved around Mr. Hooper’s store burning down. The episode was made to help kids understand that firefighters are there to help them.

Sesame street is currently airing its 49th season, with episodes being played on both PBS and HBO. The Partnership with HBO began in 2015, which was a result of financial troubles.

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