A Street Well Traveled

Jim Henson and Frank Oz bring Bert and Ernie to life.

Chances are good you’ve been there before.  It’s a place where the days are sunny, the air is sweet, and the friendly neighbors are on a first-name basis with everyone they meet.  The place is Sesame Street, and this month the PBS phenomenon celebrates its 41st year of educating and entertaining children of all ages.

The show’s story is really quite remarkable.  Conceived around a Manhattan dinner table in late 1966, Sesame Street debuted on November 10, 1969 with the lofty goal of harnessing television’s then untapped potential to teach kids.  With Jim Henson’s Muppets center stage, children nationwide were soon laughing out loud while they learned about letters, numbers, self-respect, and fair play.  But kids weren’t the only ones having a good time.  Part of the reason that Sesame Street currently airs in 140 countries and is viewed by 6 million American preschoolers each week lies in its extraordinary ability to entertain children and adults simultaneously.  The show’s genius is that it can use a Muppet spoof of Mad Men to teach about emotions while getting parents and kids laughing for completely different reasons.  So celebrate the anniversary of this revolutionary program by taking a behind-the-scenes tour through its history with the following books and DVD’s.  And, as a special birthday treat, don’t miss the video clips of Mad Men and True Blood done Sesame Street style.

Street Gang: The Complete History of Sesame Street by Michael Davis – This captivating read offers an in-depth look at the many unique personalities who launched the pioneering show including Jim Henson, Carol Spinney, and Children’s Television Workshop founder Joan Ganz Cooney.  With unflinching detail, the book uncovers the human drama behind-the-scenes of Sesame Street while providing “wonderful flashes of nostalgia.”

123 Sesame Street, A Celebration: 40 Years of Life on the Street by Louise Gikow – This coffee table book and DVD combo commemorates the show’s four decades of influential programing with a compendium of history, cast interviews, and eye-catching color photos.  The DVD includes the very first episode of Sesame Street.

Henson’s Place: The Man Behind the Muppets – This DVD documentary takes a behind-the-scenes look inside Jim Henson’s Creature Shop where Ernie, Bert, Oscar the Grouch, and Big Bird were born.  Featuring interviews with Henson and long-time partner Frank Oz, this fascinating film offers a rare insider’s look at a creative visionary.

Sesame Street Dad by Roscoe Orman – Known to generations of children as “Gordan,” actor Roscoe Orman details his life both on and off Sesame Street in this absorbing memoir.  Included with Orman’s memories from the show are detailed accounts of his 40-year theater career working with such actors as Ossie Davis and Morgan Freeman.

(Hint: Select “Search All Libraries” to locate some materials)

Russell J.

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