The life and times of Australia's Baby Boomer generation

Television: Sesame Street

Sesame Street is an educational television program designed for preschoolers, and is recognized as a pioneer of the contemporary standard which combines education and entertainment in children's television shows. Sesame Street also provided the first daily, national television showcase for Jim Henson's Muppets. More than 4100 episodes of the show have been produced in 37 seasons, making it one of the longest-running shows in television history.

Sesame Street is produced in the United States by Sesame Workshop, formerly known as the Children's Television Workshop (CTW). It premiered on November 10, 1969 on the National Educational Television network, and later that year it was moved to NET's successor, the Public Broadcasting Service.

Because of its widespread influence, Sesame Street has earned the distinction of being one of the the world's foremost and most highly regarded educators of young people. Few television series can match its level of recognition and success on the international stage. The original series has been televised in 120 countries, and more than 20 international versions have been produced. In its long history, Sesame Street has received more Emmy Awards than any other program, and has captured the allegiance, esteem, and affections of millions of viewers worldwide.

Premiered 10th November 1969

CAST

Kermit the Frog (Jim Henson; Steve Whitmire)
Ernie (Jim Henson; Steve Whitmire)
Guy Smiley (Jim Henson)
Papa Twiddlebug (Jim Henson)
Captain Vegetable (Jim Henson)
Sinister Sam (Jim Henson)
Big Bird (Carroll Spinney; Matt Vogel)
Oscar the Grouch (Carroll Spinney)
Bruno (Carroll Spinney)
Carlo (Carlo Alban)
Grunetta Grunge (Pam Arciero)
Telly Monster (Pam Arciero; Martin P. Robinson)
Larry (Alan Arkin)
Gina (Alison Bartlett)
Numbers (Paul Benedict)
Countess von Backwards (Camille Bonora)
Elmo (Kevin Clash)
Bert (Frank Oz)
Grover (Frank Oz)
Cookie Monster (Frank Oz)

TRIVIA

Bert and Ernie are not named for the characters in It's a Wonderful Life (1946); it's a coincidence.

Originally, the character of Snuffleupagus only ever interacted with Big Bird. He'd always come and go when no one else was around, and consequently no one ever believed Big Bird when he told them of his existence. The producers decided to reveal him to the other characters partially because they felt it was sending a bad message to children that adults will not believe them if they have something important to tell them.

Big Bird is 8'2" tall. Big Bird almost never got Mr. Hooper's last name correct during his entire stay on the show. He often called him Mr. Looper, among other words that rhymed. Often, he would use the words "pooper" and "scooper," but never together.

On the death of actor Will Lee, who played neighborhood grocer Mr. Harold Hooper, the production staff decided not to replace him with another actor instead they wrote a special episode dealing with the loss of a loved one ("Goodbye, Mr. Hooper"). In a scene where the other cast members are talking to Big Bird about the death of someone one loves, they were apparently still grieving the loss of Will Lee, since they were visibly near tears.

After the death of Jim Henson in 1990, the show ceased producing new sketches featuring Kermit the Frog. Kermit appeared only in reruns of old sketches until 1998, when he popped up to do a Sesame Street News Flash when Oscar the Grouch's pet worm Slimy went into space. He appeared again in 2001, reporting on a hurricane with Al Roker. Kermit is now voiced by Steve Whitmire, who has also assumed the role of Ernie since Henson's passing.

After the untimely death of Jim Henson in 1990, Kermit the Frog was retired from the show. Kermit appeared only in reruns of old sketches until 1998, when he popped up to do one more Sesame Street News Flash when Oscar the Grouch's pet worm Slimy went into space. Kermit was voiced by Steve Whitmire, who has also assumed the role of Ernie since Henson's passing. However, as of 2000, another actor now plays Ernie, since the Jim Henson Company is no longer involved in the production of the show.

The left-side door in the front of 123 Sesame Street has never been opened. Once when Big Bird tried to get Snuffy into the building, he explained that he couldn't open that door because "it was locked" when it turned out Snuffy couldn't fit through just one door.

There was a muppet at one time called Simon Soundman; this character would use sound effects in place of some words whenever he spoke. Apparently, the muppet was retired because he was thought to be too ridiculous or because the sound effects were too expensive to reproduce more than once or twice.

Some old Bert and Ernie skits showed Ernie having his own bedroom instead of sharing a bedroom with Bert.

Gordon never had a last name until 1991 when he became a teacher. Since it would have been inappropriate for students to call him by his first name, Roscoe Orman suggested his last name should be Robinson, after Matt Robinson, the first actor to play Gordon in the show.

As of 2005, this program has won over 100 Emmy Awards, the single-most awarded to any television show in the United States.

In 2004, Natalie Portman appeared as a character named Natalie. Natalie was to run Hooper's Store for three episodes while Alan (Alan Muroaka) was on vacation. But after taping one episode, Portman began losing her voice and was unable to continue.

In the first few episodes in which he appeared, Barkley was originally called Woof-Woof.

The Count was born on 9 October 1,830,653 B.C.

Rosita originally appeared on "Plaza Sésamo" (1973), the Mexican version of "Sesame Street" (1969). When she joined the cast of the original American version, she became first regular bilingual Muppet on Sesame Street.

In 2002, producers of a South African version of "Sesame Street" (which became "Takalani Sesame" (2000)) announced that they were adding an HIV-positive Muppet named Kami to the series to address the growing number of people (including children) with the virus in that part of the world. The producers of the original US series indicated they were considering doing the same thing.

Oscar the Grouch's fur was orange in the first season. In the second season, it was changed to green.

Linda (Linda Bove) was the first deaf regular character on American television.

Originally, the intention was that the Muppets and the human actors should be kept strictly separate in different sequences. However, the producers learned that the audiences were focusing their attention on the Muppets and ignoring the actors. In response, they had the actors and Muppets begin to interact in new scenes and created special Muppets primarily designed for actors to work with, namely Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch.

Unfortunately, some classic Muppets have been canned over the years for interesting reasons. Don Music, the piano player who would bang his head against the piano in frustration, had to be discontinued when kids at home started doing the same thing. Harvey Kneeslapper was discontinued because his signature laugh was too much of a strain on Frank Oz's vocal cords. Roosevelt Franklin, arguably one of the first breakthrough Sesame Street Muppets, had to go as he was considered to be a negative cultural stereotype (he was the only African American Muppet at the time and was seen mostly in detention after school). Some of these banned segments continued to air on the Canadian version for some time after they were removed from the US show.

In 1993, the original set was expanded to include new areas located just around the corner from Big Bird's nest, which had previously marked the end of Sesame Street's world. Among these areas was a store initially run by a character played by Ruth Buzzi. The series format was intended to simulate the commercial-filled world of TV to which American children are exposed, with a main plot line being interrupted by frequent commercials hawking educational concepts instead of products and simulated TV programs. The show also made extensive use of the reruns concept by replaying popular segments over and over, intermixed with new material. As a result, children viewing the show in 2002 will still see the occasional segment that was originally created for the series when their parents were still children! Many songs written for the series are now considered standards. These include "Sing," "Being Green," "Rubber Duckie," and "C is for Cookie," as well as the show's theme song. However, when the show changed formats in 2000, this concept is less frequently used than before.

"Sing a Song" (later released as a single by The Carpenters) was originally slated to be the show's opening theme song.

The character of Oscar the Grouch was inspired by two people. His attitude comes from a nasty waiter that served Jim Henson and former director Jon Stone at a restaurant called Oscar's Tavern in Manhattan. The voice was inspired by a cab-driver that used to drive Carroll Spinney to the set every day during the first season.

Originally designed for inner-city children to help them formulate phrases in standard English.

Some of the songs used on Sesame Street (i.e. versions of the Alphabet Song and "Wubba Wubba Wubba (Is A Monster Song)") featured cameo appearances by many celebrities, including Ray Charles, and, on one occasion, the cartoon family The Simpsons of "The Simpsons" (1989).

According to the 2004 edition of "The Guinness Book of World Records 2004," the show holds the record for Most Popular Children's Educational Program, having been shown in 180 countries.

After it was decided to have the character of Mr. Hooper die after the death of actor Will Lee (rather than re-cast the role or simply write out his character), a child psychologist was brought in to help the writers. The show where his character's death was announced was scheduled for a public holiday and was publicized in many newspapers (so parents could be present to answer any questions their children might have). It was also seen as important not to say that Mr. Hooper died in hospital as it was seen as potentially making children scared of going to a hospital.

Oscar the Grouch's pet worm is named Slimey.

Mr. Hooper's first name is Harold. It wasn't revealed until Episode #871: "Mr Hooper Gets His Diploma", aired March 15, 1976.

In 2004, Cookie Monster revealed that, before trying cookies for the first time, his name was Sid.

Possibly the only topic that has never been dealt with on the show is divorce. The producers have tried several times, but couldn't come up with a story that didn't lead children in test audiences to fear their own parents were planning to divorce.

The shoe size of Snuffy Snuffleupagus was 65 GGG

Snuffy's baby sister is named Alice.

Elmo's goldfish is named Dorothy.

Ernie wears horizontal stripes on his sweater to make him appear more relaxed; and Bert wears vertical stripes on his sweater to make him appear more uptight.




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Baby Boomer Central is published by Australia On CD. © Stephen Yarrow, 2010.