4. It Still Enriches as It Entertains
Sesame Street’s formula of mixing puppetry, animation, short films, original music, and an ensemble cast still provides an alchemy that entrances as it informs. “It’s a total connect with children,” says Kevin Clash, who produces and directs some of Sesame’s episodes but is best known as the Muppeteer behind ever-popular Elmo.
The show’s ratings may not be what they once were, thanks in part to the proliferation of quality preschool shows on Nickelodeon, Disney Channel, and Noggin. Still, Sesame remains its demographic’s most beneficial program. No other series better stimulates the growing child’s intellectual, emotional, and social development. “We offer a whole-child curriculum,” says Rosemary Truglio, vice president for education and research for Sesame Workshop (formerly Children’s Television Workshop).
5. It’s Still Growing
The old adage “The more things change, the more they stay the same” does not apply to Sesame Street. The visionaries at Sesame Workshop have always viewed the series as an ongoing experiment. As things change in the world, Sesame’s curriculum adapts and adjusts. “Renewal is a constant process,” Truglio says.
Topical issues are often addressed in the show. In this upcoming anniversary season, for example, a “wonders of nature” theme will weave through episodes, offering age-appropriate segments on nature, conservation, and recycling. To herald this campaign, a (temporarily) green Elmo turned up on the Today show in April to promote Being Green, a direct-to-DVD home video that guest stars Paul Rudd as Mr. Earth.
6. It’s Downloadable
Joey Mazzarino is a director, head writer, and performer for Sesame Street (he brings vocabulary-building Murray Monster to life). He was also in the first generation of kids who grew up with the show. His goal is to keep the program relevant for a generation of children who have never known life without computers and the accessibility of modern technology. To that end, viewers can now stream Sesame podcasts from iTunes and view on-demand episodes around the clock on the Sprout digital channel.
7. It’s Still Gloriously Grouchy
At age 75, Muppeteer Caroll Spinney still performs as vinegary Oscar the Grouch, the contrarian in a can who told First Lady Michelle Obama to scram during her April set visit. Oscar’s continued presence is somewhat surprising, given the watered-down nature of many children’s shows on TV today. Executive producer Carol-Lynn Parente agrees. “If Sesame Street were created today, you wouldn’t have a character like Oscar,” she says. “Sugarcoating keeps that kind of character from being born.”
But Oscar perseveres because the show’s producers see a great benefit to having such a cranky character in the cast. “His presence shows that people on Sesame Street do not all always get along. Sometimes, they have differences of opinion. They have a nasty person in their neighborhood, and although they may not like the way he behaves, he’s still a part of the community, and they still try to get him on their side.”