It was 50 years ago this month that a now familiar song was first heard on the airwaves:
Sweepin’ the clouds away.
On my way,
To where the air is sweet,
Can you tell me how to get,
How to get to Sesame Street?
That’s right. “Sesame Street,” perhaps the most successful show in the history of children’s television, is now 50 years old.
The show’s origins have been well-documented. “Sesame Street” was created by Joan Ganz Cooney, who founded the Children’s Television Workshop. She was appalled by the crass commercialism of children’s television at the time. She wanted to create a show that would be educational and fun.
The show was set on an inner city street, and it focused on the many people who lived there. From the very beginning, “Sesame Street” had a racially and ethnically mixed cast. It was a subtle way of saying we call all get along.
The characters who stole the show, however, were the Muppets. They included Kermit the Frog, Oscar the Grouch, the omnivorous eating machine known as Cookie Monster, Big Bird, game show host Guy Smiley and the duo of Ernie & Bert. They were later joined by the likes of Snuffleupagus, Grover and Elmo.
I was nine years old when “Sesame Street” first came on the air, and I immediately fell in love with the Muppets, especially Ernie & Bert. However, my peers at St. Paul’s Lutheran School in Ann Arbor, Mich. thought it was a baby show, and I endured endless bullying for watching it.
My dad taught at Concordia College in Ann Arbor at the time, and his students would sometimes stop by our house. Imagine my delight when I saw these college students laughing out loud at “Sesame Street.” I began to realize that maybe I wasn’t a baby for liking the show.
Over the years, “Sesame Street” has had a lot of fun, but they’ve also dealt with some serious issues. When Will Lee, the actor who played the shopkeeper Mr. Hooper, died, the show didn’t try to hide it. They used it as a chance to gently and sensitively teach children about death, and how it’s a part of life.
They’ve also had characters who were homeless, autistic or had a parent who was in prison. “Sesame Street” tries to explain these things in a way that children will understand.
Of course, there were some ideas that didn’t go over very well. These included the idea of having Cookie Monster make healthier eating choices. If they did that, the next thing you know, they’d be giving him table manners.
In the era of same-sex marriages, some have said Ernie and Bert should get married. Whatever.
I can’t leave out my favorite “Sesame Street” gag. In one of the early episodes. Ernie was learning to make the letter “X.” After Bert commended him on how well he made his Xs, Ernie went outside to make an “X” for himself out of wood. When he came back inside, Bert looked shaken.
“I was frying some bacon and Cookie Monster came along and ate it all,” Bert said.
At this point, Cookie Monster appeared and began to eat Ernie’s X.
“What are you doing?” Ernie asked.
Comes the reply: “Me always love bacon and X.”
Happy 50th birthday, “Sesame Street.”