No matter what country you live in, or how old you are, chances are you have watched an episode of Sesame Street. With its colourful characters and memorable songs, Sesame Street has been teaching kids how to count and spell and everything in between since 1969. By the mid 1970’s, the show had become an “american institution”. The cast and crew massively extended during this time, with emphasis on hiring more women crew and ethnic minorities in the cast. The idea was to take the increasing obsession with TV in kids, and “do something good with it.”
Over the decades, Sesame Street has evolved from pre-school viewing to having A-list movie stars line up to have a cameo spot with the Jim Henson’s muppets puppets that have embodied the features and sketches of the show for over 40 years. By its 40th anniversary in 2009, Sesame Street was the fifteenth-highest-rated children’s television show in the United States. A 1996 survey found that 95% of all American preschoolers had watched the show by the time they were three years old. In 2008, it was estimated that 77 million Americans had watched the series as children. As of 2014, Sesame Street has won 167 Emmy Awards and 8 Grammy Awards—more than any other children’s show. It gave birth to spin-off movies such as Elmo in Grouchland, Follow that bird, CinderElmo and Sesame Street 4D. With so many years, so many episodes in the archive, there has to be some Sesame Street things we don’t know? Let’s take a look…
1. Many of the main characters have completely changed.
Do you remember when Mr. Snuffleupagus was a scary looking snout monster? Or when Cookie Monster was green with sharp edged teeth? Nobody would ever say they could imagine Oscar the Grouch as bright orange?! The original inception of Snuffy had him with slitted yellow eyes and a ghastly body with far less padding. The jagged teeth version of Cookie Monster was from the days when he was featured in commercials before the show. Telly Monster initially had antennae coming out of his head and his eyes would spin whenever he watched television. And Big Bird had a disgruntled look upon his face, which belied his gentle voice and demeanour.
2. Joe Pesci once played a spoof version of Donald Trump
Sesame Street All-Star 25th Birthday: Stars and Street Forever! The episode where Home Alone villain Joe Pesci donned a terrible wig to play “Ronald Grump” an evil tycoon determined to buy the street and turn into high rise condos. Of course, his plan was foiled by none other than Oscar the Grouch, and all was well. It’s a shame Oscar wasn’t around during the 2016 Presidential election.
3. Snuffy wasn’t always a real character
For many years, Big Bird was the only one who could see Snuffy. It wasn’t until the 17th series in 1985 that others began to see him and finally believe that he was real. Often, Big Bird was teased for having an imaginary friend. He went to great lengths to introduce him to the adults around him, organising a party at his nest where everyone gathered for food, at which point no one could deny that Snuffy was real. But there was also a more sinister reason for bringing the character out of the realms of imagination and into reality. In an interview on the show Still Gaming, Snuffy’s performer, Martin P. Robinson, revealed that Snuffy was finally introduced to the main human cast mainly due to a string of high-profile and sometimes graphic stories of peadophilia and sexual abuse of children that had been aired on the show 60 Minutes. According to Carol-Lynn Parente, the writers felt that by having the adults refuse to believe Big Bird despite the fact that he was telling the truth, they were scaring children into thinking that their parents would not believe them if they had been sexually abused and that they would just be better off remaining silent. On the same telethon, during Robinson’s explanation, Loretta Long uttered the words “Bronx daycare”, a reference to a news event on New York TV station WNBC-TV in which there were reports of alleged sexual abuse at a Bronx daycare center. This was seen in the documentary Sesame Street Unpaved.
4. There’s an African version of Sesame Street
Africa is not the only place to host its own version of “Sesame Street.” There are varieties throughout the world, in Europe, Asia, Australia, and the Middle East. The earliest international adaptation was Brazil’s Vila Sésamo. Many other versions exist, each tailored to the specific language, environment, and social circumstances of the area in which it aired. While many of the characters carried over, others were added or replaced. In the Canadian version, the main character was a giant polar bear named Basil, who learned French from his bilingual friend. In the version from the Philippines, the Big Bird character is a giant pink turtle named Pong Pagong; in Israel it is a hedgehog named Kippi Kippod, and in Kuwait it is a camel named No’Man. According to Joan Ganz Cooney, one of the creators of the Sesame Workshop, she was stunned at the international interest in the show: “To be frank, I was really surprised, because we thought we were creating the quintessential American show. We thought the Muppets were quintessentially American, and it turns out they’re the most international characters ever created.”
5. Sesame Street characters paid tribute at Jim Henson’s memorial
n 1990, Jim Henson, the creator of Sesame Street’s Muppets, died suddenly of a bacterial pneumonia. In the wake of his passing, two memorial services (one in New York and one in London) were staged wherein both characters from Henson’s “The Muppet Show” and “Sesame Street performed”, including a heartrending version of “Being Green” by Big Bird. Henson’s only request was that no one wear black. Although the services were open to the public, they were not televised, and only certain recorded segments exist. Along with Muppet performances and eulogies from friends and collaborators, excerpts from Henson’s correspondence to his children were read, including this passage: “Please watch out for each other and love and forgive everybody. It’s a good life, enjoy it.”
6. Michael Jackson saved Sesame Street’s life
After a sketch featuring a parody of he Beatles ″Let It Be″ called ″Letter B,″ Sesame Street was sued by the owners of the music at the time, Northern Songs. Shortly after the suit was filed, Northern Songs was purchased by Michael Jackson. Michael had no interest in bankrupting Sesame Street over the parody, so the lawsuit was settled for just $50.
7. There’s a secret episode nobody has seen
Divorce is always a tough subject to broach with kids who are going through it. But Sesame Street never shied away from touching on the things which really mattered. In 1991, they tried to deal with a serious subject in an episode called ″Snuffy’s Parents Get a Divorce.″ As you would expect, the episode featured a very sad Snuffy, who cries while telling Big Bird that his parents have split up. However, a test audience of kids in daycare found it too upsetting, and it was never aired. However, years later, the show did wind up tackling the subject, when Abby Cadabby revealed her parents are divorced. By having the divorce be in the past, they showed that Abby could be happy even if her parents are no longer together.
8. Sesame Street was a little bit racist
Roosevelt Franklin was one of the original street characters. A hip, hyper, rhyming kid at school. Voiced by Matt Robinson (who originally played Gordon), it was widely assumed he was supposed to be African-American. Eventually, concerns were raised that Roosevelt’s character seemed like a stereotype, and he was removed from the show.
9. There’s an autistic character only the new generation will know about
2015 welcomed a new character called Julia. She is 4 years old with bright orange hair. Julia’s characterization was originated by Leslie Kimmelman for the digital storybook “We’re Amazing, 1, 2, 3!” She used her own experiences as the mother of a child with autism, as well as input from research and advisers from the autism community, to inform the story. Due to the positive response to the outreach initiative, Julia was made into a physical Muppet that debuted in episode 4715 of the show, airing on April 10, 2017. She is performed by Stacey Gordon, who also used her own experiences raising her autistic son to help inform the actions of the character. She made her television debut on 60 Minutes on March 19, 2017, and subsequently appeared in a series of YouTube videos for SesameStreet’s YouTube Channel.
10. Big Bird is bigger than you think
8ft 2 inches to be exact!