How we got to Sesame Street
Street Gang: How we got to Sesame Street
It’s no shock that Sesame Street was born from a mixture of idealism and academic seriousness. Created by television producer Joan Ganz Cooney and psychologist Lloyd Morrisett, then vice-president of the Carnegie Foundation, the show aimed to bridge socio-economic divides and reach children who fell behind in their education even before d have started kindergarten. What surprises a little while watching the documentary Street Gang: How we got to Sesame Street is a reminder that the legendary series was conceived as an attempt to harness the addictive powers of a must-have mass media for the forces of good.
In these days of screens and streaming, the battles over the chest tube’s perceived lack of reputation feel like over with the term chest tube himself, but in 1966, when Cooney and Morrisett first spoke about the subject at a dinner party, many of their peers saw television as the realm of rotten brains and peddled products. In Street gang, Cooney, now 91, says, “Every kid in America sang beer commercials,” as the playful varieties of “When You Say Budweiser, You Said It All” play on images of children looking at screens . Jim Henson, who died in 1990 and whose Muppets debuted in eccentric commercials as much as late-night shows, drew a direct line between his advertising background and Sesame Street in a vintage clip. As he says, “I loved the idea; the whole idea of taking commercial techniques and applying them to a children’s show.
Television hasn’t stopped selling us things, although the age of streaming has added new complications to what and how. Street gang, a charming watch by director Marilyn Agrelo, based on the book by Michael Davis, is partly released by HBO, which in 2016 actually moved Sesame Street behind a paywall: He had a deal with PBS, the show’s longtime home, that guaranteed the cable network (and, later, its streaming arm, HBO Max) a nine-month head start on the first airing episodes. There is no mention of this less inclusive development in the document; Street gang focuses on the show’s exhilarating debut, which premiered on public television on November 10, 1969, with a large grant from the federal government. But walking through the film is a realization that, while the creatives behind Sesame Street saw themselves as a reuse of advertising techniques for the public good, they could only create the singular spectacle because they were freed from commercial pressures. Sesame Street would not enjoy this freedom for the majority of its continued existence, which has lasted for decades, which gives a Street gang a touch of bitterness.
Agrelo avoids the pure and simple hagiography which poisons so many documents presented as tributes to their subjects. While the film includes interviews with surviving members of the original Sesame Street crew – among them Cooney and Morrisett; cast members Emilio Delgado (Luis), Sonia Manzano (Maria) and Roscoe Orman (Gordon); and puppeteers Fran Brill and Caroll Spinney, who passed away in 2019 – some of the other central creative voices are gone. The document includes archival interviews with people like Henson, director and producer Jon Stone and composer Joe Raposo, as well as the appeal to their family members. The film has obvious reverence for Sesame StreetThe freewheeling production and the dreamers and beatniks who invented its characters and segments that shaped generations. This is somewhat tempered by the reminiscences of those grown-up kids talking about the grueling workload it takes to get the show off the ground, as well as the depression, the tensions on set, and how Sesame Street might feel like a rival sibling in their household.
Most notably, Holly Robinson Peete, Matt Robinson Jr., and Dolores Robinson talk about Matt Robinson, who played the first Gordon and created a Muppet named Roosevelt Franklin, who was meant to stand out and be read as Black. As his ex-wife, Dolores, Robinson “wanted children of color to be recognized as children of color because in real life these children knew they were different.” But Roosevelt Franklin drew complaints from black viewers who saw him as perpetuating stereotypes, and he was left out of the series – an incident that seems like it could fuel a documentary in itself about how the utopian multiculturalism unspoken from the rest of the series. lasted. and aged. Street gang is not this movie. Instead, it offers a broader view of this television landmark’s formative years and its immediate resonance with viewers, including a wealth of behind-the-scenes footage that gives a glimpse into the secret lives of old friends. familiar. Seeing Henson and Frank Oz play Bert and Ernie, or Spinney do Oscar the Grouchou while wearing the bottom half of his Big Bird costume, doesn’t ruin the magic. This highlights it.
Towards its end, Street gang shows some of the one-on-one segments featuring a Muppet and a kid on counting or learning directions or running through the alphabet. These were non-repeated sequences that could only work because the human half of the couple treated half of the puppet as if it was real. And that was the thing about Kermit and Grover and Cookie Monster and so many creations on the show: they felt real, from the start, like intricate, indelible personalities that just happened to be made of felt. Street gang is a document of their lasting influence – and the reasons why, while it may seem like it has a lot of competition now, a show like Sesame Street will never be done again.