Prairie Public Airs Sesame Street!
Friday, November 22, 2013
Yesterday, we heard that this November marks the 43rd anniversary of Sesame Street on the air, and the 42nd anniversary of Sesame Street in North Dakota. We learned that huge amounts of psychological research go into every episode, so much so that a Sesame Street writer named Michael David once called it “perhaps the most vigorously researched, vetted, and fretted-over program.”
One fascinating example of the show’s hard work and research comes in the form of a big, gloomy elephant/woolly mammoth hybrid named Snuffleupagus. In 2013 we know that everyone loves Snuffy, but up until 1985, the grown-ups on the show actually couldn’t see him. They even made fun of Big Bird for having an “imaginary friend.”
But the writers worried that if the grown-ups didn’t believe Big Bird, even when he was telling the truth, kids were getting a message that their parents and guardians wouldn’t believe them if they needed to talk about something real and scary. So, in episode 2096, Snuffleupagus was revealed to everyone, and Bob McGrath tells Big Bird, “From now on, we’ll believe anything you tell us.”
Then when Will Lee, the actor who played Mr. Hooper, died in 1982, the writers decided to directly address it in the show. Episode 1,839 was called “Farewell, Mr. Hooper” and tried to depict a healthy grieving process.
One of the show’s primary goals has always been to show children people who look like them, live in places like them, and speak languages like theirs. The first season was actually cancelled for a short time in Mississippi because the state’s public broadcasting network didn’t think Mississippi was “ready for that level of integration.” And Sesame Workshop kept pushing tough issues – in 2002 they created Kami, an HIV-positive Muppet who fought HIV/AIDS stigma, and today their “Little Children: Big Challenges” project features Alex, an orange Muppet whose father is in jail.
And even though the show is set on a New York street, it still relates for people in places like North Dakota. Senator Kent Conrad was featured in one of their “Healthy Habits for Life” public service announcements, and the Muppets have visited the state … ice-skating in the Fargodome and the Bismarck Civic.
PBS stations also bring in Sesame Street characters to visit, and these costumed appearances follow a very detailed set of procedures to be sure the characters’ behavior is consistent with the television show. In 2012, the state got its first-ever visit from “Walk-Around Elmo.” Children were lined up around the corner to take pictures at Prairie Public’s Share a Story event. More public TV celebrities are expected soon, for the upcoming celebration of Prairie Public’s 50th Year!
Dakota Datebook by Leewana Thomas
Street Gang: The Complete History of Sesame Street, by Michael Davis, published by Viking Adult, December 26, 2008.
NY Mag, “How We Got to ‘Sesame Street,’” Tim Murphy, November 2009.
Prairie Public Chronological History Documents.
Sesame Street episode 1, aired November 10, 1969 : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SScQSIrX3nk
“Positively Sesame Street,” Peter Hawthorne, Time Magazine, 2002.
“Little Children, Big Challenges: Incarceration.” http://www.sesameworkshop.org/incarceration/
Interviews with Prairie Public Staff
Healthy Habits for Life Public Service Announcements: http://muppet.wikia.com/wiki/Healthy_Habits_for_Life