On this day in 1969, Sesame Street premiered on PBS TV. The show would become a classic that soared at the Emmy’s, winning many a kid’s heart along the way. When I was a boy, we had few of the children’s shows that would come to dominate the landscape. Captain Planet, Madeleine, Ninja Turtles, Arthur, The Simpsons, and Sesame Street were what we tuned into. Though I enjoyed Sesame, I wasn’t aware of how big it had become, and how much longer it would endure. I do recall though that it was very educational and was for all intents my first school.
The programme commenced mid-afternoon and introduced me to the bigger world. With The Count, I learned the numbers. Big Bird taught me the importance of connecting with others. Elmo inculcated upon me the value of being patient. Meanwhile, while watching, I learned that water was a valuable resource, ditto with salt. The cookie monster was a walking reminder of saving for the rainy days. Finally, Oscar the grouch showed that you can make the most of unideal situations. The show also advanced new words, from giraffe to zoo, apples to cats. Every day was a chance to grasp the alphabet, with Ernie leading the way. The show’s premise is what makes it unique: Sesame features animals and puppets voiced by humans. Whereas The Simpsons and Captain Planet are animated, Sesame utilises sketch comedy and puppetry to get the message across.
Sesame is one of the most decorated kid’s shows, if not the champion. Over its run of fifty years, the Sesame brand has amassed 12 Primetime Emmy’s. This is in addition to a massive Daytime Emmy haul, with a grand total of 192 accolades (Emmy’s and other prizes) as of this year. So successful has the show been that 20 international versions have been greenlighted. Furthermore, Sesame has inspired its own spin-off show, The Muppets. The latter has been quite robust per se, winning four Primetime Emmy’s while also making a winning transition into film. The show has done well but not without controversy. Sesame has been accused of harbouring a gay couple. Bert and Ernie are seemingly inseparable, sleep in adjacent beds, with matching pyjamas to boot. Gay activists have seized on this, utilising the image of the odd couple for their slogans. The introduction of new characters over the years have likewise courted criticism. Despite the producers finally putting the issue to rest in 93, the dynamic duo remains an icon for the gay community.
Sesame has proven quite resilient in spite of the knocks against them. In addition to what I’ll outline later, the programme has been around for part of SIX decades. Allow me to give a few examples to put this timelessness into perspective. During that span, there have been nine U.S. Presidents. When it aired in ’69, the Moon landing was the news story of the year. Bill Russell, the anchor of 11 Celtics championships, had just played his final season. The U.S. and their allies were still contesting the Vietnam War. Carrie, Stephen King’s debut novel, would not hit shelves till five springtimes later. Forty-nine seasons is an eternity in the ratings-crazed world of television. Sesame has changed with the times, going from an hour to thirty minutes in 2014. Voice actors have come and gone, various celebrities and stars have guested on the show, and even the costumes and setup have evolved. While the show’s original creator has long since passed, to have over four thousand episodes means that they’re ticking all the right boxes.
Sesame Street was a great window to the world. The content was pretty straightforward while likewise being stimulating. The show’s longevity is a testament to Sesame’s inclusiveness, ingenuity, and far-reaching impact. The show is a nice springboard for kids to soak in more – in the 3 R’s, namely reading, writing, and arithmetic. Sesame is a priceless supplement in learning English and in developing some basic maths skills. These days shows such as Hi-5, Teletubbies, The Wiggles and even old Thomas the Tank trump Sesame in the ratings. In addition, the availability of kids shows online has dented Sesame’s relevance for sure. Over the rest of my childhood, I would come to explore other offerings. Sineskwela, Hiraya Manawari, Bayani, Dexter’s Lab, Popeye, and Looney Tunes were just some of programmes I followed. I learned to watch in both Filipino and English. I may have outgrown those cartoons, but I learned a little from watching them. When you grow as a viewer, isn’t that what we can hope for?