Should you happen to be an American child and you are over the age of three, there is a 95% chance that you have seen the TV program Sesame Street. And there’s a good reason for that.
Because Sesame Street was designed to be addictive from the get-go. Or rather, it was designed to take the addictive qualities of TV and use them for the public good.
That was the explicit aim of the now-legendary Children’s Television Workshop, formed in 1966 by TV producer Joan Ganz Cooney together with experimental psychologist Lloyd Morrisett – who also happened to be the Carnegie Foundation’s VP.
After two full years of research — and a grant of $ 8million —America was introduced to the Street for the first time 50 years ago, in November 1969.
The CTW team had known they wanted Jim Henson’s Muppets to be part of the action as soon as they met Jim Henson.
In fact, the casting director went so far as to say that if Sesame Street couldn’t have Muppets, it might as well have no puppets at all.
Yet the Sesame Street pilot programs had kept Jim Henson’s muppets separate from humans, on the advice of experts who felt that showing the two together would be confusing to kids.
But the kids wanted more Muppets—their attention flagged markedly during the human-only intervals.
So Henson was tasked with inventing Muppets that could hold their own with human beings, including, of course, trash-can resident Oscar the Grouch, and one very big yellow bird.
And that interplay between fluffy puppets and people turned out to be the magic ingredient.
A year later, Big Bird was on the cover of Time Magazine.
Here we see Jim Henson, Frank Oz, and the Muppet team, breathing life and movement into their characters of cloth.