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c. 1970 - 1971

The other side of Sesame Street

A behind-the-screen look at Jim Henson and team breathing life into the Muppets

NEW YORK - 1970: Puppeteers (L-R) Daniel Seagren holding Grandmother Happy, Jim Henson holding Roosevelt Franklin, and Frank Oz holding Betty Lou, rehearse for an episode of Sesame Street at Reeves TeleTape Studio in March 1970 in New York City, New York. Shot with colored filters. (Photo by David Attie/Getty Images)

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.

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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. 

The kids wanted more Muppets—their attention flagged markedly during the human-only intervals

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.

1970
Jim Henson holding Granny Fanny Nesselrode rehearses for an episode of Sesame Street at Reeves TeleTape Studio in New York City, New York
David Attie / Getty Images
1970
Daniel Seagren holding Grandmother Happy, Jim Henson holding Roosevelt Franklin, and Frank Oz holding Betty Lou. Shot with colored filters.
David Attie / Getty Images
1971
Mrs. Bird, in real life Mrs. Artha Frickel, is the “mother” of Big Bird
Denver Post via Getty Images
1970
Jim Henson (holding Kermit) rehearses.
David Attie / Getty Images
1970
L-R: Jim Henson holding Roosevelt Franklin, and Frank Oz with Mary Lou
David Attie / Getty Images
1970
L-R: Daniel Seagren holding and Jim Henson working Ernie, and Frank Oz with Bert
David Attie / Getty Images
1970
Puppeteer Caroll Spinney in his ‘Big Bird’ costume has an adjustment made during rehearsals
David Attie / Getty Images
1970
Daniel Seagren holding Roosevelt Franklin, Jim Henson holding Granny Fanny Nesselrode, and Frank Oz with Betty Lou
David Attie / Getty Images
1970
L-R: Daniel Seagren holding and Jim Henson working Ernie, and Frank Oz with Bert
David Attie / Getty Images

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