Fuse #8

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Sesame Street Still Vital?

In January I attended a panel discussion on The Future of Children's Television. Fun stuff. I recall being particularly perturbed by the fact that a former Director of Children's Programming at PBS (who is currently the VP of Programming and Development for the Cartoon Network's preschool business), Alice Cahn, said that Barney was "the best thing to happen to children's television programming." Thinking about it still makes my eyeballs sweat.

Why did I go? I went, in part, because I wanted to know what went wrong with Sesame Street. I used to love that show, but somewhere along the line it lost its heart and soul.

Some people still cling to it, though. And perhaps it's still better than a lot of children's television programming out there today. Plus Strollerderby recently mentioned the following:
Sesame Street has a slew of pop-culture parodies lined up this season, including “American I,” “Meal No Meal,” “A’s Anatomy,” and “GNN: Letter in the News,” with Anderson Cooper (featuring grouch anchors Walter Cranky and Dan Rather-Not).
Anyone else a little worried about how exactly they're going to do "American I"? Nothing I'm coming up with sounds like something I'd place in front of a tot.

So a question for youse peoples. Who still watches this show and, if so, is it watchable?

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At 2:07 AM , Blogger lili said...

I still catch it occasionally in the mornings, although I don't think we get the full thing, here in Australia. We get a half-hour thing called "Play With Me Sesame" (yeah, not going to touch that one...), which has lots of muppet-in-front-of-bluescreen stuff, and a handful of old and new skits. There are lots of really fantastic old ones - like old Cookie and Prairie Dawn doing the letter of the day.

Speaking of Cookie Monster:

1. I think SS jumped the shark when Cookie Monster suddenly started saying that cookies were "sometimes foods", and that he also liked to munch on carrots and celery.

2. Cookie Monster v Martha Stewart. Pretty much the Funniest Thing Ever.

At 8:56 AM , Anonymous b.i.o. said...

I've watched it with friends who have children, and they claim it's still the best program out there for kids. It makes me sad to watch, personally - the old sesame street seemed so diy and sincere, Now it's all screeching and flash - But, if i'm honest, there's not much i can point to and say "that's not good" - it's more like "that's not what i remember". Seseame holds an almost spooky place in the hearts of those of us who loved it, and it's hard to see anything you love change.

But seriously, how are kids surviving without the crayon factory skit? or the "loaf of bread, container of milk, stick of butter' short? Thank god for youtube...

At 9:13 AM , Blogger EM said...

I watch Sesame Street with my daughter (having watched it myself as a kid), and I'm torn. It is leaps and bounds above most stuff out there, even other PBS stuff (Clifford and Caillou, may you and your conflict-free vanilla-pudding awfulness never cross my eyeballs again). But I do miss a lot of the Muppet stuff I remember from my era: Kermit doing fairy-tale news reports, more Bert and Ernie interaction, Super Grover, etc. Now it seems we never see Ernie outside of "Journey to Ernie," and Elmo has taken over much of Grover's old bits (Grover's been relegated to World Traveler status).

Still. I can't really fault the Street for the changes they've made over the years, and I can still access old shows via cable and YouTube. And I've got classic Mr. Rogers when I want it, too, so I'm not complaining. Much.

At 9:21 AM , Blogger Sheila said...

My son is eleven now, so it's been a good six or seven years since we watched it, but we both enjoyed it then. He was quite taken with The Count, and even had a stuffed Count. (Oh, dear, I hope none of his preteen friends see this.)

Of course, the pop culture references are really for the parents. I see that as a good thing, because it encourages parents to watch it with their children, rather than plopping junior down in front of the TV. I could never have sat through an episode of Barney, (thankfully, my son was never was into that) but I frequently watched Sesame Street with him.

Oh, and I do agree about Cookie Monster, though. I think it's sad that they caved on that one. I mean, sure, cookies are bad for you and we have an obesity epidemic. But kids are going to beg for sweets with or without Cookie Monster. And changing him has stripped him of his lovely, anarchic soul.

At 9:25 AM , Anonymous jules said...

I'm with Em. My daughters watch Sesame Street, and as someone who works from home and therefore sees and/or hears it daily, I have entirely too many strong opinions about the actors on the show (Bob's always given me the creeps -- when he sings about tucking you in at night, it gives me the willies; Gordon -- dude, he just rocks. Do I need to get out more?). Anyway, yes, the increase on the show of the flashy, quickly-moving-images dismays me, but I still say it's the best show out there for kids. Still. Don't have cable, don't have all those gazillion channels, don't want 'em (though my husband and I miss the shows for grown-ups -- South Park, The Daily Show), so I can't compare to Nickolodeon or whatever. But Sesame Street's strength was and always will be that they show children from various income levels, various classes. Someone needs to pull Julie Aigner-Clark (or whatever her name is -- The Baby Einstein lady) aside and talk to her about the fact that not everyone lives in big, fancy-schmancy homes. Her DVD about "Home" is abysmally classist. You could argue that poorer children's parents aren't going to be buying them Baby Einstein DVDs on a regular basis, but there's always the library. Now, that begs the question: Why am I even watching them? 'Cause, god bless 'em, they allow you to get a quick shower, bug I digress.

Yes, Elmo can make you insane, and it was disconcerting when he had a whole episode about balls ("Elmo wants to learn more about balls! How can we learn more about balls?!"), but I still think the show's got it goin' on.

At 10:10 AM , Blogger PJ Hoover said...

My kids love Sesame Street (2-1/2 and 6). We don't put it on every day, but when we do, they stay glued to it. And my younger one walks around the house singing the Elmo song.
There is something magical about these characters for kids. Cookie Monster (who wouldn't want to gobble up cookies?). Grover. The Count.
We went so far as to attend Sesame Street Live for the second time.
I'm very selective about what the kids can watch, and as far as I'm concerned, Sesame Street is number 1! No commercials. Guest appearances to draw in us old fogies. Numbers. Letters. And cookies (did I mention cookies?).

At 10:18 AM , Blogger olly said...


Have you ever seen the documentary "The World According to Sesame Street"? It's a lovely, lovely thing.

Elmo aside, Sesame Street is still far better than most of the seizure-inducing stuff out there. And the pop-culture stuff has always been around-Guy Smiley, the creepy (and awesome) new wave Wet Paint video, and (shiver) Sesame Street Fever--for example. Lame, but silly, and ultimately not the stuff that sticks with the audience. Guy Smiley, ok. But mention the Pinball cartoon to anyone 24-34 and they'll instantly remember the song.
123-45! 678-9-10-11-12...

At 11:47 AM , Blogger Courtney said...

I occasionally watch Sesame Street with my 3 year old. I would definitely put it at the top of our watch list but have noticed that it seems over-produced these days. A little slick, a little too concerned with the overall message. It has always been a great educational show, but it does seem like the people creating the show were having a lot more fun in my younger viewing days.

At 11:53 AM , Blogger fusenumber8 said...

This is all very good info to receive. Quick question then:

In the old days, Sesame Street would have segments that included kids with Down Syndrome. Would today's Sesame Street ever have the guts to do the same? Which is to say, is the heart of the Street the same?

At 11:57 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Did you know Snuffy's first name is Aloysius? Aloysius Snuffalupagus. I got it from the book Sesame Street Unpaved. For Christmas my mom got me Volume 1 of Sesame Street: Old School (199-1974). Maybe there's something more magical about SS of year's past, since that's where our childhoods lay. I haven't watched it lately, but certainly plan to after my daughter is born this summer and gets old enough for a little tv time.

At 12:05 PM , Blogger olly said...

I think so.

What I remember about Sesame Street is that it was always pretty diverse without making a huge deal about it. I can count to ten in Spanish because of Maria's song. Linda was deaf, but it was never "Now something from the deaf character!!!" She was just Linda. And that was pretty cool.

You have to remember that Sesame Street started as a means to provide preschool education for kids who didn't have access to a preschool education, but DID have access to a television. And I think that heart is still there, maybe not as evidently in the US, but certainly in other countries.

Again: you HAVE to see that documentary!

And about Cookie Monster and the "sometimes food" issue: shouldn't parents be a little more concerned about a certain red somebody who refers to himself in the 3rd person or that god awful bear (bay-aw?) with the speech impediment that everyone ignores? I mean, really.

Also: more Prairie Dawn. The girl's got style.

At 12:29 PM , Anonymous Rachel H said...

I can think of no other justification for Alice Cahn's assertion about Barney than that it forced parents to pay attention to what their kids were watching so they could Change The Damn Channel In Time. Ugh.

At 1:39 PM , Blogger Melissa said...

I gave up on Sesame Street in about 2001, when my second was about 18 months old. In fact (cringe), I've just about given up on PBS (though I did like Cyberchase for a while there). My younger girls watch movies and Dora DVDs, and that's pretty much it.

I couldn't stand that Sesame Street had become more about entertaining the kids, and trying to please parents than about being, well, Sesame Street. I still follow news about it, though, and I was even more disheartened when I read that Cookie Monster was going to start eating healthier. What's the point of having a character named Cookie Monster, then?

At 2:21 PM , Anonymous jules said...

Yes, Sesame Street still includes children who have disabilities -- they have segments with children with Down's. They have Action Jackson, who is in a wheelchair.

And, yes, yay for Linda. They also currently have these very short segments on there in which deaf children share their original ASL poetry. ASL poetry is the. most. beautiful. thing. you. will. ever. see -- if done well. And these children are signing in full-fledged ASL in all its brilliance. And the poems are good, and they are filmed beautifully. I tried to find these online to share with interpreter friends, and I can't. They're stunning.

At 2:22 PM , Anonymous jules said...

Oh and this season they're also featuring actors from NTD's Little Theatre for the Deaf (NTD being the wonderful National Theatre of the Deaf).

At 4:44 PM , Blogger Brooke said...

My kids are 2 and 4, and Sesame Street is one of their favorite shows. (Well . . . the 4 year old prefers Fred Rogers. But that's another story.)

I recently Netflix'd the Sesame Street Old School DVD compilation which includes episodes from the first six seasons of the show.

Doing a direct comparison of then-and-now is interesting. Has the show lost its "heart"? I don't think so. Childhood -- and the way we view it -- has changed immensely since 1969, but the feeling I get from both eras is the same: that the people who produce the show genuinely care about kids and education.

The show has changed, but not all that much; people who accuse today's episodes of being too "flashy" need to go back and view the psychedelic animation for the number-counting song. It made my eyes water). The main reasons for changes, in my opinion, are due to both improvements in technology (like computer animation), new research and insights into early childhood education, and changes in production. (Something tells me that the reason why we don't see too much of Kermit these days is because Disney owns the rights to him, not the Sesame Workshop.)

For some truly interesting insights in to the social psychology of Sesame Street, I'd highly recommend reading the chapter Malcom Gladwell devotes to children's television in his book The Tipping Point. He spends time comparing the popularity of SS with Blue's Clues, with fascinating results.

Hmm. Forgive me if my thoughts seem a little scattered; during the writing of this comment, my son dumped an entire box of cereal on the floor. Yay, parenting!

At 5:57 PM , Blogger p dog said...

I think a lot about Sesame Street, which says something right there. If my kid watches SS, he also watches Big Big World, and I never give BBW a thought.

Can't bring myself to like Elmo. Hated Abby Cadabby and her flat eyes from Day 1. Friggin Baby Bear, less said the better. And since when is Snuffleupagus NOT invisible? Used to be only Big Bird could see him.

But the non-Muppet sequences I think are displaying MORE heart, not less. The ASL stuff, the diversity, clips of kids dancing and doing things for themselves.

I think it's the muppets that have lost their way - isn't that strange?

At 2:14 PM , Anonymous Chris said...

I have a 3 year old and a 9 year old and we watch "Sesame Steet" just about every day, as I did as a child. Cookie Monster is not completely reigned in - he still does rebellious things, which the kids totally love. The vegetable skits are a little too obvious - they are trying too hard - but then again, we do have a real childhood obesity problem in the USA. I like that Miles and Gabby (is that her name? brain freeze!!)are still around - Miles doing James Brown songs about vegetables is pretty darn cool. We also watch the old school episodes and I was a little surprised - they weren't always as perfect and great as I remember. And they earned my undying devotion with the "Dr Feel" parodies of Dr. Phil. And my kids really loved the "Cookie's World" SS parody of "Elmo's World" - a show that parodies itself - you gotta admit that is still pretty cool.

At 10:23 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

While my grandchildren watch Sesame Street, I can't help be influenced by the fact that I was the children's librarian at the local library in the Baltimore, Maryland area, where the young Kevin Clash (Elmo, etc.) would put on puppet/ muppet shows for free.

In fact, I'd schedule him for a half an hour show and would have to step in and stop him after he had gone on for an hour or more. Amazing kid.

Here's an interview with him. (he probably doesn't mention the library, tho.)

more information about him, here:

He's done several of the muppets. Elmo is only the most famous. Even as a youngster peforming at our library, he was determined to join the muppet staff.

I agree with the comment above that the production standards have improved on Sesame Street, but it seems to be sticking with its original concept of interracial neighborhood, short snappy segments, introduction to letters, numbers, color, and other concepts, and songs. Just updated to reflect modern life.

And the characters you-all are missing? Most of them are the ones that were perforned by Jim Henson, who died. Oscar isn't seen that much these days, either. And Miss Piggy -- never. Didn't Frank Oz, who handled these muppets also die? (I could be wrong about this.)

Wendie Old, Who was a BCPL librarian years ago when he performed at my library branch. Now I'm a Children's librarian at HCPL.

At 12:43 AM , Blogger fusenumber8 said...

Frank's alive and well. Directing movies left and right too. How cool is it that you scheduled Clash in your library? That's pretty magnificent. Thanks for the links. I gotta get me to Baltimore one of these days. Your librarians are, from all accounts, top notch.


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