Cooney knew that Sesame Street had to "jump and move fast and feel like 1969, because kids are very turned on visually". "They like commercials and avant-garde video and audio techniques," she told the New York Times. The progressive material, which taught basic number, letter and social skills, underwent exhaustive testing on hundreds of 3-5-year-olds in New York.
The result was 130 hour-long, fast-moving episodes, presented by five actor/ hosts and Jim Henson's Muppets (who had previously been seen on The Ed Sullivan Show). The format included role-play, games, music, short films, cartoons and catchy jingles; the first episode was brought to American kids by the letters "W" and "E" and the numbers 2 and 3. It also encouraged guest stars, "to inveigle mothers into turning on the programme" (New York Times); the first series featured Carol Burnett, Burt Lancaster, James Earl Jones and Harry Belafonte.
This mammoth effort paid off. "The producers have added a fourth "r" to the [educational] process - for `revolutionary' " said the Washington Post. The New York Times called it "an exciting and potentially revolutionary new instructional technique within the context of television": "Above all, there is nothing to remind children of a classroom atmosphere. The setting is a typical New York street, except that it is bright and cheerful. The residents - both adults and children - are friendly and inquisitive".
Big Bird made the cover of Time in 1970, and the show has been a PBS success story, winning more Emmys (67) than any other show in TV history. It is now seen in more than 140 countries, with 19 national co-productions that use indigenous languages; and Kermit, Elmo, the Cookie Monster and the rest of the Muppets (who got their own show in 1976) have been a marketing dream.
Most importantly, it has remained a hit with children, and guests are still queuing up to provide some parental interest. Recent visitors have included Maya Angelou, Liam Neeson and REM, who, accompanied by a puppet modelled on the B-52s' Kate Pierson, performed "Furry Happy Monsters".Reuse content