Swinging Sesame Street debuted in 1969 – Here’s a look back!

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Early Sesame Street TV show cast

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Swinging “Sesame Street” debuts (1969)

An impromptu street dance swings on the set of the newest television program for preschoolers. “Sesame Street” premieres Nov 24.

The daily, hour-long show is designed to reach and teach the nation’s 12 million preschool youngsters with cartoons, films and happenings along the mythical street that is inhabited by puppets, cartoon characters and human beings who tell stories, sing and dance. The show also includes trips to places away from Sesame Street.

Sesame Street – Episode 1 (November, 1969)

Sesame Street: How to make an exciting TV show? Ask the kids

By George Jaye – The Daily Times (Salisbury, Maryland) Nov 9, 1969

If you were an Emmy-winning television producer, would you let some four-year-old kid tell you how to put together your new show? Mrs. Joan Ganz Cooney, head of the Children’s Television Workshop, would.

Well, partly. She is eager to have the guidance and counsel of the preschool set for her group’s new series, “Sesame Street.”

In fact, Workshop educators and child researchers have been visiting hundreds of three-, four-, and five-year-old kids for months at day-care centers and in private homes to find out what they think of test segments of the show, whether the shows hold their interest, and what the youngsters are able to learn from them.

“Sesame Street,” you see, is an experimental series aimed at preparing preschool children for formal education by teaching them such useful things as numbers and letters, geometric shapes, and concepts of none-some and under-around.

1969 Muppets Sesame Street PBS

Says Mrs. Cooney, who won her Emmy in 1966 for a three-hour documentary on the Federal poverty program, “To a large degree, the very audience at which ‘Sesame Street’ is aimed will have shaped and fashioned the program before it ever gets on the air.

“I really know of no other program that has undergone the degree of testing and evaluation that this show has. You could never find critics more candid.”

In their efforts to instruct the children in a light, entertaining way, the Workshop producers are using various elements of commercial children’s television that they know are appealing to the small fry — puppets, animated cartoons, congenial hosts, live-action films. other children on stage.

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“Education is a hidden ingredient,” says Mrs. Cooney. To make sure the lessons are getting through is the task of Dr. Edward L. Palmer, the Workshop’s director of research. He is one of the country’s few specialists on the impact of television on young children.

How does a three-year-old child, wrestling with his first phrases, give a critique of a tv show?

“The answers we’re looking for don’t come only from the way the children respond to systematic teaching, but from what they indicate by their behavior while watching a segment,” Doctor Palmer explains. “We watch the children as they watch.

“For example, we can learn what they find most amusing, the ability of the children to understand certain transitions or plot lines, to anticipate upcoming events, and to detect the hidden motivations underlying the actions of the performers.”

Sesame Street - Children's Television Workshop 1969-gigapixel-width-1300px

In determining intensity of interest, Doctor Palmer relies on a device he calls the distractor. It is, in fact, a small screen set up next to a television set on which color slides are projected from time to time.

If the child watching “Sesame Street” is easily distracted, it is a tip-off that the material being shown isn’t sufficiently absorbing. After the “Sesame Street” material is shown, they question the children to determine whether or not the educational message got through.

“Sometimes we find the children having a delightful time watching a segment, but when it is over, they still don’t recognize the letter or number we were trying to teach them,” says Doctor Palmer. “Fortunately, through this sort of pretesting, we are able to make the necessary changes before the material is exposed to an audience.”

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From such frequent contacts with the preschooler, Doctor Palmer has developed a good idea of what turns him on or off.

“Primarily they want action; they want things to move. Nothing bores them so quickly as the sight of an adult facing them on the screen and just talking.

“They like animals, and they adore seeing other children on the screen. They love the commercials and, in fact, are already programmed to commercial interruption.

“Unlike adults, the more frequently they see a particular commercial and the more familiar the jingle or slogan becomes, the more they enjoy it.”

(Taking advantage of this interest in commercial messages, “Sesame Street” producers have built several one-minute breaks into each hour show and, although similar to other commercials in format, the products advertised are letters of the alphabet rather than toothpaste or beer.)

Vintage Sesame Street cast - 1969 1970

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The young child’s reaction to the appearance of well-known performers on the show is an unfailing source of amusement for the Workshop testers observing them.

Broadway actor James Earl Jones’ unadorned pate sets the kids giggling and exclaiming, “Look how bald he is.” But by the time Jones gets halfway through his deadpan recitation of the ABCs, the sub-first graders can’t contain their laughter.

“Sesame Street,” an hour-long, full-color show, will be shown each weekday on some 170 educational (public) ) TV stations beginning Nov. 10. Many stations will be showing it twice a day.

To bring it to as many of the nation’s 12 million preschoolers as possible, the Workshop has been encouraging parents and teachers to form small viewing groups of children that can watch the program together on a regular basis.

The Workshop is also publishing a Parent’s Guide that previews the main educational elements of each show and provides suggestions for follow-up activity.

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The project, which is sponsored by the U.S. Office of Education, the Ford Foundation, and Carnegie Corporation, is the outgrowth of a four-month study the 39-year-old Mrs. Cooney made for Carnegie Corporation on effective ways of communicating with preschool children to enable them to get off to a more even start in elementary school.

“Two statistics have convinced me that there is no more practical and economical way of preparing these children than through television,” says Mrs. Cooney.

“Even in homes where the average income is less than $5,000, more than 90 percent of the families own television sets. And in homes where there are preschool children, the television set is turned on constantly.

“The audience is there, watching. What we’ve had to do is develop the kind of program that would hold the children’s interest and make them enjoy learning. And they’ve given us a good idea of their demands.”

Sesame Street TV theme song lyrics: Introduction

Sunny day
Sweeping the clouds away
On my way to where the air is sweet
Can you tell me how to get
How to get to Sesame Street?

Come and play
Everything’s a-okay
Friendly neighbors there
That’s where we meet
Can you tell me how to get
How to get to Sesame Street?
How to get to Sesame Street?
How to get to Sesame Street?
How to get to Sesame Street?

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Comments on this story

One Response

  1. I was 7 years old. Still remember my teacher telling us about the show, so I ran home as fast as I could to watch.

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