Saturday, November 07, 2009

Today's Post Is Brought To You By the Number 40

If you used Google at any point during this week, you noticed that each day featured a different Muppets graphic. This year marks the 40th anniversary of Sesame Street (Nov. 10 is the actual anniversary), so there's been tons of books, articles, and television retrospectives on this very influential series.

I have to confess that although I know I watched Sesame Street, there's not a whole lot about the show that I remember; I don't remember significant episodes, such as Mr. Hooper's death (which is really beautifully done). My sister was the PBS kid; she watched Sesame Street, The Electric Company, and Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood. I, on the other hand, was a total Nickelodeon fan. I was a Muppet Show freak, though, and vividly remember the television show and movies (although The Muppet Show was in primetime and not intended for children, and I'm sure I saw most of the episodes in syndication). The histories of PBS, children's media, the Children's Television Network, and obviously, Jim Henson, fascinate me. When Street Gang: The Complete History of Sesame Street was published, I read it as soon as I could get my hands on it. At 379 pages, it's obviously for those who have a serious interest in the show's inception, history, and influence (there's a new book out that's geared toward a more general audience, with lots of beautiful pictures).

Roscoe Orman has played "Gordon" on Sesame Street for over 32 years. His recent memoir, Sesame Street Dad, is not only a great book for Sesame Street fans, it's also an intriguing look at the black theatre scene in the 1970s.

It's hard to believe that it's been nearly 20 years since Jim Henson's untimely death; as a Muppets fanatic, I remember it quite clearly. His influence on modern puppetry is immeasurable. There are several fine books on Henson (who started his television career at a DC station) and the Muppets; one of those is Jim Henson: The Art, The Magic, the Imagination.

Of course, you really can't talk about Sesame Street without talking about that furry red monster, Elmo (savior or scourge of Sesame Street, depending on your point of view). One of the (many) things that surprised me when reading Street Gang was the longevity of Elmo; the puppet has appeared on the show since the late 70s. The first time I heard about/saw Elmo was on Rosie O'Donnell's daytime show (1990s). Of course, that was also around the time of Elmo-Mania, which O'Donnell undoubtedly helped (I think she talked about or gave away Tickle-Me-Elmos on her show).

Although Elmo's been on the Street for a long time, it wasn't until Kevin Clash became Elmo's fourth puppeteer that the show's writers began to feature Elmo more prominently. Clash's My Life as a Furry Red Monster is a charming and inspirational read.

If you're looking for more Sesame Street/Muppets info, here are my two favorite sites: Muppet Wiki and Muppets Central. There's also the official site for the Jim Henson Company. Here's the official site for Sesame Street.

Sesame Street is also on Youtube! Check here for recent and classic clips, including a sneak peek at the 40th season. Warning-this is addictive!

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