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Before it was Elmo’s world

Sesame Street is 40. I am not far behind.

My kids don’t watch Sesame Street unless I am experiencing deep nostalgia for my big-collared, Quik-drinking days. I find videos on YouTube for them to watch, or I’ll pull out my Old School Sesame Street DVDs.

They love the King of 8, The Queen of 6, the clumsy baker who falls down a flight of stairs with baked goods, the funky pinball machine, the lowercase n (standing on a hill), the red ball on the little rollercoaster, the hardworking dog, the pig who loves being a pig, the baby and the messy cookie, Bert ice-skating, Ernie blasting music to drown out the sound of dripping water, the Doodlebugs, the Yip-Yips and their encounter with the telephone, Kermit THE Frog reporting from Don Music’s studio, Grover serving a monstrous hamburger to the blue bald guy, Beat the Time with TV’s favorite moderator Guy Smiley, and the kid who buys milk, bread, and butter.

Note: No Elmo.

There are no classic videos staring Elmo or Rosita. Quick, name your favorite classic Zoe sketch! You can’t. All the creativity and envelope-pushing of the glory days of Sesame Street is gone. I’m at the point I don’t care if the show lives or dies. That might seem harsh, but with all the material they’ve produced over 40 years, I think it’s safe to say kids will be able to learn about the number 7 and the letter R for decades to come. Those fundamentals haven’t changed. 12 is 12 is 12 and the Ladybug’s Picnic is still appreciated by fresh eyes.

Not so fast, say the current producers of Sesame Street. Kids these days are different from kids who grew up in the funkified 70s and neon 80s. The liner notes from the original release of Old School make this claim:

“These early ‘Sesame Street’ episodes are intended for grown-ups, and may not suit the needs of today’s preschool child.”

If an episode from 1975 suited the needs of “today’s preschool child” there would be no reason to produce new episodes, methinks.

Sesame Street is trying to keep up with the times and remain relevant. They’ve had Feist, Jack Black, Anderson Cooper, and Michelle Obama as guests recently.

When I was a kid, I don’t remember John Ritter popping by to be the third roommate with Bert and Ernie in a spoof of “Three’s Company.” Can you imagine the potential? The show simply got by on the revolutionary concept of imparting knowledge in quick, snappy video clips shown in between puppet/human banter.

This tells me one thing. They are trying to capture someone’s attention. Whose? Not a 4-year-old’s. They are after parents, appealing to our sensibilities and desires to get the joke. That might bring people to the local PBS affiliate to watch, but it’s the child who ultimately decides if the show is worth his or her time. There is heavy competition, and Sesame knows this.

Take the relatively recent introduction of Abby Cadabby. She seems like a character created in a marketing meeting. She was born to be on a soft-sided lunch box.

Sesame Street merchandise has been around long before Elmo was born, though. Because it is publicly funded, the sales of toys and books have always been an important part of keeping the furry workshop running.

I collect old Sesame Street books because I like the original, scribbled look of the characters. This book was published in 1971, the same year I was born. I found it at a thrift shop.

ssbookcover

Cookie Monster and Ernie make a mud pie and eat it. Mmmmm. I’ve always wondered what the backyards of the Sesame brownstones look like. Here, you can see:

sspage1

Here is a page from the 1981 edition of Oscar’s Book. Note how completely dorky Big Bird is in his unbridled friendliness. I love him, but I love Oscar even more in his Nellie Olsen wig.

sspage2

My sister was and is such a huge fan of Grover, she owned 3 stuffed Grovers of various sizes. Once, I took her biggest and most beloved Grover from her when we were on a car trip, driving from Denver to Grand Junction. I rolled down the automatic window in the backseat of our green wood-panelled station wagon, stuck Grover outside, rolled it up so the window pinched Grover’s nose tightly, and let go.

Grover flapped in the wind at 55 mph (this was President Carter’s 70s) going up I-70 toward the summit of the continental divide.

I don’t know why I did it. Everyone in the car hated me for a split second. Grover survived, although is nose had a little crease.

It was a very Oscar thing to do. Elmo would never dream of torturing a toy, or a sister, in that way. I’d rather have Elmo children, but it’s an Oscar world.

I will be surprised if Sesame Street is around for another 40 years. Can they keep up with “today’s preschool child” who demands new and interesting ways to learn about lovely eleven mornings and lonely lowercase letters?

Is it the kids who have changed or us?

9 comments to Before it was Elmo’s world

  • I’ve been concerned about Sesame Street for awhile. I don’t like the changes either. But, it became unavoidable when our toddler became enamored with Elmo after seeing him appear live on the news. Anytime she saw him after that, she would squeal and shout his name like she had just seen Elvis. How did this happen? We gave in. She got her first Elmo shirt when she was one and I had to pull it from her tightly-clenched hands once she outgrew it. I started buying her Elmo DVDs and recording Sesame Street just to FF to Elmo’s show. She’s bored by the rest of it. Should Sesame Street die out, I have no doubt that Elmo will live on, likely in his own show.

    Recently I bought Reagan an Elmo book wrapped in plastic-wrap. After it was unwrapped, I discovered Cookie Monster was eating celery in the book. Had I known that to begin with, I would never have bought it. Seems like a little thing. Why should I have anything against healthy-eating? I don’t – but Cookie Monster?! There’s just something completely wrong about that. I think it sums up well all that is going on with Sesame Street today.
    .-= Mama Bird´s last blog ..The Bestest Weekend Ever =-.

  • Inkling

    Jim Henson.

  • Anja watches Sesame Street occasionally, and her favorite part is Elmo’s World. For the life of me, I cannot understand why (other than that they have done their research for that segment very carefully). It is so inane it’s almost condescending, even for a 2-yr-old. I love to watch MY old favorite shorts on YouTube. Like the singing orange.
    .-= Minnesotamom´s last blog ..rssCloud Update =-.

  • Stacie

    One of my favorite books growing up was a classic Sesame Street book. “The Monster at the End of This Book” never failed to bring a smile to my face! (I still have it too!)

  • I am 40+ and, unless I miss my guess, I was watching when the 1st episode of Sesame Street aired. My brother (only 12 mos. younger) and I were placed in view of the TV so my mom could have a few short moments of time to herself. We LOVED it and we learned so much from it!

    My children, ages 9 and 6, also watched Sesame Street. I can’t deny that they also LOVED it and learned things from it. I have to say, though, I didn’t love their version as much as I had my own. There is nothing that says preschoolers won’t learn just as much from things that are calm and quiet and believable as they will from all the noise and baby talk of Elmo.

    Like my mother, I am happy to have had a safe place to leave my children for just a few minutes break. I just wish they had come to know the Sesame Street I “walked” back in my day.
    .-= Rachel Langston´s last blog ..Sunday REST =-.

  • B

    I had to choose between Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood & Sesame Street when I was little. I almost always chose Mr.Roger’s Neighborhood. But, I did love Big Bird, Oscar the Grouch & Snuffy.

  • I loved Sesame Street when I was little! Gretchen, we had those same books, and I still have some of the other ones, too. Claire loves the old books, and she loves the “new” Sesame Street. Back in the mid 90s, when I was in college, my friends and I would watch Sesame Street. They always had the best bands on there, and it was fun to relive. I remember being rather perturbed when Elmo became such an big hit. I even wrote a letter to him on my blog a couple years ago when Claire became enamored of him: http://thecasualperfectionist.com/2007/08/dear-elmo/

    Thankfully, Claire has moved on from her Elmo obsession. We watch different Sesame Street videos by going to their website, every now and then. At least that way, you can choose which skits to watch based on character, etc.

    None of them touch the Elephant Elevator Operator, though!

    p.s. I laughed out loud at your Nellie Olsen & her wig reference!!
    .-= The Casual Perfectionist´s last blog ..Confessions of a Casual Perfectionist: Day 9 =-.

  • bro-de-mopsy

    Political correctness rearing it’s ugly head again. I’m surprised they haven’t turned Oscar into a master recycler for the ‘green’ movement yet. He’s even the right color. Are Burt and Ernie actually a gay couple yet? It’s probably not too far off.

  • Joy

    My daughter loves the ladybug picnic song!! But I can’t stand watching the “new” Sesame Street! Bring on the classics!!
    .-= Joy´s last blog ..Accessorized =-.

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