Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Happy Birthday, Ernie, Bert, Big Bird ... You don't seem a day over 5

For those of you living under a (Fraggle) Rock: Sesame Street turns 40 today.

The Big FOUR-O!

So much has changed on the program since I was a young viewer:

The set has sloughed its gritty, inner-city edge;

Ernie and Bert have lost their furry-puppetness;

And even Cookie Monster has been compelled to eat vegetables.

Characters have come and gone. Most notably when the real-life death of actor Will Lee caused the Children’s Television Workshop’s progressive decision to allow Mr. Hooper – his character – to die on the show.

It was riveting television for children and adults. It still is.

Perhaps what makes Sesame Street so successful as a television show is that it is consistently changing while still protecting its mission to provide quality children’s programming focused on education.

It has interwoven cognitive curriculum with current events, social awareness and multiculturalism. It has taken risks and held to core values.

And though each of us – myself included – can point to at least one thing on Sesame Street that ruffles our feathers, what we can’t deny is that the educational experiment has been a rousing success for not only generations children but their parents, too.

Sesame Street didn’t let us off easy. It wasn’t just an address we could park our kids to get things done. It was a place where questions brought more questions. Sometimes tough ones to hear, and tougher to answer.

I didn’t look forward to telling my then four-year-old why her favorite character at that time – Mr. Noodle’s brother Mr. Noodle – had no new episodes. He’d died the year she was born.

But I told her about Michael Jeter's death, in much the same way Gordon told Big Bird why Mr. Hooper couldn’t come back.

I may have my petty issues with a lisping bear and a little red monster who refers to himself in the third person, but I can’t deny what each has meant to my kids.

I can only thank them for the gentle wisdoms they’ve offered throughout the years, and for being there when they really needed some monsters that weren't really that scary.

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