For over five decades, fuzzy friends, welcoming pals, and familiar surroundings have made Sesame Street a staple in children’s television programming. With loveable characters like Big Bird, Oscar the Grouch, Elmo, Cookie Monster, and many more, the set of Sesame Street is a neighborhood millions of people continue to visit regularly through the screen.
Since the show first aired in 1969, Sesame Street has now aired in 120 countries worldwide. However, many people don’t know all the magic and mystery that goes on behind the scenes. Famous guest stars, musicians, and puppets may be seen on camera, but there is so much more to the show than what you see on screen.
One Simple Question Helped Create Sesame Street
During a 1966 dinner party hosted by Joan Ganz Cooney, a producer at New York City’s Channel 13, the idea for Sesame Street was brought to the table. One of Cooney’s guests, Lloyd Morrisett, an experimental educator at the Carnegie Corporation, asked a simple question that made everyone think.
Morrisett asked Cooney, “Do you think television can teach anything?” That question was all it took to get the ball rolling on what would become Sesame Street. Since its inception, the program has educated children about all kinds of topics, from diversity and grief to addiction. The idea was also to bridge the educational gap between underserved communities and the middle class.
Deciding on a Title Was a Big Challenge
While Sesame Street has become an iconic title that people instantly recognize, it was a challenge to come up with that name. Initially, the program was going to be titled “123 Avenue B,” but it didn’t feel like the right fit. It was also nixed because it was an actual location in New York City.
If they had gone with the first name, it would have placed the show across from Tompkins Square Park, making it too specific to NYC. Some of the other possible names included “Two and Two Ain’t Five Show.” The title wasn’t decided until the last minute, and Virginia Schone gets credit for it. It was the least bad title, according to Cooney.
Early Criticism Led to a More Diverse Cast
Sesame Street first debuted in 1969; it was wildly popular and well-received by critics. The New York Daily News called it “an experimental series that should be a must for small fry.” As ratings rose and educational benefits were noticed, viewers realized the program lacked diversity among the human actors.
In response, Cooney convened a group of advisers to help address the criticism that the show had a racist attitude. She and the Children’s Television Workshop acknowledged the lack of bilingual and bicultural elements, so they hired Hispanic actors, staff, and content creators. Maria, played by Sonia Manzano, joined the show in 1971 and was a role model for young girls for 44 years.
Some Attempts at Diversity Caused Controversy
Although the creators and producers of Sesame Street wanted to make the show diverse and inclusive, some people in the U.S. weren’t thrilled about it. In 1970, Sesame Street was banned in Mississippi because the State Commission for Educational Programming said some members were against the show because of its highly integrated cast.
While Mississippi might not have been ready for the show, the producers didn’t pull back their efforts to represent cultural differences. However, when they introduced Roosevelt Franklin in 1970 to represent Black children, critics said the character perpetuated African American stereotypes. By the mid-1970s, Roosevelt Franklin was removed from the show.
The Original Band Included Many Major Names
The first Sesame Street band, Listen My Brother, was composed of musicians from the Apollo Theater in Harlem. The band was brought to the show by Apollo producer Peter Long, husband of Loretta Long, who played Susan on the series. The group had 16 performers bringing a mix of musical influences.
Edgar Kendricks, a gospel performer from Harlem, accompanied standouts like Luther Vandross, Robin Clark, and Fonzi Thornton. Vandross went on to release 14 studio albums and won eight Grammys. Many of the early band members went on to have wildly successful careers.
Puppeteers Might Need Surgery After Working on the Show
While being a puppeteer might sound like an incredible job, it’s hard work. The physical demands of being a puppet operator are challenging because they are often crammed into small spaces. The puppeteers also have to bring their puppets to life without running into someone else behind the stage.
Many puppeteers have to stand in awkward positions for a while, and it can cause long-term damage. They could be lying on the ground or putting their arm through a hole in a piece of furniture, and these repetitive motions can strain shoulders or hips that could require surgery.
Sesame Street Almost Went Off the Air
Sesame Street is a costly show to run. Between salaries for employees, office rentals, and production costs, the budget is over $100 million annually. Because funding for the show relies mainly on grants, licensing agreements, royalties, and private donations, federal funding support has been challenging to obtain.
PBS was the original home of the program, but Children’s Television Workshop owned the show. Between 2000 and 2010, they were operating the show at a loss, threatening its existence. PBS’s support wasn’t enough, so HBO purchased it in 2015. It is still free to watch on PBS, but only months after it airs on HBO.
Production Crews Work Closely With Child Development Experts
Since the early days of Sesame Street, producers have worked closely with child development and education experts to maximize content and meet the needs of young viewers. It is known as the most extensively researched television program in history, and it has adapted through the decades.
Sesame Street has addressed topics that go beyond what children would learn in a classroom. Some people doubt the positive learning outcome, while others say it enhances attention and perceptual abilities. It is one of the only children’s shows to include diverse characters and topics that aren’t discussed on other programs.
Muppets Are Brought to Life With Basic Equipment
Have you ever wondered how the Sesame Street puppeteers make their job look so easy? Well, they use very basic tools to do their jobs. Strings, rods, and hand placement move smaller puppets, while a PVC pipe and a bike handle are used for larger tasks like Mr. Snuffleupagus’s trunk.
Switches and levers inside a puppet help with eye and hand movements, and wheeled stools allow puppeteers to move around quickly. Martin Robinson, who plays Telly, said the puppets are just a vehicle for the acting because the puppet has all the physical techniques to make it look real.
Celebrities Have Come Back for Repeat Visits
Celebrity guests have been a huge part of the program’s recipe since the first episode. Many guest stars have come back repeatedly because they enjoyed being on the show so much. Martin Robinson said, “If we’re not having fun doing it, no one’s gonna have fun watching it.”
As Elmo would say, his job is like “spreading the love, like peanut butter on a sandwich.” Carol Burnett was on the first episode and kept going back because she always enjoyed her time on set. She said, “I think one time I was an asparagus.”
Kermit the Frog Was an Original Cast Member
Before Kermit became the star of The Muppet Show and several Muppet movies, he was a main character on Sesame Street. He made his debut on Jim Henson’s (creator of the Muppets) first television program, Sam and Friends, in 1955 until 1961. Kermit then appeared in a promotional video for Sesame Street.
Kermit was then on Sesame Street and starring roles in other Henson productions. Henson initially performed him, and throughout the years, he taught people about self-acceptance. Kermit was also originally made from an old coat and a pair of Henson’s blue jeans.
Oscar Used to Be Orange
During Season 1 of Sesame Street, Oscar the Grouch was orange, but that changed during Season 2. Henson decided to make him green, but it must have been confusing for viewers to see his character change colors suddenly at the start of the new season.
To explain his color change, Oscar said he went on vacation to the very damp Swamp Mushy Muddy and turned green overnight. Luckily, the audience for the show is children, so no one really had any further questions about Oscar’s story.
Initially, Only Big Bird Could See Snuffleupagus
During Season 3 of Sesame Street, audiences were introduced to Mr. Suffleupagus, Big Bird’s best friend. However, the problem was that only Big Bird could see him. This led all the show’s human stars to think Snuffy was an imaginary friend.
It was a running joke that went on for nearly 15 years. Then, the decision to stage an episode where everyone finally meets Snuffy came from a somewhat dark place. While it was fun to watch Big Bird with his friend that no one else could see, they had no choice but to introduce him to everyone.
After almost 15 years of nobody but Big Bird being able to see Mr. Snuffleupagus, the producers realized they had to introduce him to the rest of the cast. There was growing concern that children would think adults don’t always believe children because they didn’t believe Snuffy existed.
This was particularly concerning to the show’s producers because of the issue of child abuse. They thought children might be afraid to tell an adult because they would feel the adults wouldn’t believe them. Therefore, they introduced Snuffy to the rest of the cast and the world.
There Were Rumors That Ernie Was Going to Die
In the early 1990s, not too long after Jim Henson passed away, a rumor circulated that Ernie would be killed off to teach children about death. They did this with Mr. Hooper’s death, but the rumor was just a rumor. It was apparently started by a college student in New Hampshire.
Michael Tabor, a college student from New Hampshire, convinced his graduating class to wear “Save Ernie” beanies and sign a petition to persuade Sesame Street to let Ernie Live. By the time Tabor was corrected, the newspapers had already picked up the story.
They Talk About Sensitive Topics
Mr. Hooper, played by Will Lee, was one of the first four human characters on the show. Sadly, he passed away from a heart attack when he was 74 during the show’s 14th season. Instead of scooting around the subject, the show openly addressed his passing.
The program had a segment called “Farewell, Mr. Hooper,” which aired on Thanksgiving Day 1983. They did this so that parents could watch with their children and answer questions that might come up. In the short segment, they honored Mr. Hooper and acknowledged grief. This set the standard for addressing other sensitive topics such guns and addiction.
The Show Caused Some At-Home Injuries
Don Music, a frustrated composer who never seemed satisfied with his music, used to be a character on Sesame Street. His music sessions often ended with him banging his head on his piano keys in frustration. This caused some at-home injuries and complaints from parents.
The character played by Richard Hunt was “fired” from the show because of complaints about his alarming tendencies toward self-inflicted punishment. Apparently, kids were imitating his head-banging at home, causing themselves harm. A few other characters were cut besides Don Music.
Puppeteering Can Be a Dangerous Job
It could be dangerous on the set. Caroll Spinney, who operated Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch from 1969 to 2018, shared some crazy stories from his time on the show.
Spinney said he almost caught on fire one time. He said, “Suddenly I’m looking down inside the costume, and I said, ‘something feels hot!’ I look down, and I see an orange flame.” Luckily one of the cameramen patted out the fire before it was too late.
There Are Versions of Sesame Street All Over the World
According to the creators of Sesame Street, there are currently more than 150 different versions in 70 other languages. The different versions have many unique characters. In the South African version called Takalani Sesame, they added an HIV-positive Muppet named Kami.
Kami caused some political discord because some politicians believed that the character was not appropriate for American children. The politicians also reminded PBS president Pat Mitchell that their committee controls PBS’s funding. However, she is still on the show and was appointed a UN global champion for children.
Bert and Ernie Always Have to Explain Their Relationship
For so long, Bert and Ernie have been questioned about their sexuality. Ernie, played by Steve Whitmire, said, “All that stuff about me and Burt? It’s not true. We’re both very happy, but we’re not gay.” However, one of the former writers had something very different to say.
Former show writer Mark Saltzman said Bert and Ernie are a couple because he wrote them based on his own experiences with his partner. The voice of Bert (Eric Jacobsen) said they weren’t a couple, so maybe Bert and Ernie are the only ones who don’t know they are dating.
Prices Are Going Up on Sesame Street
When Sesame Street premiered in 1969, characters on the show could head to Mr. Hooper’s store to buy themselves a treat. The prices were reasonable for the time, but now they’ll need more money to enjoy their favorite snacks. It seems like inflation has also reached Sesame Street.
At one point, Big Bird’s favorite birdseed milkshakes cost 20 cents, but these days, he needs to fork over $2.99. Maybe the store had to pay more for the ingredients, so they had to change the prices. We hope Big Bird’s salary went up so he can afford the new cost.
Many of the Show’s Songs Went Platinum
In 1970, Ernie reached #16 on the Billboard Hot 100 with the timeless hit “Rubber Duckie.” Multiple Emmy Award-winner, Jeff Moss, was the man behind the song, which is easily one of the most famous songs to come from the program. But that wasn’t the only famous song.
Moss was also behind the hits “People in Your Neighborhood” and “I Love Trash.” His song was nominated in the Best Recording for Children category at the 13th Annual Grammy Awards in 1970. The song turned rubber duckies into a percussion instrument, according to the Boston Pops.
Sesame Street Is Home to the Only Non-Human to Testify Before Congress
According to the producers, Elmo is the only non-human to testify before Congress. He lobbied for more funding for music education so that “when Elmo goes to school, there will be the instruments to play.” Elmo speaks for children everywhere who want musical learning to start in preschool.
Elmo is somewhat of a Washington insider. He attended an education event at the White House and responded to CNN when questioned about former White House aide Karen Hughes’ resignation. He said, “That means her children are very important to her, maybe more than the President. That’s wonderful.”
Elmo’s Favorite Food Is Wasabi
Elmo might be an adorable little red monster who is eternally three-and-a-half years old, but he has a mature palate and loves spicy foods. Elmo’s favorite food is wasabi, which is too hot for most people to tolerate. GHe confirmed this when KQED interviewed him.
In 2010, he said, “Elmo loves wasabi.” He also added, “Elmo loves sushi, but it’s a sometimes food. An anytime food is like broccoli or any kind of really good fruits and vegetables and stuff.” He wants other boys and girls to know that fruits and vegetables are essential to the diet.
James Earl Jones Was the First Celebrity on Sesame Street
It’s almost a rite of passage for famous people to appear on Sesame Street because it is so iconic. The first actor to appear on the show was James Earl Jones. He popped up on the children’s show to recite the alphabet in 1969. It may not sound like an exciting segment but imagine his voice.
Jones’ unmistakable voice, which can be heard in Star Wars as Darth Vader and The Lion King as Mufasa, could capture the attention of any viewer, especially young viewers. Carol Burnett was also on the first episode.
Rosita Used to Have Wings
Fans of Sesame Street are familiar with the character Rosita, a loveable blue monster from Mexico. Viewers might not know that the character was supposed to have wings because she was meant to be a fruit bat. She originally came to Sesame Street in 1991, and she had wings.
Rosita was meant to be “Rosita the bilingual guitar playing fruit bat.” While members of her family have the ability to fly, she has trouble landing. However, her big arms helped her give big hugs. During Season 35, she was rebuilt without wings.
Hey Arnold! Debuted on Sesame Street
Believe it or not, Hey Arnold! first aired on Nickelodeon on October 7, 1996. However, the character was seen on-screen years earlier on Sesame Street. The PBS show tweeted, “In 1990, a clay stop-motion short starring a character named Arnold debuted on the show.”
The clay character later showed up on the show Hey Arnold! Who would have thought that the puppet-filled children’s show would be the one to show off a popular Nickelodeon show before its premiere? In the shot, it also shows Reptar from the Rugrats.
The Count Was a Lady’s Man
Count von Count might spend most of his time focused on counting numbers, but he also makes time for the ladies. When the number-loving vampire heads out of town for some fun, he has three women who accompany him.
According to Sesame Street, the Count has “one, two, three, lady friends: Count Dahling von Dahling, Lady Two, and Countess von Backwards.” Maybe these ladies made him a little less sinister and softer throughout the years because he definitely got nicer as the show went on.
Super Grover Is Not Grover in Disguise
Most of us grew up thinking that Super Grover, who first showed up during a Sesame Street segment in 1974, is the secret superhero identity of Grover the monster. While that would make the most sense for children to understand, it is a false assumption.
In everyday life, Super Grover is known as Grover Kent, a doorknob salesman (a nod to Superman). In the segment, Super Grover helps two brothers fighting over an apple. For small children, it must be confusing to distinguish between Grover the monster and Grover Kent.
Telly Had a Crush on (Leslie) Feist
In 2008, Feist came on Sesame Street to perform a kid-friendly version of her song “1234.” The segment was very popular with viewers, but fans weren’t the only ones who were thrilled by the singer’s appearance. Telly the Monster saw hearts when he met Feist.
In an interview with The New York Times, the singer said, “A subplot that was in no way being filmed was that Telly was crushing out so hard on me.” While that might not be appropriate for a children’s show, it would be funny to see.
Cookie Monster Has Something Extra
Although all the monsters on Sesame Street have their own distinctive characteristics, they also have many similarities. The colorful, fuzzy, friendly monsters all have four fingers on each hand except for one unique character. Cookie Monster has five fingers on each hand.
Maybe Cookie Monster was made that way so he could grab more cookies. Cookie Monster is also different because he is one of two characters with a first name. Cookie Monster’s first name is Sid. He is also left-handed, unlike the rest of the cast.
Big Bird Once Ran for President
While it is hard to imagine a Sesame Street character in the White House or anywhere else besides Sesame Street, Big Bird once had his sights set on the President’s house. In 1976, he ran for President during the show’s seventh season, but that wasn’t the only time he got caught up in politics.
In 2012, Big Bird was caught in the middle of both candidates. They both talked about Sesame Street and Big Bird, but he wanted them to leave him out of it because he was no longer interested in living anywhere besides Sesame Street.
The Show Has Multiple Guinness World Records
It is no surprise that Sesame Street has broken many records after being on the air for 50 years. The program officially has two Guinness World Records. In 2010, the series earned the record for most daytime Emmys won with a staggering 122.
Sesame Street has also won the title of the most popular children’s educational program. That is primarily thanks to the fact that the show is in more than 143 countries with a cast of international characters. With thousands of episodes, it is a show that will forever be iconic.
Bert’s Bottle Cap Collection Is Impressive
Although having a bottle cap collection isn’t a popular thing today, that never stopped Bert from continuing to pursue his passion. According to Bert, collecting bottle caps is “more exciting than a birthday party or a circus or a parade.”
Throughout the years, Bert has managed to collect a total of 368 bottle caps, including a unique cap for Fizzy Fizz. Bert likes the simpler things in life and doesn’t care about the changing times because he has his hobbies that he loves and won’t give them up.
The First Snuffleupagus Was Scary Looking
When Mr. Snuffleupagus first joined the show in 1971, he only existed in Big Bird’s imagination. Although he was large, he would disappear before Big Bird’s neighbors could see him. When he made his television debut, he looked like something from a nightmare.
Snuffy had creepy yellow eyes and a thinner body that made him seem like a scary monster rather than a friendly one. Luckily, he got a makeover and became much more loveable, looking like the other characters on the series. Now he is a friend we would want to have.
Four First Ladies Have Been Guests
Since the show’s premiere in 1969, four First Ladies have made an appearance on the series. Barbara Bush, Laura Bush, Hillary Clinton, and Michelle Obama have all stopped by to hang out with the furry cast to teach young viewers about important topics.
The First Ladies and the Sesame Street gang taught children about topics like healthy eating and the importance of literacy. Hillary Clinton even shared a kiss with Oscar the Grouch. We bet he wasn’t so grumpy after his special kiss with Clinton.
Bert Has a Twin
While Ernie is Bert’s best friend (and possible life partner), there is someone who is much closer to the unibrow puppet. Bert actually has an identical twin brother named Bart, who made a brief appearance on an episode in 1974. However, we haven’t seen him in a while.
Bart is a traveling salesman and the complete opposite of Bert. He is cheerful, overbearing, and laughs a lot. He returned in 2017 redesigned as a modern hipster. Bart loves his brother Bert, but he stays busy and can’t spend all his time hanging around Sesame Street.
Kids Learn the Most From Elmo
The research department for Sesame Street watches the show with children to see how they react to certain characters. They found that Elmo has the highest ratings when it comes to connecting with the children because everyone loves the little red monster.
Children not only love watching him and laugh when he talks, but they actually learn the information he is teaching. It is hard to connect with children and get them to retain information, but Elmo seems to be doing this job pretty well.
The Same Person Played Big Bird for 50 Years
In 2018, Caroll Spinney left Sesame Street after spending almost 50 years with the show. He was 84 when he decided to retire, and during his time on the show, he brought Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch to life. He entertained millions of children for many decades, and it was fulfilling.
Spinney said, “I always thought, ‘How fortunate for me that I got to play two of the best Muppets?’” He loved playing Big Bird because it was one of the most joyous things in his life. He had such a great career, and he said he always had fun at work.
Some Countries Removed Certain Characters
When Sesame Street made its way to Afghanistan in 2011, it was called “Bagch-e-Simsim” (Sesame Garden). Characters like Big Bird, Grover, and Elmo all appeared on the show, but a few familiar faces were missing for interesting cultural reasons.
According to Muppet Wiki, Count von Count and Oscar the Grouch were minimized or taken off the show because of cultural taboos. Vampires and trash aren’t something they want to show on TV in Afghanistan, so they tried not to show these two characters on the show.
There are some Sesame Street actors that you might know from other popular shows. Before Giancarlo Esposito was on Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul, he played Big Bird’s camp counselor Mickey in 1982. If you want to see him, the episodes are on YouTube.
After he moved on from Sesame Street, he left kids’ television to play more serious roles. In Breaking Bad, Esposito is the super intense Gus Fring. If you are a fan of the show, you must be shocked to know he once played on a children’s program.
Big Bird Is Massive
When they gave Big Bird his name, they weren’t joking around. The bright yellow bird stands at 8’2”, so he would be perfect for the NBA. He would barely have to jump to dunk the ball. Because he is such a large bird, his costume required a lot of work to make.
It took approximately 4,000 feathers to craft Big Bird’s costume. Now that is a lot of trips to the craft store. He has been on the show since the beginning, and because of his large size, there is someone inside him controlling all his movements.
Cookie Monster Had a Cousin
Cookie Monster has a British cousin named Biscuit Monster. He appeared on the episode called “Cookie Confusion” and stayed at a hotel because he heard his cousin was employed there. Biscuit Monster looks just like Cookie Monster.
However, Biscuit Monster has a British accent and a fancy hat to distinguish himself from his cousin. When he arrived on the show, everyone thought he was Cookie Monster until he opened his mouth and started talking. Then they realize he is not Cookie Monster but one of his relatives.
Elmo Puppeteer Controversy
In 1983, Elmo joined the cast of Sesame Street, and Kevin Clash operated him. He was the man behind the lovable red puppet for almost 30 years but resigned in 2012 when sexual abuse allegations arose. In November of that year, Sheldon Stephens came forward with shocking news.
Stephens alleged that he had been in a sexual relationship with Clash that began when he was 16. Sesame Workshop (the non-profit behind Sesame Street) launched an investigation into the claims but didn’t find enough evidence to support it. Clash admitted that they had been in a relationship.
More Accusations Emerge
Clash claimed the two had been in a relationship, but it was between two consenting adults. Two weeks later, Cecil Singleton made similar accusations and filed a lawsuit against Clash. He decided to resign because his personal life was shining a negative light on Sesame Street.
In 2013, the three cases against Clash were dismissed. The claims were made more than six years after each accusor should have been aware of Clash’s alleged violations during the three years after each turned 18. Stephens once again tried to pursue legal action in 2014, but it was dismissed because the statute of limitations passed.