Gen-Xers might be feeling a little older today as the classic children’s show Sesame Street begins its 40th season. The series debuted on Nov. 10, 1969, and since then has continued to educate, inspire and entertain generations of kids through clever songs, animation and, of course, Jim Henson’s Muppets.
The new season will feature some changes. While maintaining an emphasis on literacy and numeracy, Season 40 also kicks off “My World is Green & Growing,” a two-year science initiative designed to increase positive awareness towards nature and encourage behavior that shows respect and care for the environment. Along this line, First Lady Michelle Obama appears in the season premiere to teach the Street’s residents about the benefits of planting a garden and healthy eating.
Also this season, the show will be reformatted to resemble a typical broadcasting block. Murray the Monster hosts each episode from different locations linking four longer segments with interstitials throughout the hour. The block format begins and ends with a brand-new show open and close, integrating chalk-art animation with the Muppets, set to a new version of the classic title tune.
Another change is the introduction of “Abby’s Flying Fairy School,” marking the first time a Sesame Street character has been transformed into CGI animation. Each segment features Abby Cadabby and her gang of new friends learning something new.
Celebrities have long been a part of Sesame Street, and famous guest stars will also appear throughout this new season. In addition to Michelle Obama (pictured left, with Elmo), notable people making guest appearances in Season 40 will include Kobe Bryant, Greg Kinnear, Jake Gyllenhaal, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Cameron Diaz, Hugh Jackman, Eva Longoria, Ricky Gervais, Cedric the Entertainer, Tiki Barber, Jeff Gordon, Elisabeth Hasselbeck and many more. (You can get a peek at several in the video at the bottom of this post.)
As Sesame Street heads on toward 50, here — courtesy of Sesame Workshop — are a few things about the show that you may not yet know even after all this time:
- Four First Ladies have visited Sesame Street: Barbara Bush, Hillary Clinton, Laura Bush and Michelle Obama.
- Although Big Bird is a curious 6-year old and Oscar is a Grouch, the two are identical on the inside. At age 75, Carroll Spinney has been both characters since 1969.
- A Birdseed Milkshake at Hooper’s Store cost $.20 in 1969 and costs $2.99 now.
- Why the name Sesame Street? After a long search for a catchy name, one of the show’s writers suggested Sesame Street. The word “sesame,” an allusion to the fabled command from The Arabian Nights, “Open, Sesame!,” suggested excitement and adventure. Since the show was set in an urban street scene, Sesame Street seemed an ideal combination.
- Elmo began his life on Sesame Street as a nameless Anything Muppet, before becoming the 3 ½ year-old furry red monster that has tickled millions of children of all ages. Kevin Clash first donned Elmo in 1984. 25 years later, Elmo is still 3 ½ years-old.
- James Earl Jones was the first celebrity to appear on Sesame Street.
- Cookie Monster used to have pointy teeth.
- Ernie is the only Sesame Street Muppet to have a built in smile.
- Two cast members have had their real-life children portray their TV children. Gabriella is Sonia Manzano’s daughter and she played Gabi, Maria and Luis’ daughter, as a child. Roscoe Orman’s son, Miles, also portrayed Miles, Gordon and Susan’s adopted son when he was younger.
- Oscar the Grouch was the color orange in Season 1.
- Cameraman Frankie Biando has been filming Sesame Street since the first season and still operates Camera 1 on today’s set.
- There are over 20 original and localized co-productions of Sesame Street including Galli Galli Sim Sim in India, Takalani Sesame in South Africa, Hikayat Simsim in Jordan and Plaza Sésamo in Mexico. Sesame content can be watched in over 140 countries around the globe.
- Sesame Street has won 122 Emmys to date and a recent Lifetime Achievement Emmy Award, the most for any television show in history.
- In 2006, Abby Cadabby moved to the Sesame Street neighborhood as a pink fairy-in-training. She was designed to inspire young girls and demonstrate positive female relationships. She was the first new female lead character added to Sesame Street in 13 years.
- All of the Sesame Street Muppets have four fingers except Cookie Monster, who has five.
- At the end of Sesame Street’s 40th season, 4,212 episodes will have aired.
- Sesame Street has won nine Grammy Awards.
- Roscoe Orman is the third actor to portray Gordon and he joined the cast in Season 5.
- Elmo is the only puppet in history to have testified before Congress.
- There have been over 440 celebrity visitors to Sesame Street.
- Big Bird is covered with approximately six thousand dyed North American turkey, coq, ostrich and hackle feathers.
- Carroll Spinney still uses the same Oscar the Grouch puppet since Sesame Street’s second season.
- The Jim Henson Company has built over 5,000 puppets for Sesame Street over the past 40 years.
Photos: Richard Termine