Sesame Street: As Relevant (And Fun) As Ever

(Ed. note). The 40th Anniversary of Sesame Street has NPT staffer Erin McInnis, who divides her time between the production and education departments, thinking about the impact the show has had on her life, and the impact it continues to have on the world-at-large. Families Stand Together: Feeling Secure in Tough Times, a new special from Sesame Workshop, airs Wednesday, September 9 at 7:00 pm. on NPT and PBS stations nationwide. The program features brief documentaries about real-life families and the story of a Muppet family coping with the ups and downs of these uncertain economic times. Hosted by Al Roker, Deborah Roberts and Elmo and his friends, the special will offer help, hope and strategies for families and will encourage children to express their feelings and ideas as their families adjust to a new life.

By Erin McInnis

Erin McInnis, Sesame Street Fan

Erin McInnis, Sesame Street Fan

I have a confession to make: I love Sesame Street. And it’s not just nostalgia either. I perk up and take note anytime I hear Sesame Street or one of its delightful Muppets mentioned. In fact, one of the reasons that I got into Public Television was the hope that one day I might meet one of the famous Muppets, or, even better yet, actually get to take a stroll down that street. So when I heard that Kermit and Miss Piggy were making an appearance on America’s Got Talent to commemorate Sesame Street’s 40th Anniversary last week, and that the Daytime Emmys would be paying tribute to the show, I made plans to be in front of the television at the appointed time.

As a child of Sesame Street, the resurgence of the show in popular culture this year due to its 40th Anniversary, has opened the floodgates for my own memories. I don’t know a world without Sesame Street. Growing up we didn’t have cable so the vast array of shows available on Nickelodeon and HBO to 80s kids like me didn’t exist in my world. As a result, my earliest television memories revolve around Sesame Street, specifically the “Sesame Street News Flash” segments with Kermit the Frog. I wouldn’t say that Kermit was a full-time cast member but this was back when Jim Henson was alive so the frog made regular appearances dressed in a trench coat, fedora, and hauling around a microphone to interview, and get the real story, from characters in nursery rhymes, fairy tales, and even the occasional key moment in history. I have vivid memories of Kermit diligently reporting all the juicy secrets behind Rapunzel’s rescue and the Big Bad Wolf’s affinity for blowing down houses, despite constantly being drawn into the story itself. As with all well written parodies, these skits often diverged from the original story but that was, and still is, part of the fun.

Families Stand Together, Wed. Sept. 9 at 7:00 p.m. on NPT and PBS stations nationwide.

Families Stand Together, Wed. Sept. 9 at 7:00 p.m. on NPT and PBS stations nationwide.

What I love about all the attention Sesame Street has been getting this year is that while informative and enlightening pieces have been written in Time and Newsweek about Sesame Street and its impact on the world at large, the affinity for fun has not disappeared. Yes, Elmo is being used to help teach kids about the importance of hygiene in preventing the spread of the HINI virus and to educate viewers at home about the economy. But for every mention of Sesame Street’s place in modern history, there is a photo spread like this one in Harper’s Bazaar’s September issue which features people like Vera Wang and Oscar de la Renta alongside Cookie Monster and Big Bird. For every new usage of one of the characters to reach out to kids about what is going on in the world around them, there is an appearance by the Muppets to remind everyone that they are there to delight you and bring fun into the world.

PBS isn’t celebrating the 40th Anniversary of Sesame Street until November 10th (the actual anniversary date) so I have two months to gear up for that celebration. In the meantime, I’m keeping my eyes and ears open for other great opportunities to relive the memories.

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