In the 1960s, children’s television on commercial networks was geared towards sponsors, reaching out to middle-class white children and parents likely to buy what was advertised. Even the top quality shows had settings and characters that would be familiar to these kids. There was very little educational content. But it was an era of extreme political division and growing concern over disparities in income and opportunity. Downtown kids started school behind suburban kids when it came to reading and counting, and they fell behind as the school year progressed. The same concerns that led to the creation of Project Headstart inspired Lloyd Morrisett, vice president of the Carnegie Foundation, a psychologist specializing in how and what children learn, and television director Joan Ganz Cooney to develop the idea for a television program that would help teach basics like the alphabet and numbers. But it had to grab their attention, and that meant it had to be fun, funny, heartwarming, and engaging.
This is where two other key partners come in. The best known is Jim Henson, creator of the Muppets. “He looks like a hippie,” Cooney thought when she saw him for the first time. Equally important was Jon Stone, who helped define the series as a writer and director. They found that children learned better if their parents watched with them, so they also had to appeal to adults. Hence Smokey Robinson and a celebrity guest list that included First Ladies, Grammy winners and star athletes.
This film does not talk about the many controversies that “Sesame Street” has gone through over the years, including claims that it has been more difficult for children to learn in the less entertaining environment of a classroom or classroom. the switch to the premium cable channel HBO. Writer Christopher Cerf makes an ironic comment on the song “Letter B” which sparked a $ 5 million lawsuit from Northern Songs, which owned the rights to “Let It Be” by The Beatles. (It was later settled for $ 50.) And the now adult children of some of the people who created the show recognize that what happened behind the scenes could be stressful for them and their families.