As viewers to Google have already found, today marks the birthday of what is arguably the most beloved avian on the planet: Big Bird.
More accurately, today marks the 40th season of Sesame Street, which first aired on November 10, 1969. The show’s format of integrating Jim Henson’s Muppets with regular people became an endearing part of American culture quickly.
At its time, the concept of a television program that could educate children was revolutionary, as was the concept to integrate research with television programming. From the beginning, however, Sesame Street was a show based around researching the best ways to educate children, and aimed to implement that research in every episode.
Among the show’s most endearing aspects has been the street scenes, designed to draw in inner-city audiences, but what many don’t know is that they were almost removed completely. In focus group studies done before the show premiered, children identified much more strongly with the scenes solely involving Muppets than the scenes on the “Street.”
Producers were advised to cut the street segments all together, but, luckily for us, they ignored their recommendation and simply retooled those scenes, creating new characters that would be among the most memorable: Oscar the Grouch and Big Bird.
Over the years, Sesame Street has made strides beyond simply teaching students their alphabet and how to count. Due to the urban environment of the show, Sesame Street was a place where diversity could thrive, with the show casting both white and African-Americans early on and expanding to include Hispanics, Asian-Americans, and representatives from other diverse groups throughout the years.
The show’s format has changed over the years, and its cast of characters have come and gone. The show has recently transitioned to more of a narrative structure in recent years, alienating many of Sesame Street’s adult fans who remember the more sketch-like setup from their viewing years.
In the end, though, it’s the kids who really should appreciate Sesame Street, and hopefully the show will continue to teach generations of children for many years to come.