Making its debut in 1969, “Sesame Street” has been a television mainstay ever since, and the long-running children’s series is marking the show’s 50th anniversary with a year-long celebration.
In honour of the occasion, “Sesame Street” is sharing a video featuring some of the more memorable moments from the show’s five-decade history, including beloved characters such as Big Bird and Cookie Monster, as well as cameos from celebrities ranging from Stevie Wonder to Tiffany Haddish.
The show will mark this major milestone with special initiatives and community events throughout the year, along with a star-studded primetime TV special set to air in November.
“We’re often asked what ‘Sesame Street’’s legacy will be,” said Joan Ganz Cooney, co-founder of Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit that produces the show. “To me, a legacy is when something’s over… and this isn’t over.”
“’Sesame Street’ had a profound impact on children’s media, setting a template that the industry has followed for generations,” added Sesame Workshop co-founder Lloyd Morrisett. “Fifty years later, Sesame Workshop continues to deliver on its mission every day, across multiple platforms, on six continents. We started as an experiment — and it worked.”
Meanwhile, The Hollywood Reporter has produced an expansive retrospective profile on the show, and reveals how funding problems caused by the U.S. recession led the show to move from its longtime home on PBS to HBO, where first-run episodes now air in the U.S.
According to THR, corporate funding began to dry up just as the DVD market started to diminish, leading to a perfect storm that saw the show losing millions; in 2014, “Sesame Street” was operating at a loss of $11 million.
“It was one of the toughest decisions we ever made,” says Steve Youngwood, COO of Sesame Workshop, admitting that negotiations with PBS — which had aired the show since the beginning — were “complicated.”
TV legend Carol Burnett was the show’s very first celebrity guest, and credits her long history with “Sesame Street” to her admiration for Muppet creator Jim Henson.
“I didn’t know anything about it when they asked me to be on,” recalls Burnett, who appeared on the show’s first episode on Nov. 10, 1969. “All I knew was that Jim Henson was involved and I thought he was a genius — I’d have gone skydiving with him if he’d asked. But it was a marvelous show. I kept going back for more. I think one time I was an asparagus.”
Also addressed in the profile is the lingering controversy surrounding Muppet pals Ernie and Bert due to rumours that the longtime roommates were actually a gay couple.
“People can think whatever they want [about Bert and Ernie],” says Brown Johnson, Sesame Workshop’s executive vice presidet. “You want to think they’re gay? OK. You want to think they’re not gay? They’re not gay.”
You can read more about the 50th anniversary of “Sesame Street” in the latest issue of The Hollywood Reporter. Meanwhile, Canadian parents and their kids can watch “Sesame Street” weekends at 7:10 a.m. ET on Treehouse.