Stepping back into childhood and the lessons learned from Big Bird.
“Come and play
Friendly neighbors there
That’s where we meet…”
It would be hard to find someone not able to finish the lyrics.
Launched in 1969, the creators of Sesame Street prepared for and embraced the expected controversy in favour of a message that was necessary—inclusion, through increasing a child’s self-esteem and feelings of competency. Featuring real-life themes like death, pregnancy, natural devastation, and even terror attacks in a non-aggressive manner, the show was able to tackle and teach tolerance, and conflict resolution to an often-overlooked segment of the population—our children.
Never losing sight of its core values of concentrating on relationships, ethics, and emotions, Sesame Street is now one of the longest, most enduring shows worldwide.
Conceived in 1966 amidst the rapidly changing culture of the United States, the creators put themselves at the forefront of new ideal. They would use laboratory and formative educational research through the medium of a new tool—television—to help children, especially those who were marginalized and from inner-city neighborhoods, to prepare children for school.
Despite detractors, like the state commission in Mississippi who voted in 1970 to not allow Sesame Street to air due to its racially integrated cast and crew, the show persisted, drawing together educators, researchers, writers, composers, puppeteers, and more to create a safe “urban” setting where the children were part of the narrative tackling the issues of the day.
Understanding their audience, the show intentionally steered clear of hiring “white” actors and when they did, these roles were kept in a minority. The Children’s Television Workshop (CTW) as they were known, made it a point to employ to reflect and in accordance with the viewership they wanted to serve. In fact, they mandated no child actors. Instead, all children presented on the screen were non-professional and unscripted so their response to the curriculum, the puppets, and actors alike, were spontaneous. The more impulsive, the more uncertain, the more mistakes, the more robust, the more the children viewing the program responded positively. That is how they learned. From the little people reflected back in their living rooms.
“These are the people in our neighbourhood”
Les Brown, a writer for Variety, called Sesame Street “a hope for a more substantial future”.
Paving the road
Even before the buzzword was a concept, Sesame Street reflected a future of equality. Women not only had a seat at the table, but Sesame Street also gave a voice to professional women. In 1968, just after CTW was created, Joan Ganz Cooney was named the first executive director. This made her one of the first female executives in American television.
The trail blazing didn’t stop there. In order to attract the best composers and lyricists, the show allowed the talent to retain the rights to the songs they wrote. This not only allowed the best creations and most original sound but entitled the composers to fully engage and promote their endeavours, which in turn promoted the show.
Jim Henson’s contribution of his Muppets and retaining control over the creation saw him able to transition academic research into “pleasurable viewing” experiences for youngsters, their older siblings, and family members.
The business model
Ever analysing the research, with more than 1,000 studies and understanding the ever-changing culture of their audience, the show has managed to adapt and endure for more than five decades while holding true to its values. Poll after poll suggests that 95% of Americans, (assumed Canadian data to be similar) an estimated 86-million people, had watched the show as a child.
A lasting legacy
Could Sesame Street have been the first to feature a same-sex couple living in harmony and acceptance with Bert and Ernie? Food for thought as consider our own Diversity, Equality, and Inclusion (DEI) policies and our lasting legacy.
We’d love to engage in a conversation with you on building culture with benefits. Give us a call.
Disclaimer: Please note that the information provided, while authoritative, is not guaranteed for accuracy and legality. The site is read by a world-wide audience and employment, taxation, legal vary accordingly. Please seek legal, accounting, and human resources counsel from qualified professionals to make certain your legal/accounting/compliance/policy interpretation and decisions are correct for your location. This information is for guidance, ideas, and assistance.
Disclaimer: Please note that the information provided, while authoritative, is not guaranteed for accuracy and legality. The site is read by a world-wide audience and employment, taxation, legal vary accordingly. Please seek legal, accounting and human resources counsel from qualified professionals to make certain your legal/accounting/compliance interpretation and decisions are correct for your location. This information is for guidance, ideas, and assistance.