Wednesday, December 31, 2008

'Sesame Street' is 40 but young at heart


By Craig Wilson, USA TODAY

Ah, Sesame Street. Big Bird. Bert and Ernie. Grover. The Cookie Monster. The good old days.

The street is still hot. It celebrates its 40th year in 2009 with its largest audience: 8 million viewers on 350 stations in 120 countries.

Not wanting to be left out of the fun, hundreds of celebrities have visited TV's most famous boulevard over the years. Sarah Jessica Parker appeared to discuss the art of sighing, first lady Laura Bush stopped by to read, and Robin Williams waxed eloquent on the wonders of feet.

Now a book, the first out of the gate to mark the anniversary, is arriving in stores. Street Gang: The Complete History of Sesame Street (Viking, 384 pp, $27.95) is by Michael Davis, a former columnist for TV Guide who spent many happy hours wandering Sesame Street with his children.

"It touched me in a very profound way," Davis says.

Davis spent five years reporting and writing the story of the longest-running children's show in TV history, which was the brainchild of Jim Henson, the late Muppets creator, and entrepreneur Joan Ganz Cooney. Davis refers to the show as "a confluence of genius" and dubs Henson "wondrously human."

Sesame Street began on Nov. 10, 1969, as an educational children's show and evolved into a sophisticated program that combined education and entertainment.

Carol-Lynn Parente, Sesame Street's executive producer, has been with the show 20 years and sees the magic firsthand.

"There are times that some of what makes this work is mysterious even to us," Parente says. "But the essence of what has made us as successful as we've been is our ability to evolve. The life of a preschooler today is much different than it was in 1969."

Davis believes the show will go on forever. "They still approach each season as an experiment. As long as they do that, they will grow and change as children grow and change and the culture grows and changes."

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