It’s known the world over for Bert and Ernie, Big Bird, Cookie Monster, Count von Count, Elmo, Grover, Oscar the Grouch, the alphabet and numbers.
Sesame Street has now turned 50 years old and has produced over 4,500 episodes. It is the longest running children’s show in the United States.
When it aired on November 10 1969, Sesame Street was an instant hit thanks to Jim Henson’s Muppets.
“The reception was incredible. It may be the only programme in history that got such an immense reaction from all over the world,” co-creator Joan Ganz Cooney remembers. “Jim’s Muppets were an overnight sensation. There were people who were sure we were destroying the minds of children but they were absolutely drowned out in this period, because the show was so popular with the public.”
Sesame Street went on to win a record 189 Emmy awards – and 11 Grammys. It has been watched by an estimated audience of more than 100 million people in more than 150 countries.
From the start, writers, actors, musicians and sports stars were keen to participate. Hundreds have appeared including Muhammad Ali, Burt Lancaster, David Beckham, Beyoncé, BB King, Robin Williams, David Bowie, Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts, James Gandolfini, John Hamm, Benedict Cumberbatch, Claire Danes, Julie Andrews, Ed Sheeran and Taylor Swift. Many were happy to send themselves up.
Michelle Obama also followed in the footsteps of previous first ladies Barbara Bush, Hilary Clinton and Laura Bush.
But the show has its serious side too.
Sesame Street has been pioneering in its attitude towards inclusion and representation, providing progressive role models to a young audience. In 1975, it cast a child with Down syndrome and went on to introduce children to Kami, a child living with HIV, to visually impaired Aristotle and to Katie, a cheerful, upbeat person in a wheelchair, who calls herself “Super Katie” in reference to her active, superhero lifestyle. The show has delivered storylines about important issues such as bullying, homelessness, poverty and death, about the families of those in the military and about children with incarcerated parents.
To mark the occasion HBO in the US has aired Sesame Street’s 50th Anniversary Celebration, with guests like Whoopi Goldberg, Patti LaBelle, Elvis Costello, Meghan Trainor, Sterling K. Brown, Norah Jones, and a visit from Kermit the Frog.