Ozma's Reviews > Street Gang: The Complete History of Sesame Street

Street Gang by Michael Davis
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's review
Apr 02, 2009

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bookshelves: borrowed-from-the-denver-public-lib, feels-like-i-read-it-yesterday
Read in March, 2009

A thorough history of the inception and creation of Sesame Street. Basically, the daughter of an executive at the Carnegie Corporation was staring at the "Native American" filler screen on television every morning before the cartoons would start. The exec thought to himself, could television be used to teach children? And it all snowballed from there. Unfortunately, not much insider gossip but enough to interest you. The personalities that worked on this show and their quirks are incredibly interesting to read about. It's a bit dry, but it is a big achievement to compress all this information into one book. Jim Henson was a genius who owed his career to Sesame Street, but it greatly bugged him that he was pigeonholed as doing children's work. He liked doing sassy puppet comedy (which he eventually achieved with the Muppets). He was also deeply depressed at the commercial failure of The Dark Crystal (his feature length film).

The woman who founded it all, Joan Ganz Cooney, cooperated with the writing of this book and gave extensive interviews. She and her cohorts were true liberals, believing that helping the urban poor through massive spending would work. And they were, overall, right, and actually spawned a major capitalist genre of educational marketing to children.

The best part, for me, was re-living, in a way, how great those characters are/were and the feelings you had when you saw Big Bird being incredulous, or Ernie needling Bert for the umpteenth time. I realize now how much I identified with some of these characters and saw myself in their attempts at figuring out the world. Even to this day I find Sesame Street to be very telling of the human experience at a basic level. Many, many years later, after competition from Barney, Sesame Street created their first character based on focus groups and marketing studies: the girl puppet Zoe. The traditionalists disdained the move, but it kept Sesame Street commercially viable. Most other characters until then were more organic in their creation. For instance, Elmo was a background muppet for years until one puppeteer tossed Elmo to another saying he wasn't interested in it. Kermit was very Jim Henson, as was Bert, whom he also played. The man who played Big Bird suffered from a birth disorder that always made him a bit odd and out of sorts.

And, this book is the first and only I have not found one typo in. it is technically perfect. Quite an achievement, in my opinion.

Yes, I did manage to get this back to the library in time and did not incur a single late fee!

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