Institutional Award: Sesame Street
Today’s Institutional Peabody Award was brought to you by the number 50, for 50 years of Sesame Street educating and entertaining children in the U.S and around the world.
Conceived by television producer Joan Ganz Cooney and Carnegie Foundation vice president Lloyd Morrisett, Sesame Street premiered in 1969 on PBS predecessor National Educational Television with wide-eyed optimism and determination to make a difference. Structured on the belief that a kids television show could help close an achievement gap in preparation for school, while also teaching kids about the values of diversity, mutual respect, and empathy, it remains one of the 1960s greatest offerings. Its central messages are about appreciating locality, accepting and valuing difference, and learning how to be a massive bird’s friend when you’re a green trash monster. And yet it teaches these lessons, day in and day out, alongside functional lessons about basic math, spelling, logic, patterns, and a love of music, art, and dance. Over time, it has moved across the globe, both in its American form and through multiple co-productions sensitive to local contexts in countries including Brazil, Nigeria, Afghanistan, Indonesia, Kosovo, South Africa, China, Israel, and Norway.
Sesame Street has realized that all good exploits require humor: for all its sincerity, sense of purpose, and willingness to realize that sometimes it’s not easy being either green or a child, the show is also keen to laugh at absurdities, and to have fun while it works. Parents are thus invited in, too, and are rewarded for watching with their kids. And kids are always encouraged to laugh, to enjoy themselves, and to love learning. The Sesame Workshop (formerly Children’s Television Workshop) model draws upon extensive research and careful planning to construct curricula that have introduced viewers to countless topics over the course of the show’s life. With each new media development, the show has kept pace, always aware of its audience and the various worlds in which they live.
Its characters are endearing and enduring, from its large and proliferating cast of Muppets (created by Jim Henson and colleagues) including Big Bird, Bert and Ernie, Cookie Monster, The Count, Elmo and Abby, Oscar the Grouch, Rosita, and the incomparable Super Grover, to its human characters. Its cast includes the longest, most impressive list of guest performers in television history, but has always been centered by a diverse group of adults with whom generations of Sesame children learned they could share their feelings, struggles, enthusiasms, and successes.
We also acknowledge Sesame Street for its advocate role in reminding citizens and politicians why public broadcasting is necessary and valuable. Indeed, Sesame Street has shown us all why and how television itself can be necessary and valuable. It challenges us to make a difference and to be good, caring people while we do so. For giving us sunny days that have swept clouds away for 50 years, we extend an Institutional Award with thanks to Sesame Street.