Earlier this year, NPR headquarters in Washington, D.C., had some unusual visitors. Life-size puppets, including Big Bird, Bert and Ernie, Rosita, Abby Cadabby and Cookie Monster, all sat at a correspondent’s desk, “singing about a sunny day and how everything is A-OK.” The cast of Sesame Street was there to celebrate the beloved children’s television program’s 50th anniversary, and this weekend, Sesame Street will be in Rutland, live and in person, for the same reason.
“Sesame Street Live! C is for Celebration” will be at the Paramount Theatre for 1 and 4 p.m. performances Saturday, Sept. 21, featuring all the characters you know and love.
Sesame Street debuted in 1969, which means five generations grew up with the show. It’s won more major awards than most shows in television, including 11 Grammys and almost 200 Emmys.
While it began as an educational children’s television series that combined live action with sketch comedy, animation and puppetry, the program became known for Jim Henson’s Muppets, their humor and cultural references.
But the show’s success has been hard won. It came up against critics in its early stages, and producers and writers had the challenge of using educational goals and a curriculum to shape a show’s content for the first time.
Many writers have come and gone during Sesame Street’s long history. Peter Hellman wrote in a 1987 article in New York Magazine, “The show, of course, depends upon its writers, and it isn’t easy to find adults who could identify the interest level of a preschooler.”
Fifteen writers a year worked on the show’s scripts, few lasting longer than a season.
Norman Stiles, head writer in 1987, reported that most writers would burn out after writing about a dozen scripts. In 2009, longtime writer Tony Geiss said, “It’s not an easy show to write. You have to know the characters and the format, and how to teach and be funny at the same time, which is a big, ambidextrous stunt.”
Among its other challenges, Sesame Street’s unique format mixing strong visuals with action, humor and music didn’t win critics over immediately.
When the show began, researchers believed young audiences didn’t have the attention span for the show’s hour-long format. But by season 20, ratings had long since proved that theory wrong, and this weekend, you can celebrate 50 years with the live version of the characters that kids and kids at heart have loved all their lives.