The story of one of the most important and beloved shows on television--how it got started, nearly failed, and was saved by Elmo
When the first episode aired on November 10, 1969, Sesame Street revolutionized the way education was presented to children on television. It has since become the longest-running children's show in history, and today reaches 8 million preschoolers on 350 PBS stations and airs in 120 countries.
Street Gang is the compelling and often comical story of the creation and history of this media masterpiece and pop culture landmark, told with the cooperation of one of the show's cofounders, Joan Ganz Cooney. Sesame Street was born as the result of a discussion at a dinner party at Cooney's home about the poor quality of children's programming and hit the air as a big bang of creative fusion from Jim Henson and company, quickly rocketing to success.
Street Gang traces the evolution of the show from its inspiration in the civil rights movement through its many ups and downs--from Nixon's trying to cut off its funding to the rise of Elmo--via the remarkable personalities who have contributed to it. Davis reveals how Sesame Street has taught millions of children not only their letters and numbers, but also cooperation and fair play, tolerance and self-respect, conflict resolution, and the importance of listening. This is the unforgettable story of five decades of social and cultural change and the miraculous creative efforts, passion, and commitment of the writers, producers, directors, animators, and puppeteers who created one of the most influential programs in the history of television.
People rarely look to find reality in TV shows, but to escape it. Sesame Street, the first educational program for children, is a happy exception, and Davis's true stories about the imaginary neighborhood only enhance the show's noble mission as well as its tone of frantic, fantastic realism. Looking beyond children's favorites of the 1950s-Captain Kangaroo, Howdy Doody, Miss Frances' Ding Dong School-four pioneering individuals asked, in 1965, "Do you think TV could be used to teach children?" Those pioneers-Tim and Joan Cooney and Lloyd and Mary Morrisett-would go on to helm "the world's most influential children's program," despite a lack of experience (Joan became an executive director with "no credentials except a BA in education"). Well-researched details and an unflinching eye make Davis's book continuously fascinating; beyond perfectly human tales of alcoholism, disease, psychotic breaks and affairs, he reports that Caroll Spinney, the man who would fill the towering, bright yellow Big Bird suit, weighed 42 pounds in the second grade and "answered to the nickname PeeWee." Davis also chronicles the barriers Sesame Street broke through, hiring women in powerful positions, reaching out to the black community with an "inner city ambassador," and addressing formerly taboo topics (breast-feeding, death) with care and sensitivity. Any grown-up fan will relish this account, gaining an even greater appreciation for the cultural contributions of Kermit, Big Bird, Oscar the Grouch and all their neighbors. B&w photos.
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October 25, 2009
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