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A wide variety of characters have appeared on the American children's television series Sesame Street. A large number of the characters are Muppets, which are puppets made in Jim Henson's distinctive puppet-creation style. Most of the non-Muppet characters are human characters, but there are a few characters that are animated.
The Muppets are a group of puppet characters created by Jim Henson, many for the purpose of appearing on the classic children's television program Sesame Street. Henson's involvement in Sesame Street began when he and Joan Ganz Cooney, one of the creators of the show, met in the summer of 1968, at one of the show's five three-day curriculum planning seminars in Boston. Author Christopher Finch reported that director Jon Stone, who had worked with Henson previously, felt that if they could not bring him on board, they should "make do without puppets".
Henson was initially reluctant, but he agreed to join Sesame Street for social goals. He also agreed to waive his performance fee for full ownership of the Sesame Street Muppets and to split any revenue they generated with the Children's Television Workshop, the series' non-profit producer. The Muppets were a crucial part of the show's popularity and it brought Henson national attention. In early research, the Muppet segments of the show scored high, and more Muppets were added during the first few seasons. The Muppets were effective teaching tools because children easily recognized them, they were stereotypical and predictable, and they appealed to adults and older siblings.
During the production of Sesame Street's first season, producers created five one-hour episodes to test the show's appeal to children and examine their comprehension of the material. Not intended for broadcast, they were presented to preschoolers in 60 homes throughout Philadelphia and in day care centers in New York City in July 1969. The results were "generally very positive"; children learned from the shows, their appeal was high, and children's attention was sustained over the full hour. However, the researchers found that although children's attention was high during the Muppet segments, their interest wavered during the "Street" segments, when no Muppets were on screen. This was because the producers had followed the advice of child psychologists who were concerned that children would be confused if human actors and Muppets were shown together. As a result of this decision, the appeal of the test episodes was lower than the target.
The Street scenes were "the glue" that "pulled the show together", so producers knew they needed to make significant changes. The producers decided to reject the advisers' advice and reshot the Street segments; Henson and his coworkers created Muppets that could interact with the human actors, specifically Oscar the Grouch and Big Bird, who became two of the show's most enduring characters. These test episodes were directly responsible for what writer Malcolm Gladwell called "the essence of Sesame Street—the artful blend of fluffy monsters and earnest adults".
Since 2001, the full rights for Muppets created for Sesame Street have been owned by the Sesame Workshop, as the CTW was renamed in 2000.
Since the premiere of the children's television program Sesame Street on November 10, 1969, it has included what writer Malcolm Gladwell has called "the essence of Sesame Street—the artful blend of fluffy monsters and earnest adults". The original cast, chosen by producer Jon Stone, consisted of four human actors—Matt Robinson, who played Gordon, Loretta Long, who played Gordon's wife Susan, Will Lee (Mr. Hooper), and Bob McGrath (Bob). Unlike most children television programs at the time, the producers of Sesame Street decided against using a single host and cast a group of ethnically diverse actors, with, as Sesame Street researcher Gerald S. Lesser put it, "a variety of distinctive and reliable personalities".
Stone did not audition actors until Spring 1969, a few weeks before five shows, designed to test the show's appeal to children, and to examine their comprehension of the material, were due to be filmed. Stone videotaped the auditions, and researcher Ed Palmer took them out into the field to test children's reactions. The actors who received the "most enthusiastic thumbs up" were cast. For example, when the children saw Long's audition, they stood up and sang along with her rendition of "I'm a Little Teapot". As Stone said, casting was the only aspect of the show that was "just completely haphazard". Most of the cast and crew found jobs on Sesame Street through personal relationships with Stone and the other producers.
According to CTW researchers Shalom M. Fisch and Lewis Bernstein, the results of the test shows, which were never intended for broadcast and presented to preschoolers in 60 homes throughout Philadelphia and in day care centers in New York City in July 1969, were "generally very positive". They found that children learned from the shows, that the show's appeal was high, and that children's attention was sustained over the full hour. However, the researchers found that although children's attention was high during the Muppet segments, their interest wavered during the "Street" segments, when no Muppets were on screen. The producers had followed the advice of child psychologists who were concerned that children would be confused, and had recommended that human actors and Muppets not be shown together. As a result of this decision, the appeal of the test episodes was lower than they would have liked.
Palmer referred to the Street scenes as "the glue" that "pulled the show together", so producers knew they needed to make significant changes, including defying the recommendations of their advisers. Lesser called this decision "a turning point in the history of Sesame Street". The producers went back and reshot the Street segments; Muppet creator Jim Henson and his coworkers created Muppets that could interact with the human actors.
Some of the animated characters on Sesame Street are animated versions of Muppet characters. Others appear only in animated segments.
- Finch, p. 53
- Davis, p. 5
- Morrow, p. 93
- Morrow, pp. 94–95
- Lesser, p. 164
- Finch, p. 39
- Gladwell, p. 105
- Gladwell, p. 106
- Fisch & Bernstein, pp. 39–40
- Fisch & Bernstein, p. 40
- Retsinas, Greg (2003–05–08). "Hensons Buying Back the Muppets for $89 Million". The New York Times. Retrieved 2011–12–07.
- Lesser, p. 99
- Lesser, p. 125
- Borgenicht, p. 15
- Davis, p. 172
- Davis, p. 167
- "Open Audition To Be Held For New ‘Sesame Street’ Character". CBS News New York. Retrieved 14 August 2012.
- Borgenicht, David (1998). Sesame Street Unpaved. New York: Hyperion Publishing. ISBN 0-7868-6460-5 [Amazon-US | Amazon-UK]
- Davis, Michael (2008). Street Gang: The Complete History of Sesame Street. New York: Viking Penguin. ISBN 978-0-670-01996-0 [Amazon-US | Amazon-UK]
- Finch, Christopher (1993). Jim Henson: The Works: the Art, the Magic, the Imagination. New York: Random House. ISBN 0-679-41203-4 [Amazon-US | Amazon-UK]
- Fisch, Shalom M.; Lewis Bernstein, "Formative Research Revealed: Methodological and Process Issues in Formative Research". In Fisch, Shalom M. & Truglio, Rosemarie T.. G" is for Growing: Thirty Years of Research on Children and Sesame Street. Mahweh, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Publishers. ISBN 978-0-8058-3394-2 [Amazon-US | Amazon-UK].
- Gladwell, Malcolm (2000). The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference. New York: Little, Brown, and Company. ISBN 0-316-31696-2 [Amazon-US | Amazon-UK]
- Lesser, Gerald S. (1974). Children and Television: Lessons from Sesame Street. New York: Vintage Books. ISBN 0-394-71448-2 [Amazon-US | Amazon-UK]