Street Gang: How We Got to Sesame Street (2021) Movie Script

[TV static drones]
[bright tone]
- Sunny day
Sweepin' the clouds away
On my way
To where the air is sweet
Can you tell me how to get
How to get
to Sesame Street?
[indistinct chatter]
- Stand by. Here we go.
Very quiet.
In five, four, three,
two, one, action.
[guitar music playing]
[footsteps pattering]
- Buenas noches, seor,
and welcome
to La Casa de Comidas.
I'm Grover, your favorite
singing and dancing waiter.
We have four specials.
Nmero uno, nmero dos,
[dishes clatter]
- Yes, uh?
- [Grover screams]
[funky upbeat music]
- Okay. So let's do it.
Let's do the...
- On an average day, according
to the Nielsen ratings,
more than 12 million
American children under six
watch what goes on
in this room.
- Okay. All set, guys?
- Jon Stone was instrumental
in developing "Sesame Street."
He was its first producer,
still directs half the shows,
and have you ever
stopped smiling
as you've worked on
all of the--
- Oh, I wouldn't still be doing
it if it weren't fun.
I love it.
- Please welcome the creator
of "The Muppets,"
Mr. Jim Henson.
- I suppose when we first
did "Sesame Street,"
that was the time where
the audience got to know us.
- A turning point
in everybody's life,
you and "Sesame Street."
- I was there too.
- [chuckles] Kermit.
- Sure. Sure. I was there.
- What the original idea?
What were you trying
to accomplish in 1969?
- The original idea
came from Joan Cooney,
who is the woman
behind the whole project.
- There is no question
that the people who
control the system read
and the people who make it
in the system read.
- Here is Joan Cooney,
who is showing us
what television
really could be.
I mean, what she is doing
is what television would do
if it loved people instead
of trying to sell to people,
and there is all the difference
in the world.
[upbeat funky music]
- Oh, you're here.
Well, since you're here,
I might as well answer
a set of questions
which have been submitted to me
here at the old trash can.
"What do you think makes
'Sesame Street'
so appealing to kids?"
I didn't think they liked it.
I hate it myself.
[soft upbeat music]
- Stand by.
- Okay, and it's on camera,
and action.
- It's hard to talk about
"Sesame Street"
without talking
about Jon Stone.
I think Jon was probably,
in my view at least,
the most critical person
to the success of the show.
- Come in and kind of
look at the phone
and wonder what it is.
- He was a wonderful writer.
He was an amazing director.
- And bring in the word
across the top.
- Will do.
- Oh.
- Tele...
- Phone.
- Telephone.
- And he was really
the soul of the show.
- Jon was the guy who really
created the whole reality
of it,
you know, the style
and the vision of the show.
- So the two of you together,
when you get about here
I hear a bat going...
[imitates squeaking]
Whatever bats do, right?
- [as Big Bird]
Hey, don't worry, Count.
We'll help you.
- [as The Count] Oh, we must
look everywhere, high, low--
- You know, there were
a lot of shows
that really talked down
to kids,
and he really didn't want that.
Jon Stone thought that
you could have a kid's show
where adults wouldn't run
for the door
as soon as it was on.
[dreamy ambient music]
- Well, I've worked
for over 25 years now
in television in New York City,
so I've seen a lot of studios
and a lot of shows.
[balloon pops]
[children cheer]
And I've sat through
so many children's shows,
just terrible stuff.
- Hot Ovaltine at breakfast
gives you the right start
in the morning.
- They're selling toys
and cereals,
all that stuff.
- You tell Mommy or Daddy
that you want Tootsie Rolls.
Tootsie Rolls!
- And I hated it.
[soft dramatic music]
- Our dad saw the world
in black and white,
so there were good guys.
You were a good guy,
or you were a bad guy.
And the good guys,
he loved with all his heart,
and the bad guys, um,
there was no gray.
- You know, he took things
so much to heart.
And Dad came to activism
and feeling strongly
about the world
because of the era
that he was kind of
becoming an adult in.
[helicopter whirring]
- The Vietnam War
was going full blast...
And the country
was very politicized.
[people shouting]
Everybody was screaming
at everybody else,
and it was impossible
not to feel strongly
one way or another.
Black power! Black power!
- I think Dad bore the pain
of the world
in a way that
other people can let it go.
- I had really quit
the business.
I thought I had done
about everything
I was gonna do in television.
- And then he got this call
from a producer saying,
you know,
she would like to talk to him
about this children's program
that she was starting
to create.
- Joan Cooney called me
and said she was trying
to put together a staff
to do a new children's show,
and would I be interested?
I said no, really, I didn't
want to do television anymore.
And she is a very charming
and persuasive lady.
- I think what drew Dad in
really had to do
with her political vision,
and I think
when she started talking
about inner-city children
and the amount of time
that kids
are spending watching
bad television
with nothing to do because
their parents are working,
that's what pulled him in.
- I had been working
at Channel 13 in New York
producing documentaries.
And through that work,
I had become absolutely
involved intellectually
and spiritually with
the Civil Rights Movement.
I was not focused
on young children, though.
That all goes back
to Lloyd Morrisett,
who really was the father
of "Sesame Street."
- I was a psychologist
at the Carnegie Foundation,
and we were heavily influenced
by the national dialogue
on the gap that was
being created in schools.
- There is a singular lack of
equal educational opportunity
in the United States
for Negroes.
- This is not
a racial difference,
but a socioeconomic difference.
[children chattering]
- We found that those children
who had entered school
three months behind,
and by the end of first grade
be a year behind,
and get further
and further behind,
and I wondered whether there
was a possibility
that television could be used
to help children with school,
but television
was not very popular
with the Carnegie staff.
Academics were not interested
in television.
[theme music playing]
They didn't have it
in their homes.
- Danger, Will Robinson,
- It was the boob tube.
- The "Minnow"
would be lost
[horns honking]
- And then one of my friends,
Joan, held a dinner party,
and I knew Joan
was a television producer.
And so we were just talking,
and I said "Joan,
do you think television
could be used to teach
young children?"
- I knew the answer.
I knew the answer right away.
- When you say "Bud"
You've said a lot of things
nobody else can say
- Every child in America
was singing beer commercials.
It means you want the beer
That's got a taste
that's number one
- Now, where had they learned
beer commercials?
all: You tell the world
You know what makes it
all the way
[timpani crash]
When you say "Bud"
You say you care enough
To only want
the King of Beers
- A lot of children
in America were
walking into supermarkets
and identifying product.
- Even whiter
than it is before
- By having seen Cheer
on the screen
or Wonder Bread, et cetera.
An Oscar Mayer wiener
- So to me it was clear kids
that just adored the medium,
and so why not see
if it could educate them?
- You've said it all
- So we hired Joan to do
a feasibility study.
[upbeat contemplative music]
- Television is a reality
to young children,
maybe the reality,
and certainly one of the most
interesting things to them
in their lives.
- A child between the ages
of three and five
watches television one half
of his waking time.
The only thing that exceeds
television is sleep.
- Joan had a brilliantly
simple notion.
Children were watching
a tremendous amount
of television.
If they're gonna watch
that much television,
why not, one, find out what
it is they like to watch,
two, find out what would
be good for them to watch,
and then you
put the two together,
and that's the show.
- We were talking about
130 hours of television
a year,
and so an initial budget
was put together.
A budget of $8 million.
[cash register dings]
It was, uh, a lot of money.
So the bulk
of the original budget
was provided through
the Office of Education,
the federal government.
- Someone said
it won't be taken seriously
if a woman heads it,
but the problem is, they didn't
have a project without me.
Much of it was in my head,
which I pointed out to them.
And when "The New York Times"
reported on it, they said,
"She'll be one of the most
powerful women in television."
- I went
to Columbia University,
and I got a master's degree
in educational psychology,
and my professor told me that
there was a group
of people who were
developing a television program
for disadvantaged kids,
so I went in and I met
with Joan Cooney,
and she said, "You're hired."
And what she wanted to do
was to get a group
of television writers
and producers
and put them together
with educators.
This had never
been done before.
It was called the Children's
Television Workshop originally.
I think there were
about ten people
in the workshop
when I was hired.
Having educators
and professional
television writers
in the same room
working on the same show
was a very unique idea.
[upbeat funky music]
- They told us that we had
to incorporate
all this education
into this new show.
I was convinced that
it would be impossible to do.
I had never written
anything like this before,
but nobody had ever written
anything like this before.
[phone ringing]
And all we had was this money
from the government
to do this thing,
but we had no format,
no title, no set, no nothing.
- And I think it was Jon Stone
who suggested
that we invite Jim Henson
to come to talk to us.
- And here we are sitting
in a conference room,
and someone comes in
and sits in back
who is bearded with long hair,
you know, leather clothes.
And I remember whispering
to Dave Connell,
"How do we know
that man back there?
He looks like a hippie."
And he said "No, no,
that's Jim Henson."
So that was
my first experience with Jim.
And, um,
he was terrific.
[energetic music playing]
- Put out the fire
- The Muppets started
as a late-night program
on local television
that was, like,
kind of what we would consider
today, like,
you know, short-form comedy,
and it would just come on
quickly after the news,
primarily lip-synching
to records.
- Old black magic
has me in its spell
- Old black magic
that you weave so well
- It was late-night comedy.
- [gruffly]
Yeah, that's right.
- Punsmoke!
- Are you ready? The Muppets.
- They did "The Tonight Show."
- The very talented Muppets.
- Look at that.
- All these adult
variety shows.
- I've seen you
on television before.
- Oh, in a spin
Loving the spin I'm in
Under the old black magic
- The creator of the Muppets,
Mr. Jim Henson.
- Loving the spin I'm in
Under the old black magic
called love
- This is Jim Henson.
- He's got a completely
different kind of personality--
- When I was a little kid,
if I told my friends
that my father was a puppeteer,
they would assume
that that was somebody
who did birthday parties
or church puppets.
You know, they mostly
felt sorry for us
when they heard
about the puppeteer parents.
[musical flourish]
- My father was
a pretty quiet, shy person,
but he wanted to be hip,
he wanted to be cool,
and he wanted his
whole company,
Muppets Inc., to have
this very cool reputation.
- We're about to show you
the new specially designed
Wilson's Meat
television campaign.
- You mean all those
crummy commercials
we knocked together?
- And he would produce
these commercial campaigns
that were great.
- You'll adore
Wilson's Certified Salami.
- No, I don't fall
for that stuff.
- You will.
Drop down to the store for some
Wilson's Certified cold cuts.
- You'll be up a tree
if you don't.
- They were these weird,
sophisticated commercials
that were sort
of a little bit dark.
- Are you getting on the
Wilkins Coffee bandwagon?
- Never.
- You either go with Wilkins,
or you just don't go.
People who don't drink
Wilkins Coffee
just blow up sometimes.
- Oh, that's a lot of--
I should have saw this coming.
[mischievous music]
Ooh, that smarts!
- They were sort of
this beatnik-y,
kind of hip company, you know?
- Are we rolling?
- [laughing] Yes.
- It was almost a little
too cool for school, you know,
so that they really
didn't want to appear
like just a puppet company.
- Hey!
- Because, frankly,
children's entertainment wasn't
what he had in mind.
[projector whirring]
- Sound roll 22.
Jim Henson interview.
- Most of our work was--
it was sort of sophisticated,
and it had a slight black humor
kind of quality,
and our audience
was really college-aged.
- [gasps]
[audience laughs]
- And so this would be
the first time
we'd ever worked for children,
But when I first heard
about it from Jon,
I loved the idea of it,
the whole idea
of taking commercial techniques
and applying them
to a show for kids.
- We're planning to treat them
essentially the same way
a commercial enterprise
would create a campaign.
We're trying to sell the
alphabet to preschool children.
[soft curious music]
- We talked to all sorts of
college professors, educators,
authors like Maurice Sendak,
and we tried very hard to
assimilate all this knowledge
into children's programming
that could be entertaining
and content-filled
at the same time.
- [as Ernie] Here's one half
of my chicken salad sandwich.
Where's the other half?
It's gone.
- [as Sherlock]
Egad, the hunt's afoot.
Show me the clues.
- It was very exciting.
- Who are you?
- Sherlock Hemlock,
the world's greatest detective.
- This was an experiment,
you know?
We would try new things.
- The letter J.
Two boys are sitting
there talking,
and kind of casually
one of the boy says,
"What's happening, man?"
The other boy says, "I don't
know, it looks like fishhook."
And at that point, we will
animate the J into a fishhook.
- Let's create something
that's never been done before.
- I don't know.
- What's that?
- Looks like a fishhook.
- It's not a fishhook.
It's a J.
- We would show video to kids.
- It looks delicious.
What is it you want to know?
- Well, what happened to
the other half of my sandwich?
- And we developed something
called the distractor.
It was basically
a slide projector
that would show slides
and make a clicking sound.
If what they were
watching on television
wasn't really
holding their attention,
they would look
at the slide projector
for a longer period of time.
- We studied their reactions,
and we quizzed them,
talked to them,
found out what they retained,
what they didn't retain.
- Would you like
to hear a story
about the letter J, boys?
- I think it's
a very good idea,
but the words here
are very difficult, you know?
- We're not arguing
for a more didactic turnout?
- No, so much as saying
that this is
a difficult entertainment.
- Yeah. Yeah. Right.
- Egad. That's it. I remember.
I ate the other half
of your sandwich.
How clever of me
to figure it out.
- Why, gosh, Mr. Hemlock.
Thanks a lot.
If you hadn't found
all those clues,
I never would have known
what happened
to that half of my sandwich.
- Very good.
[indistinct chatter]
- Television is such
a huge influence on children.
There's family or the church
or the school and television.
And as an industry,
we don't generally face up
to that responsibility,
and I was delighted to be
doing that sort of thing.
- Oh, excuse me.
My name is Rowlf,
and this is my friend, Kermit.
- Hiya.
- And I know a lot about this
Children's Television
Workshop show
because us Muppets
are gonna be on it every day.
- Oh, yeah.
Says who?
- What do you mean, "Says who?"
Says everybody.
- Yeah!
[overlapping chatter]
- Well, if I'm gonna
get involved,
I want to know a little more
about it, like, uh,
what are those guys doing?
- Well, you see,
we haven't settled
on a title for the show yet,
so the guys are working on it.
- All right. All right, then.
All right.
- How's about we call it
"The Little Kiddie Show"?
- Maybe the "Nitty-Gritty
Little Kiddie Show."
- [sighs]
- Hey...
these kids can't read
or write, can they?
- Mm-mm.
- No.
- Then how's about
we call the show...
"Hey, Stupid"?
- "Hey, Stupid"?
Oh, what am I gonna do, Kermit?
- You really think you're gonna
get this show on the air?
[upbeat contemplative music]
- Our target audience
were inner-city children,
and the bull's-eye
of the target audience
were inner-city
Black children.
But the traditional
children's show setting
was always
a cute, little tree house
or a club in the backyard
or something fairyland
and fanciful,
and so we had struggled
with the idea of the setting,
the home base for this
for a long time,
and it came into focus for me
when I saw a commercial
for the Urban Coalition.
We got all kind
of facilities here.
Want to see the pool?
Come on.
- And it was shot on location
in Harlem,
out on the sidewalk.
- Open up a hydrant,
jump right in.
At least one pool
on every block.
I'm standing near
home plate right now.
Two sewers down is a homer.
It's not Shea Stadium...
[car horn honks]
But it's exciting.
- And as soon as I saw it,
I knew exactly
where we ought to be on this.
[upbeat funky music]
I wanted to capture
that New York energy
because to the three-year-old
that's cooped up
in the room upstairs,
the action is on the street.
- I remember Jon said
in an interview
Joan turned
several shades of pale.
It did seem odd to me
to have an inner-city street.
I didn't know how it would
play with suburban parents,
but I so trusted his judgment.
So I said, "Go ahead. Try it."
- I wanted a realistic set.
Something that would feel like
it's a real street,
kind of a real neighborhood.
- Where's this show
gonna take place?
- On a street,
on the front steps of a house.
- On a street? Uh, hey, Rowlf?
- Hmm?
- Why don't you call your show
"Sesame Street"?
- What--what was that?
- "Sesame Street."
You know, like "Open Sesame."
It kind of gives the idea
of a street
where neat stuff happens.
[wondrous music]
- Kermit! Why, you're a genius!
- Yuck.
- "Sesame Street"!
[siren wailing in distance]
- I was working
here and there,
and then one day,
my boss called me up and said,
"Next week,
here's your schedule.
"You're going to 81st Street.
You're gonna shoot this show
we just got."
And he says, "I'm sending
a whole crew down there.
We start Monday."
[upbeat funky music]
[indistinct chatter]
So I go down there,
and my camera was camera one,
front of the store,
Mr. Hooper's Store.
And then we started shooting
"Sesame Street."
[indistinct chatter]
- Initially, when my dad had
the idea of "Sesame Street"
and having it be like
a real neighborhood,
it was going to be
just humans on the street.
- And it's on camera, action.
- And then the Muppets
would be separate pieces.
- Ah!
- Ah!
- Ah!
- Ah!
- [chuckles]
[balloon pops]
- So the Muppets were not
actually going to be connected
with the street--
they were gonna be separate.
[tape rewinding]
And then they started
to run the show
with the test audiences,
and there was
absolutely no way
the street could compete
with the Muppets.
[indistinct chatter on TV]
All the kids wanted
were the Muppets.
The street was boring
in comparison.
And that's when they decided
to blend the two,
and "Sesame Street" became
New York City neighborhood
that happens to have
an eight-foot-tall yellow bird
walking around.
[indistinct chatter]
- [humming]
- Hi, Big Bird.
- Hey, Big Bird.
- Hi, Susan.
- You know what?
- So we're shooting the show,
and you see this ugly bird.
- Good morning, Mr. Sooper.
- Uh, Big Bird, Hooper.
Say Hooper.
- And the first year...
- Hooper.
- Big Bird wasn't
that good-looking, you know?
I remember thinking,
"Who's gonna watch this shit?"
[dynamic tones]
[upbeat synthesized music]
- Public television
in those days
was largely on UHF channels.
You really had to work
with the set
and move the antenna around
and so on
to get a clear picture.
So many people thought that
we would not register
a Nielsen number,
that we would have
too small an audience.
[contemplative music]
Evelyn Davis led
the community outreach work.
We weren't so worried about
reaching middle-class
but we really, really wanted to
reach inner-city kids, badly.
It was hardly worth doing
if we didn't reach them.
- We hope that every child
in the country watches it,
but we do make
a particular effort
to be sure that children
from minority communities
and low-income communities
watch the program.
- So Evelyn worked
to try to reach every parent,
caretaker, YMCA, YWCA,
churches, schools,
daycare centers,
any place we could find
where we could say,
"This show is coming."
- We had done a lot of work
to get the information out.
But obviously,
we were on pins and needles
before it went on the air.
- There never has been before
a nationwide TV program
designed especially
to help prepare young children
for school.
This week, there will be.
[synth music playing]
["Sesame Street" theme plays]
- Sunny day
Sweepin' the clouds away
On my way
to where the air is sweet
Can you tell me how to get
How to get
to Sesame Street?
- When it went on the air,
the phone started
ringing off the wall.
No one had ever seen
anything like it.
[percussive music building]
[upbeat funky music]
- 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7
8, 9, 10, 11, 12
- And there was an immense
interest in the show.
- A new children's program
will make use
of the commercial technique
to acquaint the youngsters
with the alphabet.
The program is called
"Sesame Street,"
and here is a message from one
of its sponsors, the letter X.
- This is an X.
Even upside down,
it's still an X.
- This is near.
- "Sesame Street" will be seen
on more than 180
educational stations.
- This is far!
- The mysterious nose-snatcher.
- No, I don't think so.
- Two!
- [nasally]
The mysterious nose-snatcher.
- I remember when it came out.
I was in college,
and I walked into
the student union
and there on the screen
was a very young,
very bald James Earl Jones
reciting the alphabet.
- A, B, C.
- You know,
he's so deliberate,
and the letters were flashing
over his head, and I thought,
"What is this weird thing
on television?"
- E.
- I thought it was a show
that taught lip-reading
because he was being
so deliberate.
It was so odd.
- Wanda had a pet weasel.
- I'm a weasel.
- Then they cut
to an animation.
It was something wild, I think
"Wanda the Witch" or--
- Wanda the Witch lived
somewhere west of Washington.
- And then
very slick singing...
- One, two, three,
four, five
Six, seven, eight, nine
- About the number 10.
- Seven, eight, nine, ten!
- And college students
were watching it.
It was such a weird,
groundbreaking television show.
- "Sesame Street,"
a unique experimental series.
It's the first educational
television show
to compete with commercial
programs for its audience.
- Uh, excuse me, sir.
- What?
- What is your job
in the neighborhood?
- You're kidding me.
- No, really, what's your job?
- An elephant trainer.
Look at me! I'm driving a bus!
- Working on "Sesame Street,"
it was just a dream come true
to fall into this job.
A bus driver's a person
in your neighborhood
- In your neighborhood
both: In your neighborhood
- And the dentist is a person
in your neighborhood
all: They're the people
that you meet
- When you're walking
down the street
all: They're the people
that you meet
Each day
- Open wide, please.
- Don't talk to the driver.
Oh, there goes my bus!
- "Tooth-hurty." Hmm.
And the first year,
we toured some of the major
cities in the country.
[cheers and applause]
And I remember Matt Robinson,
who was the first Gordon.
- Do all of you watch
"Sesame Street"?
all: Yeah!
- Do all of you?
- He went out and sort of
warmed the audience up.
He came back and said
"Geez, this is like Woodstock."
- [vocalizing]
I said, "Hi."
- One, two, three
- "Sesame Street"
- The most talked-about series
of the '69 season
has been out on the road
checking up on its audience
and has found nothing
but love.
- These kids know Susan,
Gordon, Bob,
Mr. Hooper, and Big Bird
as well as their parents know
about Bob Dylan
or Frank Sinatra.
[cheers and applause]
- It was a madhouse,
so we got a feeling
that the show was working.
That was our first real
connection with the audience.
- Considering
the adulation that
the "Sesame Street" players
received from the younger set,
it was enough to make
a TV newsman
want to change his image.
- One, two, three
"Sesame Street"
- A, B, C and...
"Sesame Street"
- And I was stunned at
the overwhelming support
for what we were doing.
It was like a swish
of a hurricane
coming in through a window.
It was as if the world
had been waiting for this.
- I think "Sesame Street"
is the greatest thing
that ever happened
in television.
- Oh, yes, aren't they great?
- You know?
- Sesame Street
- I advise, three years old,
start watching "Sesame Street."
I sit up and watch it.
You really can learn.
It's cute the way
they put them things together,
and my little daughter
watches it,
and she's getting so smart.
She knows everything about it.
- "Sesame Street"
- It was amazing.
- What's your feeling about
what it does so well?
- Well, I think the public
was really ready
for change in television,
and we hit that,
the crest of that wave,
and children needed
what we're providing.
- Now for the award
for children's programming.
Let's see who the winner is.
Jon Stone, Ray Sipherd,
Dan Wilcox, Bruce Hart...
- It was just one miracle
after another.
[cheers and applause]
- Thank you.
["Sesame Street"
theme song playing]
- [whistling theme song]
[cars honking]
- Hey. Come on over.
Glad you could make it.
This is a swinging, sunny day
on Sesame Street.
- "Sesame Street" was just
so big, and it was so popular.
You know, back then,
you say your dad is Gordon
on "Sesame Street,"
you know what I mean,
that would be--
that's a big deal, right?
Really big deal.
Because he was so well-known
in this world of children.
- Hi.
- Hi.
- We looked in the TV.
It still wasn't registering.
Like, how'd he get in that box?
- How did he get in the box?
- You know,
what's he doing there,
and how come he's not stopping
everything to say hi to us?
- Sally, you've never seen
a street like Sesame Street.
Everything happens here.
You're gonna love it.
- Yeah, and who's that little
girl whose hand he's holding?
- That's another problem.
- Who is that little girl?
- Oh, boy.
- She's my age.
- Oh, boy.
- And why is he
holding her hand?
- Breathe deeply.
You're gonna get through it.
- [takes deep breath]
- Gordon!
I want you to meet Gordon.
- Oh, all right. All right.
- Gordon!
- Somebody say,
"Mixed neighborhood"?
- [laughs]
Oh, yeah. How you doing?
It's nice to see you.
- Okay.
- Before he was
on "Sesame Street,"
Matt was basically
the Black Johnny Carson
in Philadelphia.
- This is "Black Book,"
I'm Matt Robinson,
and we're gonna continue
right after this.
- "Black Book."
- That's how he began
his television career.
- "Angelitos Negros"...
- But that show...
- This is Spanish
for black angels.
- Was all about Black,
and it made him
just a little more serious
about what the struggle
was all about.
Those were
revolutionary times.
And then Matt
comes home one night
and says he'd been contacted by
Children's Television Workshop,
and they wanted him
as a writer.
And then they wanted him
to be on camera.
He was gonna be interacting
with people and Muppets.
But where does Mr. Black
fit into this kiddie show?
They sold him on
what this show could become,
something revolutionary.
- Hey, Gordon! Come on over!
- Yeah. Got my whole gang here.
- Groovy.
- Give me something, Odetta.
- Hammer in the morning
- All right.
- Hammer in the evening
- [clapping along]
- All over this land
- Mm-hmm.
- We felt we could demonstrate
things very subtly
that were really important.
- 13.
- 13.
- 14!
- 14!
- So of course, there was
the cognitive stuff,
numbers, letters,
all those things,
but equally important,
maybe even more important,
was the fact that Sesame
was a neighborhood
where people of all races,
kids and adults and monsters...
- Hi, Mr. Looper.
What you doing?
- Hooper, Hooper.
- Hooper.
- Live together.
[overlapping chatter]
- I love that ice cream store.
- If I had a song
- If I had a song
- I'd sing it
in the morning
- Sing it in the morning
- Sing it in the evening
- Sing it in the evening
- Jon Stone,
now that "Sesame Street"
is into its second season,
what has been the impact
of the special things
that you've done,
the integrated cast,
as you've seen it?
- It really speaks for itself
on the air.
We've never beaten that horse
to death by talking about it.
We simply show it.
- It's the hammer
of justice
The bell of freedom
A song about love
- Yeah
- For all of my brothers
All over the land
[somber music]
- This million-dollar
public television facility
located in the affluent,
white suburbs of Jackson
is broadcasting
five hours a day,
mostly film and tape programs
produced in the North.
How are you today, sir?
- But "Sesame Street"
is not on the air.
Some who saw it
apparently disliked
the number
of Black performers.
- Mrs. Cooney,
what is your reaction?
- There's no question
that we're integrated,
and we reflect to some degree
I would say Black
inner-city life,
and we're very proud of that.
I mean,
if that's our worst sin,
I'm happy to be a sinner.
- Is there anything about
"Sesame Street" which would
make it not fit the needs
of people in Mississippi?
- Uh,
"Sesame Street" was considered
along with the other ones.
For instance,
"Mister Rogers' Neighborhood"
uses puppets
in a different way.
It's a quiet program.
- Give me some help here.
Tell me.
"Sesame Street," it is
integrated racially, isn't it?
- Yes.
- Do you think that had
anything to do
with the tabling,
if that's what
we can call it accurately,
of "Sesame Street" for the fact
that it heavily integrated
that there is a Black
father figure in the program?
- That's an extremely difficult
question for me to answer.
If the people want it,
they'll let us know.
If they don't,
they'll let us know.
- Okay, Jimmy.
Do you like "Sesame Street"?
- I like it quite a bit.
- Do you like it better
than other programs,
or is there something else
you like better?
- I like that the best.
- What do you learn there?
- ABCs.
- Mississippi is one
of the poorest states.
Many children,
Black and white,
never see a book
until they start first grade.
- We're making an attempt
to persuade
the Educational Television
to consider
carrying this program...
- A man that was running
a commercial station in Jackson
put it on.
- If it is not scheduled,
then our station
and others in the state
are making plans to do so.
- We're good?
[upbeat suspenseful music]
- Rolling.
- So while the politicians
continue to squabble
over "Sesame Street"...
- Quiet!
[children cheering]
- Thousands of
Mississippi schoolchildren
are watching the program
on commercial stations
whether the officials who
control educational TV here
like it or not.
- Eventually,
Mississippi Public TV
put it back on the air...
[indistinct chatter]
Which shows you that all this
maybe made a difference.
[device beeps]
- Okay. Anytime.
- I just want you to repeat
after me each time, okay?
children: Okay.
- All right. Here we go.
I am.
children: I am.
- Somebody.
children: Somebody.
- I am.
children: I am.
- Somebody.
children: Somebody.
- I may be young.
children: I may be young.
- But I am.
children: But I am.
- Somebody.
children: Somebody.
- I may be small.
children: I may be small.
- But I am.
children: But I am.
- Somebody.
children: Somebody.
- I can change the world.
I can change the world.
- I am.
children: I am.
- I am!
children: I am!
- I am!
children: I am!
- Somebody!
children: Somebody!
- We are beautiful.
children: We are beautiful.
- Beautiful children
will grow up.
children: Beautiful children
will grow up.
- And make
the whole world beautiful.
children: And make
the whole world beautiful.
- Right on.
children: Right on.
- Camera, and mark it.
- What? What is it?
- What are those?
- Well, these are questions,
questions that
we're supposed to answer.
- Oh. Oh.
- You ready?
Ready to answer a question,
- Yeah. Why do we have
to answer questions?
- I don't know.
I was given this paper
that has questions on it,
and it says,
"Answer these questions."
- Oh.
- So listen to this.
- Okay.
- Are you two best friends?
- Well, yes.
We're--we're good buddies.
- Oh.
- Until he starts something.
- That's true.
Me and my old buddy, Bert,
we are close friends,
Bert and I.
- We are.
We're the best of friends.
- Yes.
- What was that?
- What was what?
- You just--
your hand went like that.
- Oh, I--I--
- See? That's what I mean.
We're good friends
until he starts something.
- I didn't start anything,
- Yeah.
- Didn't start anything.
Okay. Next question.
Do you all ever argue?
[soft piano music]
- Jim Henson, Frank Oz
are super puppeteers,
and their Muppets
are unquestionably
the stars of the show,
and Bert's
my all-time favorite.
- What are some advantages
of having a roommate?
- I suppose the main advantage
is if you wanted
to mess up the place,
you wouldn't have to do it
'cause your roommate
always does it.
- Frank throws himself
into the characters
so thoroughly that you just...
You believe Bert as much as if
he were Sir Laurence Olivier.
- [sighs]
Are we finished?
- Yeah, that's the last--
that's the last question.
- Okay.
- Matter of fact,
there's nothing written
on this anyhow.
I made those up, Bert.
- You what?
- [laughs]
- You're supposed to go--
- Laurel and Hardy,
Abbott and Costello,
Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis,
these are just comedy teams.
And Jim and Frank
were a comedy team.
[upbeat music]
- We've worked together as
a pair for 12, 13 years now.
- Too long.
- Too long.
- We dislike each other
which is why we can work
so well together.
- There's kind of a little bit
of love/hate there.
- And you two really don't
agree with each other
on anything.
- Oh, on some things, yes.
- Oh.
Not on all things.
- No.
- Well, not on many things.
- Or was.
- Two things.
- They weren't even what
I would call best friends
away from the set.
You know,
Jim had five children,
and Frank was single
and, you know,
completely different lives.
- [as Ernie] Bert, why don't
you loan him your scarf?
- Be nice of you
if you pulled the scarf.
- But there was
incredible chemistry.
- [silly whoosh noise]
- Maybe you'd loan him
your scarf.
- Ah! Ernie!
- Honestly, to be on the set
watching this dynamic
between this two guys,
it was magic.
- [screams as Bert]
- [snickering]
Hi, Bert.
- [as Bert] Ernie!
- What a drive.
- Before I became a puppeteer,
I was an unemployed actress
in New York.
There was an ad in "Backstage"
saying that Jim Henson was
looking to train puppeteers.
The guys had been
doing female characters,
and it was hysterical
because they were doing them
in falsetto.
- Sky.
- It's not?
- No, that's Wanda the Witch.
- And I think they started
feeling a little pressure
about how they should hire
a real female
to do these characters.
I mean, I'd never played
with a puppet in my life,
but it was better than
modeling bras at Lady Marlene,
which was one of my other jobs.
- Stand by, rehearsal.
- Okay.
And theme.
[upbeat music]
- So the whole idea
is to make this piece
of felt and fuzz
react and move
and look like a person,
like a real thing.
- Exercise,
we just gonna work it out
- And it's so, so hard to do.
Not only are you keeping
the character alive,
but you are looking at a
monitor that's on the floor...
[feedback screeches]
- All right, hold on.
- 'Cause that's how you see
what you're doing.
You're not watching the camera,
you're looking down here,
so it's multitasking
like you wouldn't believe.
- Okay. Then we'll...
- Using
the television monitor,
you can perform
and see your performance
exactly as the audience does.
- You didn't find it.
Right, Bert? Bert?
- This is unique
in the performance field.
I mean, no other actor
can ever see their performance
at the same time
they're doing it.
- Bert? He's sleeping.
Well, I don't mind
if he's sleeping.
- And so as we're performing,
we're also framing the shots
in such a way that it feels
like these things
are totally dimensional.
- Now where is he this time?
He knew
he was supposed to be here.
Roosevelt Franklin!
Roosevelt Franklin!
- Roosevelt Franklin is whom--
is who--who is he?
- He is a Black Muppet created
by the man who plays Gordon,
Matt Robinson.
- Roosevelt Franklin,
what you say?
- You know the very first
letter is the letter A
- What more can you tell me
- I know the very
next letter is...
- Roosevelt
was very specific.
- Roosevelt was a Black kid.
- He was a Black kid
in a classroom
telling you
that learning was cool,
and if you weren't down
with that,
couldn't hang out with him.
- Yeah, 'cause you wanted--
everyone wanted to hang
with Roosevelt Franklin
because he had the flavor,
you know.
- Yeah.
[overlapping chatter]
[upbeat music]
- I don't know what's wrong
with everybody,
but when I come in,
I want some action.
- Action?
- I think Matt created
Roosevelt Franklin
because he was tired
of pretending
that everybody blended in
He loved the message
of "Sesame Street,"
but he wanted
children of color
to be recognized
as children of color
because in real life,
those children knew
they were different.
They knew they were brown,
so why couldn't they be brown?
Why couldn't their difference
be recognized?
- You are free when you are
walking and talking...
- All right!
- And tell everybody,
I am great when
the sun comes up
[all cheer]
I am great when
the sun go down
- All right, Roosevelt!
- Sun up, sun down
[class cheering]
Nobody's ever
gonna put me down
- All right, Roosevelt!
[all cheering]
- But there were a lot
of Black parents
that really complained
to "Sesame Street"
that they didn't like
- Letter-writing campaign.
They went after him.
- Yeah, yeah,
they did go after Roosevelt.
- They did not want to be
reminded of this character
who sang in dialect
and talked Black.
- Uh-oh.
Check out Roosevelt.
- Something must be up.
- Yeah.
[downbeat piano music]
- And then
Roosevelt disappeared.
He just disappeared.
For Matt, Roosevelt Franklin
represented truth.
He knew they meant well,
but it was the beginning
of the end for him.
And then
he left "Sesame Street."
["Sesame Street"
theme song playing]
- Morning.
- [yawns]
Hi, morning, Zoe. How are you?
- Oh, hey, Gordon.
- Hey, Bob.
- Hey. How you doing?
- How you doing?
- Hey, that was a great time
at your place last night.
- Yeah, wasn't it?
- I took over
the role of Gordon,
and working on the show,
you know, was wonderful.
It had that sense of, you know,
both serious intent and joy.
- Yeah.
- Hi, Forgetful.
- Oh, hi, Bertram.
- Gordon.
- Gordon?
- Gordon.
- Oh, yes, right.
Bertram's your wife's name.
- No, no, no.
Her name is Susan.
- Spontaneity and fun
and zany.
- No. No.
Yeah, Susan, of course.
- And it always respected
the children.
Children were never talked
down to on "Sesame Street."
- Hey. You know something?
I'm tired now.
I think I'm gonna go
on a coffee break.
Will you do me a favor?
Answer the telfono for me?
And if they don't speak
you know, dgales en espaol.
- It was very difficult
at that time
to find meaningful work
as Latino actors, you know?
I don't remember ever reading
for any kind
of a positive character.
The only roles that
I could find
were gang members
or drug addicts.
I realized I had gotten
a role on television
that was a role
of a Latino, Mexican-American,
who was like a regular person.
- Hey, Mack.
- Luis.
- You got a mango?
- Have I got a mango?
- He was part
of the neighborhood.
He had his own business.
- Maria.
- What is it?
- I got to go out
for a few minutes.
- It was a role that
hadn't been shown before.
- On the phone!
[phone ringing]
- It was Jon Stone
who cast me as Maria.
- Hello, Fix-it Shop.
- And I think he was looking
for someone
who was unpolished and raw,
and, boy,
was I unpolished and raw.
- You can't take a pretty
picture with a shiny nose.
- I remember one day
I was all made up,
and Jon grabbed me off the set
and dragged me
into the makeup room,
and he says
to the makeup artist,
"I go through all the trouble
of hiring a real person,
and you make her up
to look like a Kewpie doll?"
[upbeat funky music]
And I saw it
as a political show
because of the diversity of
the cast that was unheard of
and because we would have
seminars with activists,
and they would say,
"You people are doing this,
and you're not showing us
like we really are,"
and La Leche League, you know,
"Why aren't you showing
nursing on 'Sesame Street'?"
- What you doing, Buffy?
- I'm feeding the baby.
See, he's drinking milk
from my breast.
- It was fantastic,
and we would,
you know, cultivate that.
- When you're growing up
and you don't see yourself
in the media,
then you get the feeling
that you don't exist, see,
and that's when
you start feeling
that you're not part of this
society, of this culture.
Television has so much power
of doing that.
I had a great deal
of influence
in the creation of Maria.
- Tengo la mente prdida.
- Qu pas hoy?
- And Jon let me know that
by rehearsing a script with me
and then saying, "Would you
really talk like that?"
And I'd say, "Well, no,
actually I'd say it like this."
Of course, the writer's
pulling his hair out, but--
- Do I carry the letter?
- You don't have to.
No, she will carry it.
- Say, Big Bird, somebody wants
to take your picture.
- Oh, boy.
Well, which side?
My left side or my right side?
You're it. Tag!
- Big Bird could walk on
without a puppeteer
being seen,
and that's because I'm inside.
And the puppet would be
lowered down over me,
and I'd go in
through the bottom
and put my hand up in the head
and operate the head like that.
[as Big Bird] Oh, well,
then where will I live?
- Oh, don't worry about that.
You'll have a house
all your own.
Here's a lovely...
- His head was very elaborate.
The thumb was in the bottom
part of the beak.
- When they say, "Action,"
I come alive.
- And there were all kinds
of little gears inside his eyes
that I could move
with my little finger.
That's the only finger
I could spare.
- Ooh, ah, ooh, oh,
you silly door.
Right in my way. Hmpf.
- Originally, Big Bird
was supposed to be kind of
a big dumb, goofy guy.
- Whoa.
Big Bird, Bird.
- So I think it was about
a month or two in,
I said, "You know,
"I don't think I should be
playing him as a goofy guy.
"He has so much more depth.
He's a very complex character.
"I think I should play him
as a child who's just learning,
and he doesn't know
a lot of things yet."
- Oh, I didn't do my share,
and that wasn't fair.
- We needed a peer
for the audience.
- I've got a great idea.
I could take all the toys out
and then put them
back in again,
and that way--
- No, no, Big Bird!
- A character
that was young enough
to make the same mistakes
and have the same problems
that a four-year-old
would have.
- I think you're right.
- Yeah.
- Yay!
- And no one else could play
Big Bird, I don't think,
certainly not
the way Caroll plays it.
He is Big Bird.
- This is Mr. Caroll Spinney.
Do you have any trouble
separating your personality
from Big Bird?
- Uh, I--I've--one
of the things we've played up
or I've played up with the bird
is that he's very insecure...
- Mm-hmm.
- Because I think actually
a lot of children
will have this problem.
I know I never will lose it,
I'm afraid,
and so I use my insecurities
to understand the bird, and--
but Oscar has
no such insecurities at all.
- The further you stay away
from my can, the better!
Keep moving there.
- Oh, over here, Oscar?
- Yeah.
Just keep walking, Bright Eyes.
- I also play
Oscar the Grouch.
[as Oscar]
[groans] Do I get paid?
[as self]
Well, no. I get the money.
[as Oscar]
You bastard.
- With Big Bird
and Oscar the Grouch,
I think Carroll Spinney saved
a lot of money in therapy
by being able to play
those two disparate characters.
- [as Oscar]
You know I hate you?
[as self] I do.
You've told me that before.
[as Oscar]
Well, I have to tell somebody.
- He says things as Oscar
that he would never say
as himself.
- Oh, yes.
Any changes I'd like
to see on the show?
Yeah, well, we don't really
have very much sex.
- [laughs]
- Standby.
- Okay.
- Caroll,
give him a little dialogue.
- [as Oscar]
Yes, here's a little dialogue.
Your mother wears Army boots.
- [chuckles]
[indistinct chatter]
- Dad felt very strongly
that kids need to see
that not everybody is nice,
and not everybody's easy,
and this is how you deal
with the grouch
who's in your neighborhood.
- Hey, Bob.
What is this?
- I think Oscar's really
gonna do it this time.
- Oscar's really gonna do--
- Yep, you guys
have guessed right.
I'm moving away forever!
- Oscar is the dark side
of everybody.
- No ifs, ands or buts, fellas.
Nothing you can say
will change my mind.
- He's what children
are constantly told
they must not do.
"Don't say that.
It's bad. Don't do that.
Don't talk back."
- Too much noise and playing
and kids and too much laughing!
- Come on, man.
- Come on now.
- And too much everything
that bothers me!
- Oscar the Grouch was created
very much to show that
even somebody with a completely
different point of view
than yours
could be your friend.
- Why do you like rain, Oscar?
- Oh, the rain is beautiful.
I'll tell you.
[upbeat music]
Yeah, the rain is so nice.
It's all wet and soggy. Yeah.
Rain falls,
puddles on the street
No one can go out and play
Rain falls,
people soak from head to feet
Gee, I like a rainy day
Trucks roll by
splashing mud on everyone
- Joe Raposo was hired
to do the music for "Sesame."
He did all the arranging,
and he had so much heart
and so much knowledge.
[soft upbeat music]
- Sing
- Sing
- Sing a song
- Sing a song
- Sing out loud
- Sing out loud
- That's good.
Sing out strong
- Joe Raposo I call
the music man.
He was the music man,
you know, in every respect.
- Canta de cosas buenas
- This guy was like
a Muppet himself, you know?
His personality was just so big
that when he walked
into a room,
you couldn't not notice
Joe Raposo.
[jaunty piano music]
- Don't ask me what makes me
write these things, I don't--
Around, around
Around, around
Over, under, through
- [breathing heavily]
Around, around, around
Over and under and through
You see? Oh, boy.
Over, see, and under
And through
and through and through
And through! I did it.
- And of course, you know,
his talent was just so amazing
that he could come up
with all of these songs.
- I'm an aardvark,
and I'm proud
I'm an aardvark,
and I'm happy
Two is my favorite number
Two is neat
Two is being together
Two is sweet
If I could only paddle
like a doggy on a paddle
I would paddle my way
to you
No river too wide
- It was like somebody
was working on the show,
and they had an idea
for something, say,
"We need a song
about something here,"
and he'd go off and, like,
five minutes later come back
and show them the music
for a new song.
- Hmm.
- It was 1970 in the middle
of the first taping season
that Jon Stone came to me,
and he said, "You know,
we got this character,
this Kermit the Frog,"
and Jon said to me,
"What does Kermit think about
when he's alone?
"Does he ever have
a quiet moment?
"What would you think
about doing a song
that's quiet for him?"
[soft piano music]
I was at my desk,
and I was thinking
about the frog
and about the swamp
and the log...
And what his life
was like alone,
and what did he actually
think of himself?
And, I mean, like a shot,
I mean, without thinking twice,
I put my hands down
on a B-flat chord.
This whole song
just unfolded by itself.
[soft bluesy music]
- It's not that easy
being green
Having to spend each day
the color of the leaves
When I think
it could be nicer
Being red or yellow or gold
Or something
much more colorful like that
- It's not easy being green
Seems you blend in with
so many other ordinary things
And people tend
to pass you over
[together] 'Cause
you're not standing out
- Like flashy sparkles
in the water
Or stars in the sky
- "It's Not Easy Being Green"
with Kermit the Frog...
- But green's
the color of spring
- So many things
in this one song.
I mean,
this was a profound song.
- And green could be big
like an ocean
Or important like
a mountain
Or tall like a tree
- And I remember thinking,
"Are they singing about what
I think they're singing about?"
Of course, they were
singing about race,
but they were also singing
about being down in the dumps
'cause you're a little,
green frog.
Some kids just thought it was
about a little, green puppet
and other kids thought about,
"Maybe it was something else."
- My father's belief
that children
should never be spoken down to
in the world of music
made the music as sophisticated
as he could.
[upbeat blues music]
- P
- The American musical scene
is a fantastic smorgasbord
of fabulous styles.
[slow country music]
- You can count on me
Count on me
- If you're familiar with them,
you take,
"Hey, kids. Here's an olive."
- Oh, whenever I see
your grouchy face
It makes me want to smile
because I like you
Just a little bit
- "Hey, kids.
Here's a piece of pastrami.
"Hey, kids.
Here's some black-eyed peas.
Hey, kids!"
- Now, Nasty Dan was a
nasty man the whole day long
- Good for him.
- He'd go where he could
And he would try real good
to make things go wrong
- Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah.
- He'd jump for joy
When a little boy
would trip and fall
- Really mean, huh?
- And the only words
that he ever said
"I don't like you at all"
- Yeah!
Right on!
- And every once in a while,
"How about a
little filet mignon?"
[jazz music]
Are you kidding? Wow!
- So my father and a few
other people were tasked
with creating
all of the music for the show,
so you're talking about 100
or more episodes each season.
That's a lot of music
to produce.
They would make it
every week for the show.
- Stand by.
This is a direct cue.
Quiet, please!
- The production sessions,
they would go into 3:00
in the morning,
4:00 in the morning.
And I would sleep there.
My father would be stuck
in the session.
My mother would
have gone home,
and he would say,
"Oh, I'll bring the kids home
when we're done."
He never went home.
[downbeat music]
- My father didn't even have
an apartment
in New York City or anything.
And he would go to work
and come back four days later,
that sort of thing,
and I just thought,
"Well, that's what fathers do."
[bright music]
- Oh, me know it true
That me so blue
When you far away
And you not stay in view
- There were no hours
to the day.
- Me just as blue
- We worked from morning
deep into the night.
No one ever kept track of when
we were gonna have lunch,
when we were gonna have dinner.
It was getting the show up.
- Me got to be blue,
me got to be blue
- How do you manage a life
like that?
- What else can me do?
- It seems unreasonable to me,
but that was what they did.
And Jon Stone rode herd
over that group better
than anybody
could have possibly.
- Now you know it not you
- Now he would say that
he had three children.
He had Polly, he had Kate,
and he had "Sesame Street,"
and that he felt really
passionate about all of us,
but as his daughters,
you know, we could grow up
and be anything,
and he would support us
and celebrate us,
but "Sesame Street"
had to maintain an integrity,
and I think he felt the weight
of holding onto that
and being responsible for it.
- Just got to be blue
[all vocalizing]
Once more, with feeling!
[all vocalizing]
- All right.
Three and two,
you want to come to the front.
- What we mostly saw was
the funny side of our dad,
the entertainer.
But Dad had a dark side,
dealt with depression,
and he felt hurt
when things didn't go his way.
- Stand by!
- Take two.
- Say Big Bird!
Somebody wants to take your--
- Wait a minute, wait a minute,
wait a minute.
- Not that camera!
- Where do you want cameras?
- Frankie,
you're not on a five.
Okay, I need to do it?
- Chopped.
- I don't know
if he wanted love,
but he was a very sensitive,
difficult man.
- You know, I never had
deep conversations with Jon
about his feelings
about things.
He held his feelings close
to his chest,
but for some reason,
publicly, he was never given
the credit that he deserved.
- He certainly wanted credit
for the things
he had accomplished
on the show,
but it was very hard
to get the press trained
on anyone but me,
so it was awkward at times.
[downbeat music]
- When someone socks me
in the eye
And they don't even
tell me why
That makes me mad
- Yeah, we're angry,
very, very angry
- Jon did not have much taste
for bureaucracy.
He was an iconoclast in a way.
I mean, if there was
anything nonsensical
about the way the workshop
was being run,
he would try to express it
on the show or off.
A funny little story that
tells you a lot about him,
when "Sesame" started,
we had one of
those little signs
where you put little
white letters into grooves,
and it said Children's
Television Workshop.
Every morning
when Jon came in,
he would change that
to Children's
Television Porkshow.
Just by changing
the P and the W.
He was just irreverent.
- This is an important
technical term.
We like to call it
"waiting around."
[quirky tense music]
- My dad was very close
with Jon Stone and Joe Raposo.
I think he loved the energy
of them and the boldness
of what they were trying to do,
and he got caught up in that,
and it was very inspiring
to him.
- Take one, rolling.
- One, two, three, four!
[upbeat music]
- Fat.
- Fat.
- Fat.
- Fat.
- Cat.
- Cat.
- Cat.
- I remember Jim Henson,
Frank Oz
doing a puppet bit,
everybody hysterical.
Jim Henson saying,
"What are we teaching?"
Jon Stone saying, "Happiness."
That's the ticket.
That's the joy.
- A fat cat sat on a hat
So I ran on a mat, pat-a-pat
had a chat with a gnat
That he pat in a vat
that was flat, oh, yeah!
Oh, fat, cat, sat, hat,
and that's that!
all: Scat!
[dramatic music]
- One thing that I will credit
Joan Ganz Cooney with
was that she let these guys
do what they could do.
They had ideas and concepts
and behaviors
that were just off-the-wall,
and they were allowed
to do it,
and that's what people loved.
They felt the lunacy on the
screen, the contained madness.
- Train rhyme with rain!
Me win cookie!
- You certainly do!
- So these wildly
creative people
were allowed to just try stuff.
[upbeat funky music]
- It was chaos,
but it was the chaos of people
dedicated to a real ideal.
Believing something
could be done
and having the will to do it,
and it was the most exciting
period of our lives.
- Those first years
of "Sesame Street,"
it was just shocking
how much they did.
- I'm the King of Eight
and I'm here to state
That everything here
has to total eight
- One wedding cake
- I think it's overstimulating.
I think it's kind of staggering
to a young child's brain
to have that much excitement
and noise,
sound, and all kinds of figures
bombarded at them really.
- I want cookie. I want cookie!
Give me cookie.
Oh, oh, the cookie!
Oh, thank you! Oh!
- Noony, noony, noo, noo,
noony, noony, noo
[grunts and sighs]
P. P!
Huh? Oh...
Ah. Pencil!
- I had very little experience
as a writer,
and I had no job.
- [chuckles]
[tire pops]
- I was basically
just writing jokes,
and I was watching TV,
and I saw "Sesame Street."
[all cheer]
- And, matter of fact,
there it is!
They've got Mr. Humpty Dumpty
back together again.
For all the egg lovers
of the country,
I want you to know it's very
nice to have you back.
[loud crack]
Uh. Uh, horses?
[sirens wail]
- I was--wow, that's great.
- [snickering]
- It was funny.
- Ooh. Yeah.
- And it was
the only other show
besides "The Tonight Show"
in New York...
- [roars]
- That really had comedy
writers working for them,
and I didn't think
I had a chance in hell
at getting a job
at "The Johnny Carson Show."
- Uh, you can forget
that immediately.
- And I needed a job.
But "Sesame Street"
has a curriculum,
so everything that was written
taught something.
And the idea that it was more
than just telling jokes
appealed to me.
It had to be entertaining,
and it was gonna teach
at the same time,
and that's hard to do.
- And I think, you know,
she may have
a personal sensitivity to it
because that's the first time
I've heard that particular one.
- The writers didn't always
understand educational terms.
[indistinct chatter]
So we came up with this big
tome, the Writers' Notebook.
It has all the rules
of the show tabbed
that the writers could
thumb through
to help them understand
how to translate educational
terms into production terms.
And it was helpful
to the educators
because they could communicate
with the writers
in a nonthreatening way.
So instead of saying,
you know,
"cognitive development
learning letters,"
what you said is,
"After watching the segment,
the child should be able
to identify..."
- Frog.
- "The letter Y," for example.
- Um, what's the first letter
in the word "yellow"?
- Y.
- Because I can't remember.
- When the curriculum and the
entertainment worked together,
you know, it was like magic!
- Action!
- Come, my lovelies!
Breathe deeply.
Enjoy the fresh air,
ah, ah, ah, ah.
- When I came up
with the Count,
I was talking with Sharon.
I said, "I have this idea
for Count von Count,"
and she said,
"Well, enumeration.
That's what you're teaching."
Well, what is enumeration?
- Did you say seven?
- Yes.
- I think there's
only six, Count.
- That's funny, I had seven
when I left the castle.
I will count them.
One, one beautiful bat.
Two terrific bats. Three...
- When you count, one, two,
three, four, five,
you're just counting,
but if you count fingers,
it's one,
two, three, four, five.
When you get to the fifth,
you know you have five fingers.
- Five fingers.
- That's enumeration,
all right?
[phone ringing]
[as The Count]
One ring! Two! Two rings!
Three! Three rings!
[as self] Is that mine?
Oh, it must be mine.
- I think what amazes me
most looking back at "Sesame"
is that there was an
underlying humor in everything.
- Ah, listen, Jack, if you want
to work in a world-famous
nursery rhyme,
you got to do it right.
- I mean,
we were all comedy freaks,
and all of us loved parody,
- Now, jump over means
you jump up into the air,
and you leap,
and you sail gracefully
over the candlestick,
and you land on the other side.
- And we would try to appeal
to adults as well as to kids.
- He did it!
He did it, folks!
Jack jumped
over the candlestick!
- Ooh, yeah, Jack also broke
every bone in his body, frog.
- Oh, I'm sorry about that.
- Yeah, I'm gonna sue
Mother Goose for that.
That's some heavy action.
- Boy, these nursery rhymes
get weirder all the time.
- We found out that if adults
watched the show with kids,
that the kids
really learned more.
- Now three plus
one equals four!
[audience clamoring]
- Three plus one equals four?
- Yes, always.
- The conversation that
the adult had with the child
while the show was on the air
and after the show
was on the air
really enhanced the learning,
so there was a real conscious
effort to attract adults.
- I am the Count!
They call me the Count
because I love to count things!
- Wonderful!
Well, I am Guy Smiley.
They call me Guy Smiley
because I changed my name
from Bernie Liederkranz.
[cheers and applause]
Yes, thank you.
Yes, I did. I did.
- So things like
"Monsterpiece Theater,"
the parody element
wasn't for the kids.
They didn't have to know
"Masterpiece Theatre."
"Monsterpiece Theater"
is a funny thing anyway.
- Good evening, and welcome
to "Monsterpiece Theater."
Me Alistair Cookie.
Tonight, me proud to present
"One Flew
Over the Cuckoo's Nest."
- Cuckoo, cuckoo, cuckoo.
[airplane engine roars]
- We wrote something that
we knew we would like.
I think that was the key,
and the show
would not have worked
if that weren't the case.
- One of Chris' incredible
talents is his ability
to write a song
that sounds like the original
but isn't the original.
- I think I remember
how to do it.
I might start
in the wrong key, but.
[lively piano music]
When I find
I can't remember
What comes after A
and before C
My mother always whispers
"Letter B"
She told me B starts "big"
and "bird"
And "ball" and "bat"
and "battery"
Yes, buh-buh-buh-buh-buh
means letter B
- Letter B, letter B
Letter B, letter B
My mother whispers B words
Letter B
[cheers and applause]
- That was a $5 million
- [laughs]
- My mother whispers B words,
letter B
- It was all of us having
the time of our lives
writing silly things
but always with this message
that television
could be socially valuable.
- Yeah.
[soft dramatic music]
- [as Big Bird]
Big Bird, that's me.
- Well, I just drew pictures
of all of my grown-up friends
on "Sesame Street."
- Look at me!
- That's you, Luis.
[overlapping chatter]
- Yeah.
- I know that's got to be me.
- There's Susan.
- Yeah, that's--
you're always smiling, Susan.
- How's that?
- That looks great.
- Does that look like you?
- That's good.
- And this is Mr. Hooper,
who was played by Will Lee.
He was our grandfather figure.
Such a kindly man.
He was always so sweet.
And he died in 1982.
- Take two!
- We had lost a friend.
He was part of our family.
- It was a huge, huge loss.
- Can I see Mr. Hooper?
- You want to see the store?
Okay, come on in.
- Yeah. I still miss him. Yeah.
- So we had a decision to make.
- We had to describe
his absence
from the show or explain it,
and believe me, everybody said,
"Let's just say he retired
and went to Florida."
- But people said,
"Well, maybe it's--
that would be
a missed opportunity."
- If we've been trying
to be truthful all along,
why should we
shortchange kids now?
- Jon, you know, when they
speak our language...
- We talked for a while about
how to deal with his death,
and we decided,
"Well, we'd really like
"to have his death
used in an educational way
that might help children
deal with that."
- And so the question
was asked
of our research department,
"What do three- to
five-year-olds need to know
about death?"
So it came down to some very,
very simple things.
They need to know that
when somebody dies,
they don't come back.
And that whatever
you're feeling is okay.
You can be angry,
you can be sad, you could--
you know,
it can be all of them.
Whatever you feel is fine.
- TV is make-believe,
but life is real.
In real life, Will Lee died,
and tomorrow
on "Sesame Street,"
Mr. Hooper will die too.
- When I wrote the scene,
I didn't want it
to be that it just happened.
It seemed that
that would be too jarring.
I thought it was better
if Big Bird just hasn't
processed it.
You know, they might have
told him that he died,
but he didn't know
what "died" meant,
and now he's just going
to first find out.
- And last but not least,
- Oh, look at that one.
- Big Bird,
that's so beautiful.
- That's nice.
- It really looks like him.
- Yeah, you captured him.
- Wow, that's beautiful,
Big Bird.
- Oh, thank you.
Well, I can't wait
until he sees it!
Say, where is he?
I want to give it to him.
I know. He's in the store.
- Big Bird?
- Mm-hmm?
- He's--he's not in there.
- Oh. Then where is he?
- We carefully
and thoroughly researched
what children's normal
reactions to a death are,
and we tried to deal
with those in the form
of Big Bird's reaction
to Mr. Hooper's death.
- Big Bird, don't you remember
we told you?
Mr. Hooper died.
He's dead.
- Oh, yeah.
I remember.
Well, I'll give it to him
when he comes back.
- Big Bird, Mr. Hooper
is not coming back.
- It's hard to watch.
It was a difficult show to do.
- Big Bird, when people die,
they don't come back.
- Ever?
- No, never.
- Hmm.
- It was about
the fictional person
and the real person.
They were gonna be talking
about Mr. Hooper,
but as human beings,
they were gonna be talking
about their friend, Will.
- But I don't like it.
It makes me sad.
- We all feel sad, Big Bird.
- He's never coming back?
- Never.
- No.
- Well, I don't understand!
Why does it have
to be this way?
Give me one good reason!
- Big Bird...
it has to be this way because.
- Just because?
- Just because.
- Oh.
You know,
I'm gonna miss you, Mr. Looper.
- That's Hooper,
Big Bird, Hooper.
- Those are real tears,
you know.
There was no acting.
- Right.
- In five,
four, three, two, one!
- I wonder if I got
any mail yet today.
Oh, there's something.
[soft dramatic music]
Where the hell did it go?
[crew laughs]
- One of the great things
about being part of "Sesame"
was seeing what happened
when a take went wrong.
- I have paint on my nose?
- Yes, right! [laughing]
- There, is that better?
- No!
You're permanently
scarred for life!
- The puppeteers would
just keep going,
and they would do
all the things
that we could never
possibly do on television.
- Oh, say, say, frog.
- What?
- Have you ever wondered
what it would be like to be--
[choking noises]
- Gladys?
Oh, thank goodness she died.
[indistinct chatter]
- Jim Henson, Frank Oz,
they were really professional.
And if they were serious,
and Jim maybe had to go
somewhere to get out,
then it was serious, you know?
[doorbell rings]
- But if they were
all kidding around...
- Oh, hello there!
Greetings, froggy, baby...
- You had a good day.
They were hysterical.
- Go away, Grover.
Whatever it is,
we do not want any.
- Whoa!
[indistinct speech]
Open, please.
- What?
- Please, could you open?
Open the damn door!
- You--you--you--I--
- You know, it's too bad
you couldn't come to the park
and play with me today, Bert.
- Mm.
Yeah, me too, Ernie.
But I had a lot of stuff
to do around here, you know.
- Hey, Bert.
- Mm?
- You said, "Me too."
That didn't follow
what I said, Bert.
[Jim as self] I'm sorry.
- I thought maybe
somebody could--
a friend could save it.
- Jim and I, we are
unrelenting in our cruelty
towards each other because
you can't see our faces,
but if one of us screws up,
instead of pinching in to help,
the other just
kind of smiles at him.
- Night, Ernie.
- Me too, Bert.
- Oh, that's cute.
Oh, that's funny.
Lost 17 seconds
of our life just then.
- We were all so silly
- We added tats.
That's Tuesday.
- And the most wonderful thing
was to hear Jim Henson laugh,
let alone make him laugh.
That was, like, fantastic.
- Wait a minute,
that's last Tuesday.
- No, tats.
I said we had tats.
I said tats.
- I thought that was weird.
- We added tats last...
Oh, Your Majesty.
It's been so hard.
- How many lines do you have?
- Let me see.
well, the first one...
- Let me see. Well...
- Three.
- Three.
Well, try to get
the first one better!
- Yes, Your Majesty.
- Jim was such a genius
in terms of, you know,
how to create the imagery
with the puppets and make it
all kind of work,
you know, in a magical way.
I mean, it was like
these were real people.
- Hey, listen, we thought
we would talk to you
a little bit about the concept
of being next to. You see?
Now then, right there you see
Charla is next to Frannie.
- The kids accepted them
as being real.
- What is that over here?
- Arrow.
- A what?
- Arrow.
- An arrow?
- Those one-on-one bits
with the Muppets.
- Let's hear you
sing the alphabet.
- A, B, C, D, E, F,
Cookie Monster
- It wasn't rehearsed,
and it wasn't
professional children
with professional smiles.
It was a pretty low-key,
I mean, that was part
of the charm of it
was that everybody was real.
- You're not singing
the alphabet.
A, B, C, D, E, F, G
H, I, J, K, L, M, N, O, P
Q, R, S--
- [giggling] Cookie Monster!
- I go this way.
- That way!
- That way?
- [giggling]
- But the arrow was pointing
the other way!
- No, that way.
- Okay, it's pointing that way.
I'll go that way.
- This way. [giggling]
- That way?
- Frank Oz is sitting there
with Grover,
and you have a little child,
and the child is interacting
with Grover.
- [gasping]
Oh, hello, Polly.
- Frank Oz doesn't exist
for that child.
- It's nice to see you.
- It's Grover.
- Polly?
- What?
- Can you count up to five?
- Yes.
- Can you tell me how?
One hand.
Just hold up one hand.
Now count how many fingers
there are on that hand.
- One, two, three, four, five.
- Boy, are you lucky!
Five fingers.
- My famous moment
with Grover.
You know, this superstar
on television.
It was a wonderful way
to grow up where, you know,
I had all these friends
that were blue and fuzzy.
- Polly, I am so proud of you.
- They were close together,
you see?
So they are next to each other.
Now, Kermit the Frog
is next to Charla.
- I know that.
- Ooh, gosh. Thank you.
That's lovely.
- [giggling]
- It's that way. [giggling]
- [panting]
- [laughing]
What happened, arrow?
- W, X, Y and Z
- Now I know
- Now I've sung
- My ABCs, won't you
- [giggling] Next time,
Cookie Monster is--
- Next time, Cookie Monster
can do it with you.
I'm leaving.
- I love you.
- I love you too.
- Thanks.
- I remember once where
a lawyer said to me,
"I often negotiate
with Henson,"
and I said,
"Give him anything he wants."
And the lawyer said,
"Oh, that's the worst attitude
I ever saw...
From any client."
I said, "He is precious to me."
- Tell me, Joan,
did you ever think
when you started this show
20 years ago
that we would be sitting here
now talking about it?
- Jim, I didn't think
you'd be here.
- Oh, really?
- I would have thought you
would have flown the coop.
- Oh, I see.
- What's interesting about it
from the viewpoint--
well, from both
of our viewpoints
is it's sort a form
of immortality
because if you think about it,
Ernie will live forever.
We've now built
this huge library
of fabulous "Muppet" pieces
as well as other kinds
of things so that--
- Does this mean I can
really stop doing Ernie?
- No, it doesn't.
[both laugh]
But it means that 200 years
from now, people will look--
be looking at Bert and Ernie
and Kermit the Frog.
It's interesting.
- Yeah.
I was talking with Frank Oz.
You know, he and I imagined
when we're in our 80s
doing Ernie and Bert, you know,
in rocking chairs
and still doing it.
- Oh, I hope so. [laughs]
- I can imagine that.
- I may not get there with you.
[both laughing]
[light piano music]
- For millions of people,
a little of the magic is gone.
Jim Henson, the man
who created The Muppets,
the man who made complex
characters out of cloth,
has died at the age of only 53.
- My name is Jon Stone.
I'm a writer and director.
I don't remember exactly
how Jim and I met.
I know it was 1963 or '64,
but from the moment we met,
we were never very far apart.
That happened
to a lot of people.
More and more of us
joined Jim's extended family
over the years.
All the designers and builders
and writers and puppeteers,
one by one,
all of us heard the unhearable,
and my phone rang all that day
and that night
and all the next day.
The calls were from you.
Each of you hurting so much
and knowing
that I must be hurting
that much too.
So you called just to see
if I was all right.
It is no accident
that you loving, talented,
caring people wound up
in Jim Henson's family.
I loved Jim very much,
and I love you very much too.
- It's not that easy
Being green
Having to spend the day
the color of the leaves
When I think
it could be nicer
Being red or yellow or gold
Or something much
more colorful like that
- That song was a point
of departure for the series
and for me.
- Being green
- The song addresses
that one thing that's
at the kernel of our being.
We're not sure what we are
or what we can be.
We know there's potential,
and the realization
to accept ourselves.
- I am green
And it'll do fine
It's beautiful
And I think it's
what I want to be
- To know that we can become
that we perhaps never dreamed
we could be...
That's what
"Sesame Street" is about.
[indistinct chatter]
- Stand by.
- Okay.
- Switching over.
- P.
- R.
- No, no, no, no, no.
- P.
- No! [growls]
But if you say the name first
and then the sound shot.
- Wait, we're teaching
something here?
- Yeah!
- The happiest time
of his life
were those early years
in "Sesame Street"
when Dad suddenly had
this family around him.
That was all he could
ever have wished for.
You know,
he battled depression
for a good part of his life,
but on set with the Muppets,
he was so happy.
- All right. Quiet please.
Here we go.
[mischievous music]
- Cookie Monster?
- Hmm, what?
- That's just so disgusting.
- Sorry, Jon.
- Don't worry, Jon,
keep rolling.
- So sorry, Jon.
- Sorry, Jon.
- I bet Jon would like
to do those shots
one more time, shall we!
- Of course--
- Please don't hurt me.
Don't yell at me, Jonny.
Please! Fade to black!
[indistinct chatter, laughter]
- "Sesame Street" truly was
the love of his life,
and that's the thing that he
stuck with longer than anybody,
right up until the end.
- There must be something
to life besides big balloons
and little balloons.
I like little-sized balloons.
- Years ago, I tried
to persuade Joan Cooney
to do a special entitled
"Backstage at Sesame Street"
because I wanted to capture
the family aura
that we had in the studio
and still have,
but we never did the show.
Maybe we're doing it now.
[energetic orchestral music]
- It was a family, is a family,
and really all of us
loved each other,
and it shows in the work.
- The most amazing part
of "Sesame Street"
was how everybody was
in the right place
at the right time,
and that's the thing
that made the show.
- Thinking about in the very
beginning of the show
and all of the people
that worked on it...
It's hard for me
to talk about it.
It's very emotional.
It can't be reproduced.
- It's still to this day
is very difficult for me
to wrap my mind around
how big this thing is,
how big it became.
- I don't know
that there is a show
that is as universally loved
from childhood
through adulthood
as "Sesame Street" is.
- "Sesame Street" wanted
to give kids tools
to create the world
they wanted to live in.
- You know, in the beginning,
we thought
we were helping education,
maybe changing
children's television,
but I don't think any of us
sat there thinking,
"Oh, my God.
We're changing the world."
- There was just
a magic moment in time
where we all worked
on an idea
that we understood
was bigger than ourselves.
- It was an amazing experience.
- This is why
it's still loved.
The people who do it love it.
They're genuine
and they believed
in what they're doing,
and from the very beginning,
the joy that those guys
put into the show,
the joy that they all felt...
It shows on every frame
of the show
throughout its history.
- Wind.
all: Ah!
- "Sesame Street" is immortal.
- Shake your head.
Shake your head.
Shake your head.
- Oh, boy, is this fun!
- Shake your head.
Shake your head,
shake your head,
shake your head.
- Aren't you glad
you're playing, everybody?
all: Yeah!
[upbeat acoustic guitar music]
- Dance, dance, dance, dance,
dance, all right!
Dance, dance, dance
Everybody dance
Everybody dance
You can dance with me
You can dance with me
Dance, dance, dance
Dance, dance, dance,
all right!
Dance, dance, dance,
all right!
Everybody dance,
you can dance
- The mama pajama
rolled out of bed
She ran to
the police station
When the papa found out,
he began to shout
And he started
the investigation
It's against the law,
it was against the law
What the mama saw,
it was against the law
- It's against the law
- The mama looked down
and spit on the ground
Every time my name
gets mentioned
The papa said,
"Oy, if I get that boy
I'm gonna stick him
in the house of detention"
Well I'm on my way
I don't know where
I'm going
But I'm on my way
I'm taking my time,
but I don't know where
Goodbye to Rosie,
the queen of Corona
Seeing me and Julio
down by the schoolyard
Seeing me and Julio
down by the schoolyard
- Dance, dance, dance!
Everybody dance
- Whoo!
[cheers and applause]
[upbeat jazz music]
- Excuse me, Mr. Hoots,
I hate to bug a busy bird
But I want to learn the sax
And I need a helpful word
I always get a silly squeak
When I play the blues
[silly squeaks]
- Ernie, keep your cool, I'll
teach you how to blow the sax
I think I dig your problem
It's rubber, and it quacks
You'll never find
the skill you seek
Till you pay your dues
You've got to put down
the duckie
Put down the duckie
Put down the duckie, yeah
You've got to leave
the duck alone
all: You've got to put down
the duckie
Put down the duckie
Put down the duckie if you
wanna play the saxophone
- Whoo!
- You didn't hear
a word I said.
You got to get it
through your head
Don't be a stubborn cluck
Ernie, lay aside the duck
I've learned a thing or two
From years of playing
in a band
It's hard to play a saxophone
with something in your hand
To be a fine musician
You're gonna have to face
the facts
all: You've got to put down
the duckie
Put down the duckie
Put down the duckie
You've gotta leave
the duck alone
You've got to put down
the duckie
Put down the duckie
Put the duckie if you want
to play the saxophone
- Yeah!
- Though you're blessed
with flying fingers
When you want to wail,
you're stuck
What good are flying
If they're wrapped around
a duck
Change the toy's position
if you wanna ace the sax
all: You've got to put down
the duckie
Put down the duckie
Put down the duckie
You've got to leave
the duck alone
- Don't mess with me
all: You've got to put down
the duckie
Put down the duckie
You've got to put down
the duckie
If you want to play
the saxophone
- Don't have to put it
on a train
Don't have to wash it
down the drain
Don't have to lock it
in a drawer
Don't have to shove it
out the door
Don't have to stuff it
in your pocket
Or send it flying
in a rocket
Don't have to get it
out of town
Ernie put the quacker down
- Oh, gee, Hoots, you know,
I really love my duckie.
I can't bear to part with him.
- Oh, you don't have
to lose your duck.
all: You've got to put down
the duckie
Put down the duckie
Put down the duckie
You've got leave
the duck alone
You've got to put down
the duckie
Put down the duckie
Put down the duckie
If you want to play
the saxophone
- Gee, Hoots, you know
I really love my duckie.
I can't bear to part with him.
- Well, you don't have
to lose your duck.
You can pick it up
when you're finished.
- I can?
- Yeah!
- Oh, wow!
- You've got put down
the duckie
- Put down the duckie
- Put down the duckie
- Put that down
- Put down the duckie
Yeah, you've got to leave
the duck alone
Put down the duckie
- Put down the duckie
- Put down that duckie
- Down
- Put down the duckie
If you want to play
the saxophone
One more time!
all: You've got put down
the duckie
Put down the duckie
Put down the duckie
You've got to leave
the duck alone
You've got put down
the duckie
Put down the duckie
Put down the duckie
If you want to play
the saxophone
- Whoo.
Can I pick up my duckie?
- By all means!
- Oh, thank you.
- [laughs]
- Oh, Duckie,
I missed you so much.
[Duckie squeaks]
Yes, me too.
- Take care, Ernie, my man!
- Well, I want you to know
how truly unpleasant
it has been having
to talk to you.
So I'm gonna leave now,
so ta-ta.
Oh, that sounded as though
I might have cared too.
How about,
"Scram, get out of here,
and I can't stand you!"
Why do you watch that stuff?
[bright tone]