Lessons Of 'Sesame Street': Letters, Numbers And TV Big Bird, Oscar, Bert and Ernie taught millions of children how to count and how to share, but critic Andy Dehnart says made him care about television.

Lessons Of 'Sesame Street': Letters, Numbers And TV

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/120273833/120287909" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


Forty years ago today, nobody was sure if TV could be used to teach kids letters and numbers. But the team at the Children's Television Workshop was going to try.

Today, millions of people can count to 10 in Spanish and English because they learned how from "Sesame Street."

Commentator Andy Dehnart is proud to say that he learned more than the alphabet by sitting in front of his television.

(Soundbite of song, "Sesame Street" theme)

Mr. ANDY DEHNART (Creator, Reality Blurred): I watch TV for a living, and it's all "Sesame Street's" fault.

Unidentified Child: (Singing) Can you tell me how to get, how to get to Sesame Street? Come and play. Everything's...

Mr. DEHNART: As a kid in the '80s, I'd sit on the living room floor eating raisins, ready for my first appointment TV. Mister Rogers looked right at me as he talked. He made me feel, yeah, special.

But "Sesame Street" was more complex. The pinnacle of its mix of fantasy and gritty reality came when Big Bird learned about Mr. Hooper's actual death.

(Soundbite of TV program, "Sesame Street")

Ms. LORETTA LONG (Actress): (As Susan Robinson) Big Bird, Mr. Hooper's not coming back.

Mr. CARROLL SPINNEY (Puppeteer): (As Big Bird) Why not?

Ms. LONG: (As Susan) Big Bird, when people die, they don't come back.

Mr. SPINNEY: (As Big Bird) Ever?

Ms. LONG: (As Susan) No. Never.

Mr. SPINNEY: (As Big Bird) Why not?

Mr. DEHNART: Of course, every moment on "Sesame Street" was designed to be educational.

(Soundbite of TV program, "Sesame Street")

Unidentified Man #1 (Puppeteer): (As Kermit the Frog) Hi, ho. Kermit the Frog here. And today, I would like to say a few words about the beginning, the middle and the end.

Mr. DEHNART: So even it's ridiculous, that's had a very clear point. Like when Cookie Monster ate Kermit's props.

(Soundbite of TV program, "Sesame Street")

Unidentified Man #2 (Puppeteer): (As Cookie Monster) What kind of book this is?

Unidentified Man #1: (As Kermit the Frog) Oh, that - well, that's a cookbook.

Unidentified Man #2 (As Cookie Monster) Hmm. Cookbook. Cookie?

Unidentified Man #1: (As Kermit the Frog) Yeah. Sort of like cookies.

Unidentified Man #2 (As Cookie Monster) Cowabunga.

Mr. DEHNART: Watching Kermit deftly manage Cookie Monster's problem with impulse control, I was inspired.

Now, when I watch "Mad Men," and Don Draper impulsively cheats on his wife with a flight attendant, I react, but I also do what Kermit taught me and think about what Don's behavior means.

"Sesame Street" taught me one enduring lesson: to always expect TV to mean something.

I've been writing a memoir about my relationship with reality TV, and I've realized that my desire to be both an observer and a participant started on that very street.

Some people say, it's just a show. But as "Sesame Street" has proven for 40 years, there's no such thing as just a show.

NORRIS: Andy Dehnart writes the blog Reality Blurred. And to our public broadcasting colleagues at "Sesame Street," remember, 40 is the new 20.

(Soundbite of song, "Sesame Street" theme)

Unidentified Child: (Singing) Can you tell me how to get, can you tell me how to get. Sunny day, sweeping 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?


You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

Copyright © 2009 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.