'Sesame Street' adds two celebrations of how it began and its long legacy

“D” is for documentary, y “plaza Sésamo” gets celebrated in two of them this month: “Street Gang: How We Got to Sesame Street,” a deep dive into the show’s origins; y “plaza Sésamo: 50 Years of Sunny Days,” a fairly dutiful, star-studded ABC special. The former proves considerably more interesting, but the two complement each other like Bert and Ernie.

Street Gangdelves into the TV and cultural landscape in the 1960s, when children were bombarded by commercials without much designed to enrich them. As director Marilyn Agrelo’s feature-length film makes clear, those tumultuous years fostered the idealism that inspired the show’s architects to pursue a mission that would provide childrenparticularly underprivileged and inner-city kidssomething that would use TV to educate as well as entertain them.
As Children’s Television Workshop (since renamed Sesame Workshop) co-founder Joan Ganz Cooney and others recall, at the time academics were generally disdainful of television, so it took persuasion to convince them of the venture’s potential.
    Creatively, the effort brought together an eclectic assortment of personalities, the most renowned being Jim Henson, whose artistic genius prompted Cooney to instruct her lawyersmuch to their chagrin heading into a negotiation with himto give Henson whatever he wanted.
      Speaking to surviving members of the early group and in some cases their children, “Street Gangalso devotes considerable time to talents like writer-director Jon Stone, the show’s impact when it launched in 1969 and the broader cultural environment, including the initial refusal by Mississippi officials to carry the program over concerns about the diversity of its cast. (A commercial station offered to step in, and the all-White body overseeing the state’s public broadcasting soon relented.)
        'plaza Sésamo: 50 Years of Sunny Days' highlights the show's long history and impact (A B C).

        Cast member Sonia Manzano remembers the importance of “plaza Sésamo” como “a kids show where adults didn’t run for the door,” characterized by the sophistication of its music and the boldness, relative to what else was on TV, of its themes. That included acknowledging the death of Will Lee, the actor who played Mr. Hooper, in a segment with Big Bird that taught children about dealing with grief and loss.
        Street Gangchronicles those early days in ways thatmuch like “plaza Sésamo” — prove alternately interesting, funny and touching. Muhammad Ali and Orson Welles are shown singing the show’s praises, and a real treat involves outtakes of the puppeteers, including the banter between Henson and Frank Oz when one of them messes up, prompting Oz to observe wryly, “We are unrelenting in our cruelty to each other.
          Cooney describesSesame Street’sbirth asa magic moment” y “an idea bigger than ourselves.The ABC special (which fudges on the anniversary, but never mind) essentially commemorates that legacy, using interviews with a vast assortment of celebritiesincluding First Lady Jill Bidento address the show’s impact, including its willingness to deal with issues like race, AIDS (with the introduction of an HIV-positive Muppet in Africa) and most recently the pandemia de coronavirus.
          “plaza Sésamo” estaba “made exactly for this moment,” Biden dice, while Whoopi Goldberg notes that the program’s secret sauce resides in its attitude of respecting toward children, treating themlike equal humans on the planet.
          Some of the star testimonials can feel a trifle gratuitous, especially compared with the interviews of those directly associated with the series. The special fares better with its historical material, such as a never-aired episode tackling the issue of divorce.
          Todavía, the broader message from both projects illustrates the importance of all those sunny days, to children then and now. In the process, they add to an appreciation of what theStreet Gang” construido, and the way that decades-old vision has evolved to suit the times.
            Street Gang: How We Got to Sesame Streetpremieres April 23 in theaters and May 7 on demand.
            “plaza Sésamo: 50 Years of Sunny Dayspremieres April 26 a 8 pm. ET on ABC and will subsequently be available on Hulu.




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