To mark the 40th anniversary of the groundbreaking, beloved children's television show, "Sesame Street," Michael Davis has crafted a richly detailed history that includes behind-the-scenes looks at the program's genesis, the creation of its quirky characters and the life stories of the founders of the first TV show that aimed to entertain and educate the preschool set.
Davis, a former preschool teacher and longtime journalist (including a nine-year stint as an editor and family television columnist for TV Guide), conducted five years of interviews and research, and his efforts show: Street Gang: The Complete History of Sesame Street is at once a fascinating, often funny story about a bunch of talented friends and colleagues who dared to try something new, and a point-by-point recounting of conversations, on-set hilarity and frustration, and the back-stories of the diverse group of people who became famous as characters and puppeteers on "Sesame Street."
The book begins on a sad note: Davis describes show co-creator Joan Ganz Cooney's grief-stricken walk to the 1990 funeral of creative partner and world-famous Muppeteer Jim Henson. "The sidewalks were overrun by pedestrians . . . all moving toward the cathedral steps," Davis writes. Around 5,000 people attended the public memorial that day, from "Saturday Night Live" mastermind Lorne Michaels to actress Darryl Hannah, plus plenty of non-famous folks of all ages. Millions more have tuned in to the show—children, babysitters, parents, teachers, grandparents—since its debut on November 10, 1969.
Fun tidbits abound in Davis' narrative, from the inspiration for Oscar the Grouch's voice (a real-life cranky cabbie) to a hilarious description of a Cookie Monster game-show skit in which the big blue guy picks a "COOKIE!" over $25,000 in cash. Davis examines the social context of the show—the objections and challenges it has faced and the impact it's had on education and parenting. Photo inserts offer a visual history, and statistics provide a sense of the show's wide-reaching influence: 40 years later, "Sesame Street" reaches 8 million preschoolers via 350 PBS stations in the U.S. and it airs in 120 countries worldwide.