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Baltimore Sun

Review: Michael Davis' Sesame Street

In Sunday's Sun, get a review of Michael Davis' Street Gang, The Complete History of Sesame Street. Here are excerpts from Diane Scharper's review: As Davis, a former editor for TV Guide and The Baltimore Sun, tells it, this program changed the course of not only children’s television programming but also of social and cultural history.

Davis, who spent five years interviewing nearly everyone connected to Sesame Street, focuses primarily on the show's founding and early years. He looks carefully at how the show got its start; how it was influenced by other early children's television programs like Captain Kangeroo, The Howdy Doody Show and Ding Dong School; and how its founders laid out its guiding eclectic philosophy.

Joan Cooney, a little-known television producer ... wondered whether underprivileged preschool kids could learn numbers, the alphabet and concepts like over, around, under and through by using a jingle. Soon Cooney, with money from the Carnegie Corp., conducted a study of children's television, which found that television could use its expertise, especially with regard to frequent repetition, clever visual presentation, brevity and clarity, to teach children the basics. ...

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Cooney also set the precedent of including an integrated cast of real-life characters: Hispanic, black and Asian actors, senior citizens and the disabled — men, women and children.

Cooney hired the brilliant puppeteer Jim Henson (a University of Maryland graduate), whose Muppets became the icons of the program. Davis considers Henson the key to Sesame Street’s success. His touch established the show’s "delicate balance between fun and learning." ...

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Although Street Gang sometimes feels overreported, it never gets too heavy, thanks to Davis' lighthearted style, which seems inspired by the show itself. Davis writes puns, tells jokes and uses a narrative drive, as he weaves profiles of the show's major players with Sesame Street chronology. Davis writes with such vivid details that one can almost see the brownstone houses and the furry, feathery, fresh-faced Muppets with googly eyes talking to human friends like David, Bob, Gordon and Susan.

There's Big Bird learning of Mr. Hooper's death and asking Susan the childlike question: When is he coming back? ... There's Bert singing his rubber duckie song, and Oscar praising the joy of trash, and Kermit offering his plaintive rendition of "Bein' Green." Even the (unintelligible) conversation of the Twiddle Bugs seems to echo through the years.


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