In 2019 Sesame Street, the longest running children’s show in television history, celebrates 50 years of educating and entertaining kids. The Walter J. Brown Media Archives and Peabody Awards Collection celebrates the achievement this spring with a new exhibit highlighting this familiar address, along with other shows that pioneered excellence in children’s programming.
In 1966 Joan Ganz Cooney produced a study that examined the potential uses of television in preschool education. The study proposed the idea that television could be used to teach disadvantaged children basic skills in their preschool years. Two years later Cooney and Lloyd Morrisett created the Children’s Television Workshop (CTW) which debuted its first program, Sesame Street, on November 10, 1969. From the beginning the show was a collaboration between educators, researchers, and television producers. The content of each episode was tested with preschool audiences prior to broadcast. Staff researchers also assessed the effectiveness of episodes in achieving set educational goals after they aired. The multi-racial cast and inner city setting gave the show a different look and feel than other kids programming of the time. For its perceptible role as a pioneer for children’s educational television shows, Sesame Street won Peabody Awards in both 1969 and 1989.
Drawn from press kit materials in the Peabody Awards Collection, items on display showcase the positive impact that Sesame Street’s curriculum has had on the social skills and learning of generations of preschoolers the world over. From episodes focused on race relations, adoption, and divorce to those addressing events like the September 11th attacks, the show addresses serious topics honestly with its viewers. Photographs and press releases highlight particular episodes that discussed racial and cultural diversity, while educational materials on display showcase international versions of the show and demonstrate its worldwide reach.
Inspired by Sesame Street, student curator Celia Clark investigated other children’s programming recognized by the Peabody Awards. Her research and writing resulted is a series of new installations inside the Peabody Awards Gallery focused on Captain Kangaroo, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, and Reading Rainbow. These exhibits are all free and open to the public, and will remain on display in the Special Collections Building through December 2019.