The impact of Sesame Street on American culture is phenomenal. Generations of kids have grown up with the muppets and residents of this New York City neighborhood. This is where you learn about letters, numbers and life. In the most remote places in America you can sing “Rubber Ducky” and somebody will join along without missing a beat.
Hear a rattling around a garbage can and you can swear Oscar is inside. You might outgrow the show, but Sesame Street never leaves you. Eventually you’ll have kids and you’ll visit the neighborhood with them. Sesame Stree:t 20 Years …and Still Counting was a TV special that aired in 1989 that probed what the show meant to so many viewers.
The special aired on NBC which is why the Count talks about commercial breaks. The Muppets had gone into prime time television as Kermit and Jim Henson have a little chat about how the father of the muppets became involved with Sesame Street. He thought the show would do well, but twenty years was more than he envisioned. Hosted by comedy legend Billy Cosby, he roams around the set pointing out various landmarks. This was during his Cosby Show prime so he’s wearing one of his trademark sweaters. He has fun with the muppets including feeding Cookie Monster into a frenzy. Little kids might be confused why Elmo plays such a small role in this special. He’d only been on the show a few years at this point so he was still working himself up to the superstar status he currently enjoys.
Bob (Bob McGrath), Susan (Loretta Long) and Gordon (Roscoe Orman) talk about the show so far in terms of both their real life and the lives of their characters. It’s a good balance between an adult moment without blowing the fantasy for kids. Kermit roams Manhattan asking various people if they know how to get to Sesame Street. He bumps into two women who knew the way since they’d appeared in a sketch with him 15 years earlier. They have gone on to big things. Harry Monster reunites with a counting buddy that is now in the Air Force. A montage of twenty year old kids testify how much Sesame Street meant to them and apparently quite a few immigrant kids learned English from Ernie and Bert.
Besides numerous clips from the first twenty years, there are a few special acts for the evening. Ray Charles sings “It’s Not Easy Being Green” with a choir of monsters. Opera star Placido Domingo unites with Placido Flamingo to bring a little culture. The emotional highlight of the special is revisiting the moment that Big Bird learns about the death of Mr. Hooper (Will Lee). It’s a hard moment as Bob McGrath explains death without candy coating it. He’s not merely talking about a character, but a friend. It’s a moment like this that explains why Sesame Street is important. It doesn’t lie to us.
At the end of the special, Bill Cosby predicts that Sesame Street will be around for another 20 years. It has. Sesame Street: 20 Years …and Still Counting is an exciting mid-point perspective of a TV show that does more than entertain. No matter how you get to Sesame Street, remember to bring cookies.
The video is 1.33:1 full frame. The special was shot on video so it’s not quite as sharp and detailed. The audio is Dolby Digital Mono. The levels vary on the source material. The new footage sounds better. The special is Closed Captioned.
Sesame Street: 20 Years …and Still Counting celebrates for now is the mid-point of the on going series. This was Sesame Street before Elmo turned it into his world. Big Bird is still the voice of a child learning about the ways of the world. The highlights are guaranteed to make any big kid nostalgic for their time on the street.
Lionsgate presents Sesame Street: 20 Years …and Still Counting. Starring: Bill Cosby, Jim Henson, Ray Charles and Placido Domingo. Running Time: 48 minutes. Released on DVD: July 13, 2010.
Joe Corey is the writer and director of "Danger! Health Films" currently streaming on Night Flight and Amazon Prime. He's the author of "The Seven Secrets of Great Walmart People Greeters." This is the last how to get a job book you'll ever need. He was Associate Producer of the documentary "Moving Midway." He's worked as local crew on several reality shows including Candid Camera, American's Most Wanted, Extreme Makeover Home Edition and ESPN's Gaters. He's been featured on The Today Show and CBS's 48 Hours. Dom DeLuise once said, "Joe, you look like an axe murderer." He was in charge of research and programming at the Moving Image Archive.