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Street Gang: How We Got to Sesame Street

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 13, 2021

Street Gang: How We Got to Sesame Street, a documentary about the beloved show’s first two decades, debuts today on HBO Max. The film is based on Michael Davis’s 2009 book Street Gang: The Complete History of Sesame Street.

The documentary focuses on the first two experimental and groundbreaking decades of Sesame Street, highlighting this visionary “gang” that audaciously interpreted radical changes in society and engaged children with innovative new ways to entertain and educate.

Featuring exclusive behind-the-scenes footage and interviews with over twenty original cast members and creators, the documentary explores how the team incorporated groundbreaking puppetry, clever animation, short films, music, humor, and cultural references into each episode to keep kids and parents coming back, while never shying away from difficult conversations with children.

In a review, NY Times TV critic James Poniewozik says the film reminds us that Sesame Street was political right from the beginning:

“Sesame Street,” which premiered in 1969, was the project of Joan Ganz Cooney, a TV executive who was originally more interested in the civil rights movement than in education but came to see the connection between the two. “The people who control the system read,” she once said, “and the people who make it in the system read.” And she believed that the best way to get the kids of the 1960s to read, paradoxically, was through TV.

Her Children’s Television Workshop brought together educators and entertainers, including a puppeteer named Jim Henson and the director Jon Stone, an idealist attracted to Cooney’s idea of closing the literacy gap for inner-city Black children. “I think what drew Dad in really had to do with her political vision,” his daughter Kate Stone Lucas says in the documentary.