Can You Tell Me How You Got (How You Got) To Sesame Street?

This week 52 years ago, Sesame Street aired for the first time. I remember watching. Do you? An open thread...

If you’re an early Gen X-er like me, chances are you watched the first episode of Sesame Street, which aired on November 10th, 1969, 52 years ago this week. Or maybe you watched it later on. Whenever you did, I want to hear about your memories of it, and/or other children’s programming.

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This week, as the Covid vaccine became available for the first time to kids 5 and up, Big Bird made news announcing he’d gotten his first jab. (Of course, it became a political football for anti-vax right-wingers like Ted Cruz.)

Ostensibly, Big Bird only now became eligible for vaccination because he is officially— perpetually—6 years old. But he wouldn’t be the first Oldster to lie about his age; he’s actually 52. (Nice try, mister!)

Yesterday marked 52 years since Sesame Street first aired. I will never forget November 10th, 1969. I was 4 years old, and that day, I was introduced to a whole new bunch of “friends”: Big Bird, Ernie, Bert, Oscar the Grouch, Cookie Monster, The Count, Grover, Kermit the Frog, and the rest of the cast of “Sesame Street.”

Big Bird ostensibly just became eligible for vaccination because he is officially, perpetually 6 years old. But he wouldn’t be the first Oldster to lie about his age; he’s actually 52.

My mom arranged for my “husband,” Huck, who lived across the street, to come over and watch beside me. Huck and I weren’t strictly friends; we had “married” each other for the first time that summer, at 3 1/2. (For some reason, we each wore one of my mom’s summer nightgowns.) We’d go on to reinstate our vows at 7, as you do. The truth is, we were more like brother and sister, and years later Huck would come out. To this day we remain dear friends, and still refer to each other jokingly as our first and second spouses.

Sesame Street wasn’t the first children’s television show to capture my attention. I was already a devotee of late '60s era kids’ programs like Birthday House, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, Captain Kangaroo, and Wonderama. But when my mom sat us down in front of the living room TV set with its wire rabbit ears that day in November, 1969, and the theme song came on, I stepped into a vibrant new world filled with quirky characters I’d never forget, and what passed for progressive ideas at the time—like the earth-shattering notion that women could be anything they wanted. (Which…it turns out isn’t exactly true? Or is mostly true only for some women, especially those with considerable privilege.)

Sesame Street was preparing me for the only kids’ programming that would be more influential: Marlo Thomas’s Free to Be, You and Me…, which appeared in 1974 (and left me with the misleading impression that when I grew up, I was…free to be…and do…whatever the hell I wanted).

Soon after Sesame Street’s debut, other children’s shows like The Electric Company and Zoom would launch, providing more than enough after-school edu-tainment. The shows engaged our young minds with clever, catchy, upbeat songs, animation bordering on the psychedelic, Muppets and other life-size puppets, and relatable kid performers.

We were delighted, and we also learned a thing or two, much of which stuck. For instance, when I’m editing other people’s work these days, and debating where a comma might be appropriate, I hear Rita Moreno on The Electric Company explaining, in song, that a comma says, “Hey wait! Just a second! Hold the line!

Those shows made a huge impact. David Kamp captures that in his excellent book on that era of children’s television called Sunny Days: The Children's Television Revolution That Changed America.

As we got a bit older, our daily television consumption didn’t end with the kids’ shows. We’d do our homework while lying on our bellies in front of “the boob tube,” half paying attention to The Mary Tyler Moore Show, I Love Lucy, That Girl, The Partridge Family, The Flintstones, The Jetsons, The Brady Bunch, Beat the Clock, I Dream of Jeannie, Bewitched, The Hollywood Squares, Match Game, and so many other shows. One program would roll seamlessly into the other before it was time for dinner, or a bath, or bed.

My god, we watched a lot of television. And I guess we turned out okay…? Actually, I’m not sure. Maybe yesterday’s TV dependency primed us for today’s social media addiction.

Anyway…now tell me about your experience watching early Sesame Street, and/or other shows from your childhood.

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