I have a distinct memory, among my very earliest, of my mother describing a new television show about to debut on Public Television. “It’s for kids exactly your age,” she told me, and so it was. Sesame Street first aired in late 1969, when I was 5. In a home where screen time was highly restricted (our boxy Sony Trinitron representing the only screen at that primitive time), Grover, Ernie, Bert, Maria, Mr. Hooper, Kermit, Gordon, Guy Smiley & Co. proved a staple of my early cultural sentience. It occurred to me recently that without the enthusiastic approval of kids my age — this founding Sesame Street cohort — the show might not have survived or become such a thing. And what a thing: 50 years and counting.
While channel surfing through the upper, premium reaches of my cable guide, I never seem to happen upon Sesame Street. Yes, today the show airs on HBO. You may have read about this arrangement whereby first-run episodes can be found there on Saturday mornings; eventually, they cycle back onto PBS in a post-modern form of syndication. I never see it there either, to be honest. My viewing habits are primarily nocturnal. It made this transition to HBO 2 years ago and I gather the show continues to wear extremely well.
Buoyed by the idea that this hugely influential, 50-year old show retains “the brassy splendor of The Bugs Bunny Show and the institutional dignity of a secular Sabbath school,” I’ve been conducting an experiment these last few weeks: I’ve been mentioning Sesame Street to folks generally my age and paying attention to their mood in reaction. If it generally brightens, I know they are fellow members of my cohort. However, if I make a Cookie Monster or Roosevelt Franklin reference to someone just 4 years older, the reactions differ quite markedly. Often they don’t get it, or they will roll their eyes and make it clear they didn’t really watch Sesame Street. This makes sense: When the show debuted, these elder folks (Baby Boomers, primarily) had already aged out.