I have "Sesame Street" to thank for my English proficiency, and I'm pretty certain people of my generation will probably say the same. Every morning, when we were kids, we'd be treated to a montage of cartoons and skits covering topics from the letters to numbers to Spanish words. All of this would be tied together around a central theme, which the Sesame Street inhabitants would discuss or act out. This would be learning about different cultures, or learning that certain actions were unacceptable, or simply learning about values such as patience and courtesy.
"Sesame Street" didn't talk down to its audience. In fact, I think I remember reading somewhere that the shows were designed to be watched by the children in partnership with their parents, who were expected to process what the kids saw. Thus, an adult could appreciate some of the subtle humor injected into each episode.
One of the keys that helped "Sesame Street" click was the presence of the Muppets. Having characters like Grover and Kermit the Frog teach us about distance (near and far) or parts of the body was a entertaining part of the show.
The Ernie and Bert skits were what I remember best. Who could forget the time when Ernie couldn't sleep, and Bert told him to count sheep? Ernie got bored counting sheep, which actually bleated out loud enough for Bert to hear, and proceeded to count fire engines. When
Bert complained, Ernie suggested that he count something quiet, like balloons, which then inflated and promptly exploded with a bag, scaring Bert out of his wits. And that was just the first balloon.
"Sesame Street", for all its fun, didn't shy away from the serious topics. When the Will Lee, the actor who played Mr. Hooper passed away, the cast processed the concept of death by talking with Big Bird, who had thought that Mr. Hooper ("Looper" to Big Bird) just went away and would be back soon.
Through "Sesame Street", the children of my generation learned our alphabet, our numbers, and, to some extent, our values. The "Sesame Street" of today is a far cry from the show of old; for one thing, it's just a half-hour, instead of the hour we were treated to. Good thing for kids today that kids' viewing is more varied (see previous post).
But I still miss the days when the cartoon hand would pull back the pinball handle and let the ball fly, or when the alligator king called for his seven sons.
For the nostalgic:
Sesame Street Song Lyrics Archive