On Sunday, the beloved TV series Sesame Street kicked off its 35th anniversary season with Sesame Street Presents: The Street We Live On. Teaching the preschool basics with wit and warmth, Sesame Street has inspired millions of children, parents, grandparents and second-childhood college students. Carol-Lynn Parente, Senior Producer of the public television enterprise, shared her enthusiasm for a tried-and-true show that continues to change for the better.
I was a child of Sesame Street. My favorite characters were Cookie Monster and Ernie.
I was a huge Grover fan as a kid, although Cookie Monster was probably a close second.
So how did you get involved with Sesame Street?
I remember watching as a kid. It was like nothing else that was on television. I loved the music, I remember "Rubber Ducky" -- that was one of my favorite songs when I was a kid. So it had a strong influence on me. It's funny, because we still re-air bits; some of the bits we shot in the early seasons are just timeless. It's surreal to put something in a show that you have your own memory about from when you were young.
Yet Sesame Street appeals to adults as well.
Absolutely, and that is by design. There are plenty of studies that show that kids get so much more, not out of just our show but out of television, when it is co-viewed with a parent. We have a lot of stuff to teach in our hour, and if the parents are watching with them, that extends the learning so much more.
Has the show been effective in getting kids ready for school?
University studies have proven that children who watch Sesame Street do better in all aspects of education. It's powerful to know that the few years of Sesame Street that a parent can expose their children to will affect them that far down the line -- from elementary performance to high school, to beyond high school. What we do is provide a love of learning. And if you can instill that into kids at that young age, that just carries you through.
How closely did you work with Jim Henson when he was around?
About a year or a year-and-a-half after I started, he passed away. I worked with him enough to see his genius and his complete understated presence. If you passed him on the street or were having a conversation with him, you'd have no idea he was this amazing genius and talent, because he was so just down to earth. He trained some great puppeteers. There were a good few years after his passing where we didn't shoot anything new with his characters, which are predominately Ernie and Kermit.
I actually heard a rumor that Bert and Ernie ...
Oh, I know where this is going.
... that Bert and Ernie no longer share an apartment.
It's not true. They're just friends, and that's all they've ever been. It's still Bert and Ernie's apartment and Bert and Ernie's bedroom, and they've always had twin beds. It's something that we know people talk about and we just don't acknowledge it.
Can you tell me how to get to Sesame Street?
We've made references to it being in New York City somewhere. But we want Sesame Street to be everybody's neighborhood. The entire show was designed to appeal to inner-city kids and give them a step up in preschool education that suburban kids had. But I think the ties and the illustration of community translate to everybody's neighborhood.
Isn't it all alleyways?
We've had Oscar's Jalopy drive through.
There you go.
You never know what you're going to see!
What is your favorite number and letter?
"Z" has always been my favorite, probably from being at the end of the alphabet and getting little respect from the other letters. Always wished I had a name that ended in "Z," 'cause then I'd be at the end of the list of alphabetical stuff. And my favorite number has just always been seven.
I see that you've started a new segment, "Far from Seven."
Yes, this year we did a parody with Julianne Moore of her movie Far from Heaven. She and the Count are both in a love triangle with the number seven. It's a fun way to take pop culture and just work it into an educational bit.