“Sometimes you’re crazy
And you wonder why
I’m such a baby, yeah
‘Cause The Muppets make me cry”
Paraphrasing “Only Want to Be With You” – Hootie and the Blowfish
Someone told me a while ago that I “suffer from nostalgia”.
I thought it was an odd expression, as rather than “suffering” from nostalgia, I find it far more “comforting”.
“Nostalgia is learned formation of a Greek compound, consisting of νόστος (nóstos), meaning “homecoming”, a Homeric word, and ἄλγος (álgos), meaning “pain, ache””
I did, however, feel a great deal of pain when I learned that one of the best television shows of all time, Sesame Street, will be leaving NZ free-to-air television screens from the end of June when Mediaworks’ “Four” channel is rebranded “Bravo” and degenerates into wall to wall “hyper-reality” television.
Some shows have already been given new timeslots on Four’s network sister channel “3”, but notably absent was Sesame Street.
Perhaps the network is still a bit grouchy that an almost 50 year old children’s show out-rated their much-vaunted “current affairs” breakfast venture…
This coming November, Sesame Street will have been a friend and teacher to billions of children across the globe for 47 years – that’s one hell of a feat in the fickle world of television!
Launched in 1969 by Joan Ganz Cooney and Lloyd Morrisett one of the things that made so many people love Sesame Street has been its cast centrally featuring Jim Henson’s Muppets, puppets and Monsters.
Often zany and silly but never condescending to its young audience, Sesame Street has become the inspiration and benchmark by which many people judge not only children’s television, but all television since.
While teaching pre-school basics like the alphabet, counting, colours and opposites, it also deals with making friends, manners, feelings and other important social and personal issues.
One particular Sesame Street piece has burned itself into my memory (have a box of tissues handy):
When Will Lee, who played shopkeeper “Mr Hooper” (“Hooper’s Store” still bears his name as a memorial) died in 1982, rather than recasting the role, or saying Hooper moved away or retired, Sesame Street’s producers decided to deal with the issue head-on and created an episode that taught their young audience about the difficult topic of death in an honest and straightforward way.
I would have been five when the episode originally aired and some of my earliest memories are of going to the funerals of elderly grandparents and relatives, while not fully understanding what was going on.
That episode made things much clearer and easier to understand.
I cried watching it.
I still cry watching it today.
I wasn’t the only one – Legend has it the piece was shot in one take and there wasn’t a dry eye in the entire studio, in front of or behind the cameras, once it was done.
Jim Henson’s work and his creations blossomed from Sesame Street, as did the world’s love for them.
When he died in 1990, leaving behind a legacy of Muppets, movies, Fraggles, Sesame Street and many other beloved shows all his creations got together for one last show called “The Muppets Celebrate Jim Henson”.
Whilst the special centred around Henson’s other most well-known creation – “The Muppet Show” for the finale – a song called “Just One Person” almost all his creations appeared to sing a gorgeous eulogy to the great man, the amazing talent from where they came.
I cried watching that too, because being an only child, television had been one of my biggest inspirations and windows on the world before I started school.
The Muppets, Fraggles and Sesame Street characters had become more than just puppets to me – they were my friends.
I saw what Henson could do on multiple levels – Not just cute, fluffy, talking toys, but almost sentient beings with a drive behind them – to teach, to care, to love.
I believed in them.
There will, of course, still be access to Sesame Street videos and episodes online from July, but internet access can be an expensive, unaffordable luxury for many.
This availability of Sesame Street on free to air television has had wide reaching benefits with studies showing it has just as many developmental and educational benefits for children as going to pre-school which some cannot afford, or be geographically able to attend.
So, when Toddler in Frame and I watch Sesame Street for the last time on TV Four this weekend, she may wonder why Daddy is crying.
It’s because I’ll be pitying the next generation that isn’t getting to see it the way so many grew up with.
The genius, the love, the knowledge and empathy they will miss out on – replaced by cheap, commercialised, fake rubbish.
Future generations deserve far better.
Post Script: The Muppets do remain on Free to Air television in New Zealand in case you were worried: Mediaworks’ opponent, TVNZ, picked Sesame Street (and a new series “The Furchester Hotel”) some six months to a year after it was removed from Mediaworks screens, so its genius still remains to inspire young kiwis 😀