NOTE: Sesame Street is included here for its marketing premise; If we can hold their attention by giving consumers of education (children) want they want, we can get them to consume what we want (knowledge). - DT
Sesame Street is a long-running American children's television series, known for its educational content, and images communicated through the use of Muppets, animation, short films, humor, and cultural references. The series premiered on November 10, 1969.
Author Malcolm Gladwell (The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference). has stated, "Sesame Street was built around a single, breakthrough insight: that if you can hold the attention of children, you can educate them". Gerald S. Lesser, the show’s first advisory board chair, went even further, saying that the effective use of television as an educational tool needed to capture, focus, and sustain children's attention. Sesame Street was the first children's show to structure each episode, and the segments within them, to capture children's attention, and to make, as Gladwell put it, "small but critical adjustments" to keep it. They made changes in the show's content to increase their viewers' attention and to increase its appeal, and encouraged "co-viewing" to entice older children and parents to watch the show by including more sophisticated humor, cultural references, and celebrity guest appearances.
As Sesame Street was being developed in 1966-67, the goal was to create a children's television show that would "master the addictive qualities of television and do something good with them." Sesame Street co-creator Joan Ganz Cooney states that at the time, the use of a combination of commercial television production elements and techniques for educational purposes was seen as "positively heretical”.
With the creation of Sesame Street, producers and writers of a children's television show used, for the first time, educational goals and a curriculum to shape its content. The Sesame Street model consisted of four parts: "the interaction of television producers and child science experts, the creation of a specific and age-appropriate curriculum, research to shape the program directly, and independent measurement of viewers' learning". It was the first preschool educational television program to base its contents and production values on laboratory and formative research. It was also the first time a show's educational effects were studied.
The creators of Sesame Street and their researchers formulated both cognitive and affective goals for the show. Initially, they focused on cognitive goals, while addressing affective goals indirectly, in the belief that doing so would increase children's self-esteem and feelings of competency. One of their primary goals was preparing very young children for school, especially children from low-income families, using modeling, repetition, and humor to fulfill these goals. Such innovations were developed because their target audience, children and their families in low-income, inner-city homes, did not traditionally watch educational programs on television and because traditional methods of promotion and advertising were not effective with these groups.
After Sesame Street's first season, criticism led to an increased on more overtly such affective goals as social competence, tolerance of diversity, and nonaggressive ways of resolving conflict.
Although the producers decided against depending upon a single host for Sesame Street, instead casting a group of ethnically diverse actors, they realized that a children's television program needed to have, as Lesser put it, "a variety of distinctive and reliable personalities", both human and Muppet. Jon Stone was responsible for hiring the show's first cast. Stone videotaped the auditions, and Ed Palmer took them out into the field to test children's reactions. The actors who received the "most enthusiastic thumbs up" were cast. For example, Loretta Long was chosen to play Susan when the children who saw her audition stood up and sang along with her rendition of "I'm a Little Teapot".
Loretta Long (Susan)
In 1970 and 1971, the Educational Testing Service was solicited to conduct summative research on the show. ETS's two "landmark" evaluations demonstrated that the show had a significant educational impact on its viewers.
In 1994, research was conducted for "The Recontact Study", examined the effects of Sesame Street on adolescents who had watched the show as young children. When the study's research subjects were statistically equated for parents' level of education, birth order, residence and gender, it found that adolescents who had watched Sesame Street as preschoolers were positively influenced by it. Compared with children who had not watched it regularly, they had higher grades in English, math, and science; read for pleasure more often; perceived themselves as more competent, and expressed lower levels of aggression. The effects were stronger in adolescent boys than in adolescent girls.
By 2001 there were over 120 million viewers of all international versions of Sesame Street.
In 2008, it was estimated that 77 million Americans had watched the series as children.