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Television Review

Going Behind the Scenes of Landmark 'Sesame Street'

March 17, 2001|LYNNE HEFFLEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The original Kermit the Frog was a rather disreputable fellow--he wasn't even a frog. The lovable, 8-foot-tall Big Bird didn't always have the heart and soul of a 4- to 6-year-old; he was a flat-headed, bumbling goof in his original incarnation.

And if not for Muppet genius Jim Henson and his creations, Bert and Ernie, "Sesame Street," an icon of childhood for 32 years, might never have survived its pilot testing. The Muppet buddies captivated young viewers; the human cast didn't.

A&E's "Biography Close Up: "Sesame Street," is chock-full of tasty "Street" tidbits, as well as old and new film clips, writers' meetings, research sessions, rehearsals, behind-the-scene Muppet artistry and interviews with cast members, Muppet artists and the show's guiding force, Joan Ganz Cooney, co-founder of the Children's Television Workshop (now called Sesame Workshop).

Don't expect the definitive history of this groundbreaking show, though. Written and directed by Jonathan Talmadge, the program skims over the controversy its 1969 launch sparked regarding its TV-commercial-style pacing, the extent of its educational benefits and how it might affect children's expectations of teachers.

And the emphasis given upcoming episodes in which Big Bird copes with losing his nest to a hurricane takes on a bit of a promotional feel.

More highlights of the many characters, animated shorts, songs and story lines that adults might remember from childhood would have been nice, but to be fair that would require much more time than this tribute's two hours.

But time should have been allowed for more than scant acknowledgment of these creative talents who helped shape the show (none of whom are still living): composer Joe Raposo, longtime head writer and songwriter Jeff Moss and longtime producer-director Jon Stone.

Stone does get credit for proposing the show's real-life, inner-city-street setting. But you might not know that it was Raposo, with Moss soon after, who gave the show its signature sound. Think of "Sesame Street" without Raposo's "Sing" or "Bein' Green," or the show's universally recognized theme song (with lyrics by Bruce Hart and Stone). Think of it without Moss' "Rubber Duckie" and "The People in Your Neighborhood."

* "Biography Close Up: Sesame Street" can be seen Sunday at 8 p.m. on A&E, (repeats Monday, 12 a.m.). The network has rated it TV-G (suitable for all ages).

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