Something huge is about to happen to kids’ programming—something so huge that it “may well turn out to be the most ambitious experiment in children’s television.” So reports the one-time CBS News writer Norman S. Morris for The Atlantic in an August 1969 article titled “What’s Good About Children’s TV.” His excitement about the potential of the forthcoming “experiment” is palpable.
A production company called the Children’s Television Workshop “is trying to develop concepts that will literally channel children’s avid interest in television into preparation for the educational journey so vital to their lives,” writes Morris, then the father of two young boys. It will promote the “intellectual and cultural growth” of preschoolers, particularly disadvantaged ones, teaching them not only specific academic skills but also the capacity “to think for themselves.” The show is also slated to feature a diverse cast, Morris adds, including a pair of adult “Negro or Puerto Rican” hosts.
Morris is, of course, talking about Sesame Street, whose first episode ended up airing several months later. Starring in its premiere were characters ranging from Kermit the Frog to Cookie Monster, along with two African American adult hosts. (A couple of years later, Sonia Manzano, a Puerto Rican New Yorker, would begin her 44-year run playing the character Maria.) It was also the first time the country heard “One of These Things (Is Not Like the Other).” The show, which now boasts 4,300-plus episodes, has since “educated the educators,” inspiring kindergarten classrooms across the country to abandon the daycare model in favor of academic instruction, according to a 2009 Newsweek article by the early-education expert Lisa Guernsey. The Sesame Street co-creator Joan Ganz Cooney also told Guernsey that the show fundamentally changed race relations in America, suggesting it may have even “had something to do with Obama’s election.” Sesame Street would indeed prove revolutionary; as Guernsey contended, it “changed our society, and many others, for the better.”