The warm and welcoming children’s show “Sesame Street” launched in 1969 with the express purpose of teaching kids about the world around them and providing positive support to marginalized communities. As Smithsonian Magazine points out, the series was conceived in the midst of the Civil Rights Movement, and was intentionally designed to “build up the self-worth of Black children through the presentation of positive Black images.” Lloyd Morrisett and Joan Ganz Cooney put together The Children’s Television Workshop with care, including experts in child development, the arts, and other areas on its board to ensure the series would reach kids where they most needed help.
Morrisett’s greatest achievement may have been understanding the power of television and the ways in which it could be used positively during an era when the small screen was known as a commercial medium rather than an artistic one. With the addition of Jim Henson’s memorable cast of puppets and the inclusion of lovable real-life kids on screen, “Sesame Street” quickly became one of the most influential series of all time. It pioneered the idea of television as a trustworthy teacher for young children, and with the power of PBS public funding and a knowledgeable, research-informed behind-the-scenes team, the show has managed to shoulder that responsibility for over half a century.
By the time “Sesame Street” began airing episodes on HBO in 2015, its reach on PBS was measurable and historic. “PBS stations reach more kids aged 2-5, more moms with children under 6 years old, and more low-income children than any other kids TV network,” the network said in a statement shared by NPR. A study published that same year showed that kids often learned just as much from “Sesame Street” as they did from preschool.