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How did SS evolve from "schoolhouse" to "entertainment?"

Discussion in 'Classic Sesame Street' started by ssetta, Sep 1, 2011.

  1. ssetta

    ssetta Well-Known Member

    I recently came across this vintage SS clip from Season 1, with Susan talking about animals and their heads and tails to kids. Here is the clip:


    What's interesting about it is that it really didn't seem very entertaining for young kids, it seems just like a woman teaching a class. I'm guessing they did this a lot in the first season, or maybe even the first couple of seasons. I know that it continued just a little bit into the late 70s, and even later, but eventually, this is what really phased out. About when did they completely stop doing it?
  2. Drtooth

    Drtooth Well-Known Member

    I could not exactly pinpoint exactly when, but it seemed like there was a gradual change to a consistent plot since the late 70's, and it really seemed to blow up in the 1980's. And somehow, I think that was when the show was at the top of its game. You had the perfect balance of what the show was, what the show became, new and classic stuff.

    It seems the first few seasons were more of a hardcore schoolhouse type show that took place in an inner city. But that's probably because Ding Dong School, Romper Room, and even Mr. Rogers had that sort of model to them, and that was all everyone ever knew. Maybe the funner segments started testing better, or getting the kids' attention better. I honestly think they did the right thing slowly getting out of that and becoming more of an entertainment based educational show. Plus, it did help them carry in more social values with certain plot lines.
  3. SOTTH

    SOTTH Member

    The early Sesame Street model was a departure from the other educational shows of the era, but as Drtooth mentioned, that format was all anyone knew, and so Sesame Street ended up looking a lot like it. The difference is, CTW was always interested in finding newer and better ways to teach children, and constantly refined the show to make learning and engagement better. The Sesame Street of today has been an evolution: a slow, consistent, steady change.

    Robert Morrow wrote a book called "Sesame Street and the Reform of Children's Television" which details the research that goes into Sesame Street and how it affects the structure of the show. The book itself is (I'm pretty sure) a doctoral thesis, so the language is a bit dense and boring at times. But I make my living as a learning measurement specialist, so it was fascinating to me. And of all of the people who measure learning engagement and learning effectiveness, CTW is a real leader in the field. And they are constantly altering Sesame Street to make sure they're engaging kids and teaching them to the highest level.

    And as society evolves, the way we learn evolves. CTW just follows that evolution very closely.
  4. dwmckim

    dwmckim Well-Known Member

    Keep in mind too that for that first year of SST, they needed to film a LOT of filler for the street scenes - they had to fill 130 hour long shows and they didn't yet have the vast collection of clips and inserts to fall back on; so lots of stuff was done on the fly and improved - with everyone hoping it would be entertaining but you ultimately get what you get in those adult/kid moments.
  5. RedPiggy

    RedPiggy Well-Known Member

    Isn't the de-aging of the show kinda in conflict with that statement? Sometimes I get the impression that it's going to end up looking like Earl Sinclair is in charge of programming, with a half hour of nothing but looking at test patterns.
  6. Drtooth

    Drtooth Well-Known Member

    Yes no and maybe....

    Unfortunately altering the show means they show has to change with the times, and as I've said countless instances, the face of children's television was changed for the worse in the 90's. Not the bigger kid shows (that was the later 90's when things slid a little, and then 2005-2009 when the older kid's programming really suffered), but when Barney first showed up on PBS, children's TV had to get younger, dumber, and louder. Then came Blue's Clues, and now you needed people to REALLY talk down to kids, and louder and slower than ever before.

    Now, with Sesame Street, they had no choice but to keep embracing the competition (though even the original Journey to Ernie was still more watchable than what it was emulating). Not to mention the fact that Sesame Street was intended for an older audience including kids up to first grade. Remember, it was originally a poor kid substitute for Preschool. Not only can parents afford to send kids to preschool but even prepreschool programs like Mommy and Me and Baby Yoga and all that yuppie crap. And yet, they manage to keep adding more and more complex things to the curriculum. I swear there was an episode where a number actually said something about remembering division when they're older and get to grade school (or something to that extent). The show is now made for pre-preschoolers, and yet they feel the need for science, nature, more complicated math, and all these very heavy things should be in the show. Somehow they're managing to conflict themselves, trying to do older subject material when they have a very young audience that might not absorb it.
    Sarah Metcalf likes this.
  7. mr3urious

    mr3urious Well-Known Member

    I definitely agree that SS especially shined between the mid '70s to around 1992-ish. Gone were the days of slow, painful lectures like the cow example below as well as repeats of inserts, and along came the best of classroom-like lectures, social lessons, and simple entertainment along with consistent plot lines.

    this one

    The late '90s is where its quality fell dramatically when it tried to emulate those non-interactive shows like Blue's Clues and it tried to be more structured and routine. However, when the writers are allowed to be witty and creative like in the old days, they really go all out, like the Cookie World episode and Preschool Musical.

    Cookie World

    Preschool Musical.
  8. Drtooth

    Drtooth Well-Known Member

    UGH! That cow film again. I can pick it apart so well. The fact of the matter is, Abby's Fairy School is a very long time consuming segment, sure... but it goes by fast. That cow thing is so slow in tone, and filled with painful redundancies and repetition. And not the learning BY repetition... like a long, dry professor's speech that says the same thing over and over. Joe Raposo could have wrote a snappy 3 minute or less ditty about milk that we'd all be humming awkwardly as adults and not caring how childish we look. That music sounds like some sad guy in a subway strumming his guitar slowly and moaning over it.

    Sesame Street was always meant to be snappy. The 10-30 second bits about letters in the form of "commercials." Counting segments with fast catchy music with quick cuts... How did Jazz Numbers fit with that long winded Cow thing, I'll never know.

    Maybe it was because the segments with the Muppets or cartoon characters doing sketch comedy were testing better, but I think they learned a very good lesson from that. I mean, even when they had adult characters doing comedy bits (I mean the meh comedic duos, of course... not Maria, Bob and the others) it just didn't match up. Larry and Phylis and the others just couldn't hold a candle to Ernie and Bert. Think of which characters have been with the show since the conception. They're still popular today.
  9. minor muppetz

    minor muppetz Well-Known Member

    I wonder if there was a minimum requirement of street scenes/new content for each episode. The first few seasons often repeated the exact same segments two or three times (it seems episode 179 repeats most of the same non-Muppet content in the second half). Though it seems it was just the letter and number segments that got repeated in episodes, and ones without Muppets or the cast.

    Though it seems that the first season had a lot of segments that were only shown once or twice in the first season (and not just segments that were dropped by the end of the year). Kermit's W lecture seems to have only appeared twice in the first season, and yet the first season had many episodes sponsored by W (including practically the whole first week).

    The book Street Gang said that when planning, every segment had to be entertaining and educational. So I wonder how that explains boring segments like the ones mentioned in this thread.
  10. CensoredAlso

    CensoredAlso Well-Known Member

    Oh come on, leave the Cow film alone, lol. ;) Sesame Street had other segments that weren't snappy and quick. I don't see why this particular film gets attacked so much.
  11. dwmckim

    dwmckim Well-Known Member

    Because those of us who actually experienced it as preschoolers would run and hide in the closet until it was over when it came on (though in all fairness i did that with some of Bob's songs too)
  12. CensoredAlso

    CensoredAlso Well-Known Member

    I don't believe I actually saw the Cow film as a kid, but the first time I saw it as an adult, I was instantly reminded of all those Sesame Street moments where they did take a moment to breath. When our pop culture could still afford to be a little artsy occasionally and not just worry about ratings.
  13. Drtooth

    Drtooth Well-Known Member

    There are a lot of quiet, poignant sketches too, we mustn't forget that. But some of them were really good. At the risk of overplaying the Joe Raposo card, he had some nice quiet tunes like "I Believe in Little Things" in contrast to louder, snappier songs like "Which Cam,e First, The Chicken or the Egg" or "There's a Bird on Me."

    Of course, there were things that drove me nuts and went on forever... the sad flower skit made me angry every time, and I was growing impatient for it to end for something interesting to happen. To quote Kermit the Frog at the beginning of a Muppet Babies story book video, "But don't get too comfortable. I don't want you falling asleep on me!"

    (Would you believe I did that once?)

    Critically, there's so much to attack the cow film for. It's nicely filmed, I'll give it that. Actually.. I'm going to watch it again and count some stuff...

    The announcer basically say everything at least 2 times, and there's NO attempt at talking about pasteurization. The music also repeats itself frequently. And not in a catchy way. Sort of like a bad poet who thinks their artistic in repeating everything.

    There can be time in the show for slow breather segments sure, but this thing come up close to 7 minutes. That takes time away from Ernie and Bert and all the rest. it would only fly early in the show's inception when they were still working on the tone of the show.
  14. CensoredAlso

    CensoredAlso Well-Known Member

    I don't know how I would have felt about the sad flower film as a kid, but when I watch it now it really tugs at my heart strings somehow. And I love the reveal at the end. (SOMEWHAT SPOILERS)

    We find out this idyllic image of nature is growing not in a forest or suburban back yard...but on the brick roof of a New York City apartment building (with a view of the Brooklyn Bridge no less!). I remember one of the YouTube commentors said, "I was born in Brooklyn and being 4 years old at the time, I was amazed that the Bridge was on TV." The way I saw it, the film was a reassurance to young residents of New York that even though their city is made of bricks, cement and noise...the simple, quiet beauty of nature still survives.

    Well I think they were starting from the very beginning; for the child that didn't even know that milk came from cows, or even if they did, how it was obtained. Or hadn't seen a real farm before. And repetition is also a very important part of commercials; a phrase or melody drummed into the viewers' heads time and again.

    I don't know, these kinds of sketches just feel like they were the background music of my early childhood and that's very important to me. :)

    It's OK if you don't like it of course, no big deal, lol. Just wanted to defend my POV as well. ;)
  15. Drtooth

    Drtooth Well-Known Member

    I have more of a problem with it since I've heard...

    well, I'm not going to post it hear because of the language, but look up Orson Welles Frozen Peas. not the The Critic Cartoon... the actual Frozen Peas blooper reel. The one the Animaniacs cartoon "Yes, Always" was based off of. it's like that exact same delivery, and you almost expect the announcer would have lost it multiple times.

    I will say, that it should never be personal if a skit or something someone likes or hates gets praised/chastised. I think it's just unexpected from the source since I don't recall ever seeing it, either because I was very young when it stopped being in rotation, or it just wasn't in rotation when I was watching. it seems to be a segment that would fit in better with Mr. Rogers or something with a more gentle tone. But you can forgive the tone of the skit for being that early, and shows like Mr. Rogers were all they had to go on at the time. A LOT of earlier films seem to go on a bit too long, especially "round." but this was something fixed in time.
  16. CensoredAlso

    CensoredAlso Well-Known Member

    I personally liked it when Mr. Rogers did skits like that too, lol. To me it wasn't something that needed to be "fixed." Maybe I got bored eventually as a kid, but that doesn't mean nothing important was sinking in. I think their goal was to get very specific ideas or images drummed into kids' heads; again the essence of a commercial.

    About the Orson Welles recording, let's just say, heh, the guy could get a little self important. ;)
  17. Daffyfan4ever

    Daffyfan4ever Well-Known Member

    Yeah. I've noticed that when I watched the first season eps on iTunes. It did seem to be very much similar to Romper Room and Mr. Rogers. Plus even the inserts are more or less connected to the main plot rather than just playing them at random. I think they started moving away from that around the second season when more Muppets were added that they felt that they should do more on the show than they had been doing in the past. But for the most part, I agree that it was sort of a gradual change.
  18. Drtooth

    Drtooth Well-Known Member

    Mr. Rogers was always a soft touch, gentle educator approach. He has been ever since his earlier shows that predate PBS. There was nothing wrong with his method, certainly. But when SS came on the scene, they had that stuff as a reference, and they were trying out a whole bunch of methods at once, seeing which ones would rule the others out. It seems that certain things slowly started to disappear, some things took longer than others. The Human sketch comedies (that didn't involve the immediate cast) were gone in year 4. The Muppet sketches started to be come more numerous... but that's also because new characters were constantly introduced. Sesame always used a pop cultury method of education, even if it was just trying to emulate commercials in the first season and test pilots. Not as gentle as Mr. Rogers, but in the same vein at first.

    But then again, I like Sesame mostly as a Muppet fan, so I have a biased with the Muppet characters.

    Well, to defend the guy, his career peaked very early, and he had a terrible time finding work and had to do commercials... I'm not surprised at all by being annoyed by those commercials. Though he seemed to REALLY enjoy the Paul Mason champagne ads. He believed in the product to say the least.

    MMMMWwwwwwaaaaHAAAAhhhAaaa the French...campaign....
  19. CensoredAlso

    CensoredAlso Well-Known Member

    Yeah I can understand where you're coming from there. Get to the Muppets as soon as possible. ;)
  20. D'Snowth

    D'Snowth Well-Known Member

    I love the way you put that, 'cause wasn't that what Joe Raposo was all about? :D

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