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5 facts about ‘Sesame Street’

Guest star Rachel Dratch joins “Sesame Street” co-star Zach Hyman and other cast members during a 2015 episode. Image: Sesame Workshop

To help mark the arrival of the Sesame Street stamps, here are five facts about the pioneering children’s television series.

1. “Sesame Street” broke barriers from the beginning. Against the backdrop of the civil rights movement and the war on poverty, “Sesame Street” founders Joan Ganz Cooney and Lloyd Morrisett had a simple but revolutionary idea: Television could help prepare disadvantaged children for school. They tapped educational advisers, researchers, television producers, artists and others to create what would become the longest-running children’s show in American television history.

2. The show was an instant hit. “Sesame Street’s” first episode aired Nov. 10, 1969, and opened with Gordon showing a new child around the neighborhood, telling her she’d “never seen a street like Sesame Street.” With celebrity guests, catchy songs, animation and the beloved Muppets, the show was embraced by children and parents alike. By the end of the first season, “Sesame Street” had reached millions of preschoolers.

3. International versions of the show are popular, too. The success of “Sesame Street” sparked interest from other broadcasters around the world. The first international co-productions — “Vila Sésamo” in Brazil and “Plaza Sésamo” in Mexico — premiered in 1972, followed by Germany’s “Sesamstrasse” in 1973. Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit organization that produces the show, continues to use this model of creating co-productions that reflect the educational priorities and cultural sensibilities of individual countries today.

4. “Sesame Street” won an Emmy for its farewell to Mr. Hooper. After Will Lee, who played the beloved shopkeeper, died in 1982, producers decided not to recast the role or send the character away. Instead, Sesame Workshop’s curricular experts and scriptwriters carefully planned how to tell young children about death. The episode was chosen by the Daytime Emmys as one of the top 10 most influential moments in daytime television. Bonus facts: “Sesame Street” has won 192 Emmy Awards and 10 Grammy Awards, more than any other children’s show.

5. “Sesame Street” remains a cultural phenomenon. James Earl Jones became the first celebrity to appear on the show when he recited the alphabet in an early episode, and the show has produced hundreds of parodies of pop songs, TV shows and movies. Other examples: Ernie’s “Rubber Duckie” song made it to No. 16 on the Billboard top singles chart in 1970, Elmo testified before Congress in 2002, and multiple political figures have appeared on the show, including several first ladies and Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor.

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