- "It is very important for us to represent a range of races and ethnicities, not only in our human body but also in our puppet cast," Sesame Workshop senior VP Rosemarie Truglio told the a lecture. "Remember, 'Sesame Street' is a very diverse and inclusive neighborhood. We have monsters, we have grouches and we have eight feet."
Celebrity guests for many years – all from Ray Charles to Christopher Reeve – added even more diversity to regular Sesame, all in the service of helping children make sense of a complex world.
"It's a mirror for them to see themselves, and it is a window for them to learn about others," Trugilo said.
If you want to hear what Cookie Monster, Count von Count, Bert and Abby Cadabby think, be sure to watch the video.
Yes, but : During its five decades of trying to bring a diverse and complex world to preschoolers, Big Bird and his friends have managed to shake off some toes.
- Race : "Sesame Street" has been racially diverse from the start, attracting criticism both from those who see a liberal bias and from those who oppose its minority representation. An early Muppet character, Roosevelt Franklin, was loved by many, including the show's black staff, but eventually turned away from what some saw as a continuation of negative stereotypes.
- Julia : While widely praised for introducing the concept of neurodiversity by Julia, an autistic muppet who debuted on the show in 2017 (and digitally back in 2015), Sesame has been vocal from some in the community through its partnership with Autism Speaks, a powerful but polarizing nonprofit that encourages parents of a newly diagnosed child to mourn their loss. Sesame's work with Autism Speaks led another group, the Autistic Self Advocacy Network, to break into the Streets despite partnering with Julia.
- Switch to HBO : One of the most controversial moves in recent years has been the deal between The Sesame Workshop and HBO. The arrangement helped to ensure organizational growth and financial stability, but it also meant new episodes of air on HBO and passed PBS, which critics say was contrary to the original intent, which first served those low-income children.
Truglio admits Sesame doesn't always get it right. An early stage, for example, talked about divorce.
- For children who have had that experience, it can be great to see their experiences reflected.
- But for many other children, it raises a new and frightening possibility, sending them to ask their parents if they are getting a divorce.
- "That's why we need to be careful about these sensitive topics when you bring them to a live audience," Truglio said.
After 9/11, for example, rather than discussing the attack directly, the show had characters facing a small scale and closer to home – a fire grease at Hooper's store.
- These days, Sesame has a separate website – Sesame Street in Communities – that addresses some of its most difficult topics, including addiction and homelessness.
What's next : In Season 50, Sesame will focus on life lessons, such as perseverance and stability. Next month, it will also reissue the report that led to "Sesame Street" – 1962's "Joan Ganz Cooney's" The Potential Use of Television in Preschool Education "- not to mention that many of its findings remain prescient during smartphones.