Sesame Street has become one of the most important and enduring television programs in American history, but there was a time, back in the mid-1960s when it was just a concept—and a bold one.
“The goal and plan was to reach children that were being underserved within education due to poverty and racism,” noted Ellen Scherer Crafts, producer of the HBO documentary Street Gang: How We Got to Sesame Street, during its panel at Deadline’s Contenders Film: Documentary awards-season event. “The goal was to educate all children.”
The film examines the key figures who took the show from concept to reality, including creators Joan Ganz Cooney and Lloyd Morrisett, and other vital contributors like Jim Henson, whose Muppets delighted the young target audience, and composer Joe Raposo, who wrote the title theme song, as well as “Bein’ Green” and countless others.
“Some of the most beautiful quotes in the film, I think, come from Joe when he’s sitting at the piano and he’s talking about… what does Sesame Street mean to all of us and what’s the core of it?” producer Trevor Crafts said. “There’s footage that we have that’s never been seen… You see the sense of family and love that there is between these people, and we’ve never really gotten a chance to see that sort of behind the scenes look at this time of Sesame Street in depth before.”
Jon Stone, Sesame Street’s longtime director and the creative force behind so much of what made the show what it is (including the idea to make the set evoke a brownstone-lined Harlem street), frequently gets overlooked in conversations about Sesame Street, but in Street Gang he finally gets his due.
“Making Jon Stone the emotional center of this piece was so important to us because this guy is like the unsung hero of children’s television,” director Marilyn Agrelo said. “What he did is almost incalculable.”
Check back Tuesday for the panel video.