This column is brought to you by the number 50 and the letter “S.” In case you haven’t heard, it’s the 50th anniversary of “Sesame Street,” the Children’s Television Workshop program that changed children’s viewing forever.
When I was a little girl, my sister Jane and I scampered up North College Street and cut across the API campus somewhere between Samford Hall and Langdon Hall to the student union building. And we made ourselves at home in the lobby where we watched the big black and white TV.
One children’s show we watched regularly starred Cowboy Bob. He was joined by a passel of squirming kids with sugar overload. He showed them a cartoon, an animal documentary and a Western serial. And at the end, each child told his name and got more sugar.
Some days we saw “Howdy Doody” or “Soupy Sales.” But that was about it for children’s shows.
Later, when my family bought a television, we saw “The Mickey Mouse Club” after school; “Father Knows Best,” “Ozzie and Harriet,” “Donna Reed” and “Leave It to Beaver” at night. And on Saturday morning we watched “My Friend Flicka,” “Fury” and “Rin Tin Tin.”
By the time my oldest daughter was born, Captain Kangaroo and his sidekick, Mr. Green Jeans, had a monopoly on kid’s shows. Then slowly but surely new and creative children’s shows started popping up on educational television.
“Mr.Rogers’ Neighborhood” gave children a mixture of realism and fantasy.
Mr. Rogers came in from the outside world and changed into tennis shoes and a sweater. Part of the show featured a postman, a deliveryman and other people you’d find in a neighborhood. Then the toy trolley steamed into the land of make believe where there was a castle, a king, queen and prince.
Another show featured Henrietta Hippo, a singing, dancing cross between Barney the Purple Dinosaur and Miss Piggy. And later came “Zoom” and the “Electric Company” with Letterman and George of the Jungle.
But the best of all was “Sesame Street” starring Jim Henson’s colorful, huggable Muppets. Unlike other children’s shows that were designed for babysitting, “Sesame Street” was as appealing to adults as it was to kids. I looked forward each day to hunkering down on the couch to laugh along with my daughters.
It was fun to watch hard lessons taught the easy way. Ernie and Bert were friends who were forever trying to adjust to living together, learning that you can’t always have your own way if you’re going to get along with a friend.
And now, 50 years later, the Muppets have moved to HBO, and they don’t seem to have aged a bit. They’re just as cute, and they’re still teaching important lessons to another generation of children.
Happy Birthday Kermit and Miss Piggy, Ernie and Bert, Cookie Monster and Big Bird, Elmo, Grover, Oscar the Grouch, Count von Count and Mr. Snuffleupagus. And many more!
Mary Belk lives in Auburn and writes a column for the Opelika-Auburn News.