Today marks the 40th anniversary of some of the most iconic characters on television: the Muppets who call Sesame Street home. Combining education with sheer delight, Big Bird, Elmo, Ernie and the gang have made learning the ABCs and 123s fun for generations now.
To celebrate their big 4-0, the team at Hulu asked our friends at Sesame Street to pick some of their favorite clips from over the years. The collection features everything from Norah Jones singing “Don’t Know Why” to bits I remember from my childhood, like “Grover and a Fly in My Soup.”
Hulu had the chance to speak to Carol-Lynn Parente, executive producer for Sesame Street, last week as the show ramped up for its Season 40 premiere. The 21-year veteran of the show basically grew up with the likes of Grover and Kermit the Frog, and today, she guides the creative vision for the show. So what’s it like working with a bunch of a bunch of puppets? She tells us all about it below. — Rebecca Harper (firstname.lastname@example.org), Editor
Hulu: One of my favorite things about Sesame Street is the timelessness of certain segments. Have certain ones proven to be consistently popular through the years?
Sesame Street’s Carol-Lynn Parente: One of the things about the show is that not only do we have a lot of history with different segments, but different characters. Each one has kind of its own cult following. It kind of depends on who you’re talking to in terms of what’s popular, but we have a pretty good, consistent appeal across the board.
You’ve had a ton of celebrity guests over the years.
Yeah, it’s sort of a who’s-who of celebrities, the ultimate list. Season 40 is particularly star-studded with everyone from Sarah Jessica Parker to Cameron Diaz and Adam Sandler and Ricky Gervais and Kobe Bryant and Eva Longoria [Parker]. We’re just very fortunate in that we get lots of requests from celebrities, so we don’t really have to go after these guys — they come to us. We try really hard to fit as many of them in as we can, which is so much fun.
How do those sketches work? Do they come up with ideas?
It’s different with everyone. A lot of time, what we do is wait until we have the booking, and then we assign a writer to a project. Sometimes there’s something that we’re parodying about some project that they’re in. Occasionally they want to get involved in collaborating. So Ricky Gervais this year actually wrote his piece, the song that he’s in. It’s really a lot of fun when the celebrities get into it.
What’s it like working with the characters?
Wow, I’m probably the luckiest person on Earth, because I get to come to work with Big Bird and Cookie Monster and Elmo every day. Not everyone can say that. You know, aside from just having a whole lot of fun, these performers are really the best in the business. The show attracts the best in the business across the board, from writers to directors, too. But the performers are real artists, because they’re making characters and emotion out of just these very simple felt and fur puppets.
Do you have as much fun off camera as you do onscreen?
You know, we really do. I think that’s the reason this show is so much fun to watch. There is just as much fun if not more on the set. These guys are really amazing performers. Our outtake reel at the wrap party is an awful lot of fun.
How do you come up with new ideas for the show?
We’re lucky because we have amazing writers. The model of Sesame Street is unique. Part of the foundation of the show from the very beginning was that writers work with producers and researchers, all in tandem. That’s how we get not only really funny scripts — because we have very funny writers — but also educational ones, because they’re working every step along the way with researchers.
The show has seen some of its cast and extras grow up on the set. Do any of them come back to visit?
They do. It’s sometimes just a very small world. We had a crew member that came by, just a rotating crew member — you know, you sometimes need someone to fill in for someone who’s out — and he was actually on the show when he was a kid. We’ve had a press reporter that also came on the show and was one of the extra kids back in the ’70s. It’s very surreal for them to be back on the set.
What’s in store for Season 40?
What’s amazing about Season 40 is that it’s really a complete format change. The show has gone through evolution over 40 years — I think that’s the secret to its success; that it’s kept up with the times and made changes, really, because it’s a real neighborhood. And just as those real neighborhoods that the show was modeled after have changed, so has the show.
The show format was modeled after variety-type show like Laugh-In, in a very magazine-like format, that’s not the case anymore. In fact, now there are entire networks devoted to preschool programming. We’re an hour-long show, which is a long time for preschoolers, and that’s unique in the preschool programming world. We decided to think of our hour as a block. It’s formatted that way so we have four anchor shows within our hour, and a brand-new show as part that block is Abby’s Flying School with Abby Cadabby, who’s taken the form of 3-D CGI, and so she will appear in the show in puppet form, but she has her own format, this show within a show. It’s really part of that evolution of what kids are watching, what they’re used to watching, that style of graphics animation. And it allows us to be more physical than we can be with puppets, which is great.
Thanks, Carol-Lynn! Good luck with the 40th season.
Think our collection is missing a shining Sesame Street moment? Tell us which in the comments section. We’ll include some of our favorites in a brand-new collection.