Television: Who's Afraid of Big, Bad TV?

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The human "hosts" are four: a black couple, a bright-eyed Irish tenor and a crusty old man. Each is wholly individual, but like the monsters, they all find that no problem can be solved without cooperation. Four hands, they demonstrate, are better than two. In a series of instructional songs, they show that there is no such thing as solo harmony. The show is unsponsored, but it has commercials­rhythmic breaks in the action to "sell" the alphabet and numbers. Its chief target is "disadvantaged" children, its announced goal the teaching of "recognition of letters, numbers and simple counting ability; beginning reasoning skills, vocabulary and an increased awareness of self and the world." Its originator, Joan Ganz Cooney, now president of the Children's Television Workshop, created a McLuhanesque environment for the show without having read the man because, she admits, "I can't understand his writing." A profusion of aims, a confusion of techniques; how could such a show possibly succeed? Answer: spectacularly well.

Spend a Lot of Money

According to its first report card, prepared by the Educational Testing Service of Princeton, N.J. (TIME, Nov. 16). Sesame Street has been sharpening the cognitive skills of poor kids by as much as 62%. In its first series, the show reached almost 7,000,000 preschool children every day, five days a week. The Rubber Duckie Song was on the charts for nine weeks. Big Bird became one of Flip Wilson's first guests. Sesame Street won a Peabody Award, three Emmys and two dozen other prizes for excellence. Former Commissioner of Education James E. Allen saluted the show: President Nixon wrote a fan letter. Indeed, despite the show's announcements that it has been brought to you "by the Letter Y and the Number Three," Sesame Street has been backed like a Government bond, nurtured like a Broadway musical.

Sesame Street began in February 1966 at a dinner party given by Mrs. Cooney, then a producer for public television in Manhattan. Among the guests was Lloyd N. Morrisett, vice president of the Carnegie Corporation. Recalls Mrs. Cooney: "I was complaining about poor children's programming. Something clicked in Lloyd's mind: TV and preschoolers. Was I interested?" She was, fanatically­and shrewdly. By November, her report was submitted with the recommendation: "Spend a lot of money on this." It was hardly the first occasion that funders had heard such a plea. But it was the first time they had ever met a persuader of Mrs. Cooney's talents. By the time she was through, her Children's Television Workshop had been granted $8,000,000 by the Carnegie Corporation, the Ford Foundation, the U.S. Office of Education, and related Government agencies.


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