"Sesame Street" is undeniably prolific, with more than 4,500 episodes, 150 countries reached in 70 languages, and 52 years of production. And yet none of these things—all remarkable accomplishments in their own right—begin to convey the true and vast legacy of the show.
That's because "Sesame Street" can’t just be measured quantitatively (sorry, Count von Count). Its legacy is measured as much by the lessons it taught in kindness and love and grief as it is in the sheer volume of accolades and content it amassed.
It’s in the millions of people—children and adults alike, generations over—whose lives have been affected by the residents of 123 Sesame Street. It’s in every small decision that was made along the way that culminated in groundbreaking and innovative programming, the likes of which could only be outdone by the show itself.
"Sesame Street" began as an attempt to answer one question: Could television be used as a tool to educate all children? Could it transcend socioeconomic barriers, cultural differences, and regional distinctions to become an effective scholastic medium for all? The show proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that the answer to those questions was a resounding yes—and that much more was possible. "Sesame Street" showed the world that the things we may perceive as obstacles such as disabilities, insecurities, or differences are worthy of representation and conversation both on- and off-screen.
Today, as America confronts systemic racism and police brutality, and as protests rage nationwide demanding change in the wake of George Floyd’s death, "Sesame Street" stepped in to help kids begin to make sense of these complex issues. The program partnered with CNN to host an hour-long town hall, providing children and families the space to explore this moment in our country’s history.
The show established itself as a revolutionary force in children’s education and entertainment by thoughtfully developing a curriculum for each season that promotes cognitive, social, and emotional development. Whether a child is counting to 20 or watching a segment about cooperation, "Sesame Street" places just as much importance on empathy and cultural competency as it does on mathematical literacy or vocabulary. Researchers have found a positive correlation between children who watched "Sesame Street" during their preschool years and improved performance in elementary school.
"Sesame Street" moved in 2020 to HBO-Max, kicking off a new five-year contract. It may seem contradictory that a show built on the tenets of equal accessibility for all is now part of a paid, subscription-only service. But prior to HBO’s funding, "Sesame Street" was headed for cancellation, according to Sesame Workshop CEO Jeff Dunn in an interview with the Hollywood Reporter. The show posted $11 million in losses in 2014 alone—highlighting the struggles faced by a prolific program seeking to remain equally accessible for all children. The mission of "Sesame Street" has been unwavering since its inception: to help kids everywhere grow smarter, stronger, and kinder. And while the funding for such a resource has come into doubt, the need for the resource itself has never been in question.
Click through to read about milestone moments from 52 years of "Sesame Street" history.
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