Can You Tell Me How to Get, How to Get to Sesame Street Old School?

Recently released on DVD is Sesame Street - Old School, Vol. 1 (1969-1974), a compilation of old episodes and segments from the first five years of the venerable and historic children's TV program. Rather than marketing it to current tots, the show's producer (the former Children's Television Workshop, now called Sesame Workshop) and distributor (Sony Wonder, the children's video imprint of media giant Sony) have smartly aimed the set at the nostalgiac yearnings of Gen Xers now in their thirties or early forties. The results are a treasure trove of 1970s kidvid kitsch.

The set features one episode from each of the first five seasons of "Sesame Street"--starting with the premiere episode from fall 1969. Although some evolution in the show is evident across all the episodes featured, the biggest changes come between the premiere and the second season. The fact that Oscar the Grouch was originally orange and that Big Bird's head was originally a tiny little pebble atop his big body have become standard "Sesame Street" trivia (at least among the Gen X set that might be interested in this set). But the premiere episode also shows that later cast mainstays Luis, Maria, and David are not yet residents of Sesame Street, the show's set is laid out somewhat differently than in later years (123 Sesame Street and Hooper's Store are aligned with each other rather than being kiddy-corner--no pun intended--as they later are).

Apart from these cosmetic differences, though, the program exhibits from the beginning a remarkably developed sense of mission and consistent quality of execution. The show's mission was in fact remarkably developed in advance of the premiere episode, exemplified by one of the gems of this DVD set: the "sales" film created by CTW (and featuring "Sesame Street" creator Joan Ganz Cooney) explaining the show to public television executives and station managers. With an introduction by Cooney, the film features Muppets Kermit the Frog and Rowlf the Dog as Rowlf describes the various elements of the show to Kermit in an attempt to convince Kermit that the Muppets should appear on it. The fact that Kermit and Rowlf--two of Jim Henson's characters that predate "Sesame Street"--are the only Muppets to appear (apart from a few of what would later be called "Anything Muppets") has to mean that this sales film was made at an early enough stage that the other Muppets that would appear on "Sesame Street" (Ernie, Bert, Oscar, etc.) had not yet been created.

Also appearing in the sales film are a couple of the filmed segments that would become "Sesame Street"'s bread and butter. These were the little segments (many of them animated) that featured different numbers and letters of the alphabet. In addition to the sales film, a few dozen of these segments are also included on the set's special features, with several from each of the first five seasons. (Three of these are featured in the video links below.) The mix of live "street" segments (with a mix of human actors and Muppets), Muppet "vignettes" (usually without human actors and not on the main street set), animated and live-action filmed segments, and special segments featuring celebrity guest stars was established with the very first episode and remained virtually unchanged for the show's first few decades. Many of the filmed segments and even many of the Muppet vignettes (things like Kermit's "News Flash" bits and the Guy Smiley game show parodies) were reused repeatedly, almost ad nauseum. Several of the segments featured in the last couple of years of this set (originally shown when I was 2 or 3 years old) I remember seeing when I was a "Sesame Street" regular in the late-1970s and early-1980s.

Whether driven to Sesame Street - Old School, Vol. 1 (1969-1974)by an interest in TV history or simply by nostalgiac impulses, the DVD set should offer something of interest.

The Ladybugs' Picnic

My Martian Cutie

Martians & Telephone

(Image source: Amazon; video source: YouTube)

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