To mark show’s 50th anniversary, ‘Sesame Street’ producer adds episodes to pubcasting archive

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A cast photo from the first season of "Sesame Street." Oscar the Grouch, seen under Bob's arm, was originally orange before being remade as a green puppet for the second season. Bert, Ernie and Big Bird were already major characters. Grover and Cookie Monster were far less developed and less differentiated from other blue monster Muppets.

Sesame Workshop has donated 381 digitized episodes of Sesame Street to the American Archive of Public Broadcasting, the first delivery in a yearlong process that will make nearly 4,500 episodes from the first 49 seasons available to the public in perpetuity.

Episodes to be preserved in the archives include scenes such as “Farewell, Mr. Hooper,” in which Big Bird learns about death; Ernie singing “Rubber Duckie, You’re the One” which made it on the Billboard charts in 1970; and Cookie Monster playing “Alistair Cookie,” host of Monsterpiece Theater.

The donation, which will ultimately include all episodes, is part of the celebration to mark the 50th anniversary of Sesame Street’s 1969 premiere.

Sesame Street has been part of the bedrock of public broadcasting for five decades, helping millions of children and families learn and grow together,” Jodi Nussbaum, the Workshop’s VP, special project production, told Current. “As we look ahead to our next 50 years, we want future generations to be able to enjoy Sesame Street’s beloved characters and timeless lessons for many, many years to come.”

Starting in six weeks, the public can view the Sesame Street collection at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., and by appointment at WGBH in Boston, according to an announcement Thursday. AAPB, originally seed-funded by CPB, is now a collaboration between the two organizations.

Sesame Street co-founder Lloyd Morrisett, also a member of the AAPB Executive Advisory Council, said in the announcement that the program “changed the landscape of children’s media at a time when television was viewed as a ‘vast wasteland’ and transformed a medium that strongly appealed to children into a source for knowledge and social development for our youngest citizens.”

The program on PBS “was the first TV show to address big issues like poverty, family and the environment in a way that children could understand,” said Kathryn Ostrofsky, author of the upcoming Sounding It Out: How Sesame Street Crafted American Culture. “Early episodes of Sesame Street provide a window into the pressing issues of the times, as well as changing views about education.”

The archive has preserved over 90,000 public broadcasting audio and video materials in nearly five years of work. Collections include more than 8,000 episodes of NewsHour dating to 1975, some 1,300 programs from PBS predecessor National Educational Television, and unedited interviews from acclaimed documentaries such as Eyes on the Prize.

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