Author: Michael Davis
Title: Street Gang: The Complete History of Sesame Street
Publication Info: New York : Viking, 2009.
The title says “Complete History” but I’d adjust that to read “The Thorough Behind the Scenes History” of Sesame Street. In fact this book contains a lot of pre-history of Sesame Street. It is 100 pages into the book before Davis begins even covering the creation and planning for the series. The first section of the book instead includes in-depth biographies and family histories of key personnel behind the show: co-creator Lloyd Morrisett, Muppet creator Jim Henson, puppeteers Carroll Spinney and Frank Oz, and the star of this book Joan Ganz Cooney, co-creator and executive producer of Sesame Street.
In between the biographies are some chapters on the state of childrens’ television in the 50’s and 60’s, much of it execrable, but a couple of shows are spotlighted – Kukla, Fran, and Ollie and Captain Kangaroo. Both shows inspired Sesame Street and the latter provided a core group of production staff. Following this, there’s about another hundred pages of the actual research and creation of the show before Sesame Street debuts on Nov. 10, 1969 to rave reviews.
All of this back story is well-written and quite fascinating but then the ensuing forty year history of the show feels painted over in broad strokes. Davis highlights some of Sesame Street‘s finer moments in the 70’s and 80’s and the challenges faced in the 90’s when the television executives begin to interfere with the artistic creativity of the writers and performers to encourage marketing in place of education. The last chapters of this book read like an obituary page as the many figures the reader meets in this book decline and die.
Overall this is a well-researched and fascinating book. I found it hard to put down the book even as it veered off into biographical and historical tangents. I just wish the same amount of detail could have been put into describing the history of the show Sesame Street as the viewers saw it.