This year marks the 50th anniversary of beloved kids’ TV show Sesame Street, which has grown to reach and teach children and families in more than 150 countries and 70 languages. Truly mind-blowing stuff for a show starring fuzzy muppets.
Ahead of the landmark 50th season beginning on Sunday, Global TV is premiering Sesame Street’s 50th Anniversary Celebration, a star-studded primetime special that offers a sweeping look at 50 years on the street.
(The special, hosted by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, airs Saturday, Nov. 16 at 7 p.m. ET/PT on Global.)
With nearly 5,000 episodes over five decades, there are some things about the show that could come as a surprise to many — even diehard fans.
Here are seven surprising facts you (probably) didn’t know about Sesame Street.
1. Oscar the Grouch used to be orange, not green.
Oscar the Grouch is known for his green fur and cranky attitude, but in 1970, the character was actually orange. His fur changed to his signature green in Season 2. He told everyone on the street that his fur changed colours following his vacation to the very damp Swamp Mushy Muddy.
2. Sesame Street was almost named something else.
Did you know that Sesame Street was almost named 123 Avenue B?
Sesame Street‘s founder, Joan Ganz Cooney, revealed in 1994 that she wanted to call the show 123 Avenue B after the Alphabet City area of the Lower East Side in New York City. Producers decided not to use that name once they realized there was a real location in New York City with that exact address.
3. Big Bird was played by the same person for nearly 50 years.
Caroll Spinney was the first puppeteer to voice Big Bird. He originated the role in 1969 and retired in October 2018 at the age of 84. When Spinney was inside the Big Bird costume, he would wear a harness with a video monitor so he could see what was happening on the outside of Big Bird, according to Sesame Street.
Spinney, who had been on the kids’ show for nearly 50 years, also voiced Oscar the Grouch.
“Big Bird brought me so many places, opened my mind and nurtured my soul,” said Spinney in a statement announcing his retirement. “And I plan to be an ambassador for Sesame Workshop for many years to come. After all, we’re a family! But now it’s time for two performers that I have worked with and respected — and actually hand-picked for the guardianship of Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch — to take my alter-egos into their hands and continue to give them life.
“Before I came to Sesame Street, I didn’t feel like what I was doing was very important,” he continued. “Big Bird helped me find my purpose. Even as I step down from my roles, I feel I will always be Big Bird. And even Oscar, once in a while! They have given me great joy, led me to my true calling and created a lifetime of memories that I will cherish forever.”
4. Rubber Duckie is the only original song from the show to land on the Billboard charts.
Ernie’s Rubber Duckie song debuted in a February 1970 episode of Sesame Street and reached No. 16 on Billboard’s Hot 100 Singles chart. It also earned a Grammy nomination in 1970 for Best Recording for Children but lost to The Sesame Street Book & Record. Who knew that a song about taking a bath could possibly resonate with so many people?
5. Snuffleupagus’ puppeteer performs through a plumbing tube.
Puppeteer Martin P. Robinson performs through an 18-inch plumbing tube that wraps around his head in order to get the nasally voice for Snuffleupagus.
“t the end of the tube is the guts of a microphone,” vocal music director Paul Rudolph told the New York Times. “I would say Martin does 70 per cent of the voice, but having that tube in there adds that little weird snuffle.”
6. Hey, Arnold! appeared on Sesame Street.
Hey, Arnold! debuted on Nickelodeon in October 1996, but Arnold’s character appeared on Sesame Street six years earlier. The Hey, Arnold! short titled Arnold Rides His Chair was commissioned for Sesame Street in 1990.
In the Sesame Street short, a voiceover narrator asks Arnold to demonstrate his imagination. Arnold visits exotic lands without leaving his chair. Who knew?
7. Elmo testified before Congress.
Sesame Street’s Elmo made his first appearance on Capitol Hill before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labour, Health and Human Services and Education in 2002. Along with NAMM-International Music Products Association President and CEO Joe Lamond, the muppet asked for $2 million in federal funding to help make sure every child has access to quality music instruction.
“Please, Congress, help Elmo’s friends find music in them. I love you, Congress,” Elmo said during the testimony.
The landmark 50th season of Sesame Street premieres on Sunday, Nov. 17 at 7:10 a.m. on Treehouse.
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