Muppet-mad Sesame Street celebrates 40 years

NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - The following news article was brought to you by the number ‘40’.

Sesame Street characters are seen during the 40th anniversary street naming celebration in New York, November 9, 2009. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

Ever wonder what is the world’s longest street?

It stretches across more than 140 countries and anyone between the ages four and 40 has probably seen it. It is also the home of Big Bird, Oscar the Grouch and Grover.

Any five-year-old in the United States can tell you how to get to Sesame Street, or Rue Sesame in France, Sesamstrasse in Germany, Jalan Sesama in Indonesia or Takalani Sesame in South Africa.

When you get there, wish everyone happy anniversary because the U.S. experiment that started on November 10, 1969 as an attempt to help underprivileged children learn with television has just turned 40.

“When we started out I didn’t know that it would appeal to all these countries. I thought of it as a quintessentially American show,” Sesame Street creator Joan Ganz Cooney told Reuters.

“It was sort of hip and cool and late-60s and The Muppets seemed to me very American, so I was stunned when foreign countries started asking us ... but I loved it ... if we would do Sesame Streets in their country.”

Other nations quickly adopted it, and eventually Sesame Street would stretch from Bangladesh to Brazil, India to Israel, Japan to Jordan and Egypt too.

ABCs AND 123s

A key part of the winning formula for the popular show is the puppet-like characters the Muppets.

“They each have one emotion everybody has and I think that’s why they’re so popular,” said Sonia Manzano, who plays Maria on the show.

Sesame Street has outlasted other top television shows of every generation, from Happy Days and Mash to Magnum P.I. and Friends.

“I think the thing that helped our longevity is the fact that we’re willing to grow and change,” said Loretta Long, who plays Susan on the show and has a doctorate in education.

“We didn’t come up with just one set format and ride it off into the sunset like most TV shows do.”

To mark the 40th anniversary a temporary Sesame Street sign was placed at the corner of Columbus Avenue and West 64th Street in New York. First Lady Michelle Obama will also appear on the show.

“Wow, you know, I do not personally go to every single country but I think it is wonderful that people all over the world have a chance to learn their ABCs and 123s in whatever language,” Grover told reporters.

Grover and his friends will also be co-hosting the television show “Are You Smarter Than A 5th Grader” as part of the anniversary celebrations this week.

Despite the hoopla, not everyone was pleased.

“I’m a grouch, am I supposed to be happy? Well, actually if I get happy it makes me miserable but I love to be miserable so that makes me happy,” Oscar the Grouch told reporters.

Not even meeting Michelle Obama could take the edge off the famously unhygienic grouch.

“She said, ‘Take a bath’,” Oscar said. “I’ve never done that .. Have a rotten day!”

Reporting by Burton Frierson; editing by Patricia Reaney