On Monday, April 26th, ABC invites audiences back to their formative years in Sesame Street: 50 Years of Sunny Days. Produced by Time, the two-hour special doesn’t seek to tell the story of how the show came to be the way the recent documentary film Street Gang: How We Got to Sesame Street does, instead focusing on major milestone moments. Including some never-before-seen footage from segments that never aired in the United States, this special isn’t necessarily aimed at families, but adults with an affinity for the show who want to learn more about how it has tackled some big issues throughout it’s five decades on the air.
Kicking off with a new rendition of the show’s theme song performed by Stevie Wonder, Sesame Street: 50 Years of Sunny Days features lots of celebrity commentators in addition to puppeteers and leadership from the Sesame Workshop. Celebrities include Whoopi Goldberg, John Legend and Chrissy Teigen, Lucy Liu, Angelina Jolie, John Oliver, Rosie Perez, Gloria Estefan, Questlove, and Usher. In addition, Dr. Anthony Fauci and Dr. Jill Biden make appearances, particularly to talk about how the show has handled the pandemic and other health crises.
From the start, the goal of Sesame Street was to present diversity amongst its human cast to reach kids regardless of their background. This special highlights many of the ways the show has addressed issues of race, including the controversial character Roosevelt Franklin, the success of Rosita, and new additions Elijah and Wes. Interviewed for this special, Sonia Manzano (Maria) and Carmen Osbarh (voice and puppeteer of Rosita) both talk about how much their roles in the series has meant to them and others they’ve encountered because of it.
The special also tackles many of the show’s failures, in spite of the creator’s best intentions. An episode about divorce was never broadcast in the 1990’s after feedback from a test audience, while segments about a Muppet named Kami produced for the South Africa version of the show were intended to be included in the U.S. Because Kami was a character with HIV, it became a media sensation, falsely representing the character and forcing the company to cancel plans to include her in the U.S. version of the show.
The show similarly talks about the success of Sesame Street worldwide where it isn’t just dubbed in a new language, but localized with new segments. Humanitarian efforts are currently helping the show in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and Jordan to create compassion and care for refugees.
The special breaks the fourth wall, giving viewers a peek behind the camera at the puppeteers that make Ernie, Snuffleupagus, and Julia come to life for children every day on TV. You’ll hear the stories behind each character and why they were created, along with controversies like the perceived sexuality of Bert and Ernie and whether or not the team feels they made the right choice with their claim that they’re just friends.
Sesame Street: 50 Years of Sunny Days is surprisingly not suitable for the show’s target audience, with bleeped out swear words from some of the commentators and showcasing moments that, for various reasons, were deemed unfit for domestic broadcast. The special is mostly a celebration of the show’s original vision and how it has stayed true to its goal throughout five decades, while confusingly showcasing a number of pitfalls over the years. It pats the Sesame Workshop on the back for not being afraid to talk about the serious issues while also pointing out their biggest pitfalls in the midst of what should have been a more joyous celebration.
Sesame Street: 50 Years of Sunny Days airs Monday, April 26th at 8/7c on ABC.