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Saturday, January 05, 2013

Come and Play, Muppets are A-OK!

You know, it's been a really long time since I have done a blog entry solely on Sesame Street. If I remember correctly, the last time I talked about Sesame Street on the blog was when I did that spotlight on the “loaf of bread, container of milk, stick of butter” segment.

Okay, you know what? Let's watch it again!

The truth is that Sesame Street has a history of longevity. Did you know that the show debuted on PBS on November 10, 1969? That means that the show will be celebrating its 44th anniversary in 2013! It seems hard to believe that the show was only twelve years old when I was born. I literally grew up watching that show.

The show was one that was very educational back in the day (and still is to some extent, although it has been years since I have watched an episode). I can remember learning my letters from A-Z, I learned how to count to twelve (though as of the late 1980s/early 1990s, that number has been expanded to include numbers up to 20), and we were all entertained by segments such as the one below.

For 44 years, Sesame Street has welcomed generations of children to the neighbourhood, and we all went through a number of experiences. During the time period in which I watched, a fire nearly burned down 123 Sesame Street, a hurricane blew through Sesame Street (something I found impossible until Hurricane Sandy passed through New York City in October 2012), and the beloved Mr. Hooper passed away, and everyone had to explain what death was to Big Bird.

And, one thing that I liked about Sesame Street was the ingenious way that the show educated kids. They didn't try dumbing themselves down for us to understand the difference between a J and an L...they talked to us in a way that made children feel smarter, and when we got the lesson that they were trying to teach us, we all felt good about it! I still remember being proud of the fact that I could count to ten in Spanish!

(Mind you, that's about the only Spanish that I actually ended up learning, but hey. We all have to start somewhere!)

Now, everyone remembers the Muppets that would appear on each episode of Sesame Street. You ask anyone on the street about their favourite human characters, they may tell you that they liked Maria and Luis, or Gordon and Susan, or even Mr. Hooper.

(My personal favourite was Gina, just in case you were wondering.)

But, if you were to ask people who their favourite Muppets were in Sesame Street, the answers might be a little more varied. There have been hundreds of Muppets that have appeared on Sesame Street over the years, and each one has made an impact on several people.

There's Telly, the triangle-loving red muppet who is best friends with Baby Bear. There's Forgetful Jones, the muppet who forgets everything from his shopping list to the songs that he sings with his beloved Clementine. There's Roosevelt Franklin, Prairie Dawn, Betty Lou, and Hoots the Owl...all characters that I grew up watching (and all characters that current Sesame Street watchers probably don't remember).

And, of course, there's the Yip Yip aliens!

I love those guys.

But, which Sesame Street characters are my all-time favourites? I've made up a list of some of mine, as well as information about when they debuted, a few trivia facts, and some clips of them in action.

Let's start with a character that has been entertaining children since the very beginning of the series.

First Appearance: Episode 1 (November 10, 1969)
Voiced by: Carroll Spinney (understudy: Matt Vogel)

What can you say about Big Bird? He's lived on Sesame Street for over 40 years! He's also larger than the average sized ostrich, and very easy to spot with his bright yellow feathers. He also has a wide array of talents. He can sing, he can roller-skate, he can ice skate, he can dance, and he can even ride a unicycle.

But he's also a bit naïve, and sometimes misunderstands the most basic of concepts. Like with his own interpretation of the alphabet song.

TRIVIA: Carroll Spinney wasn't the original choice for Big Bird's voice. The full-body costume was designed for Muppet creator Jim Henson to fit into, but when costume designer Kermit Love remarked that Henson wasn't moving the way that a bird was supposed to move, Henson decided to forego voicing Big Bird in favour of other characters such as Ernie, and Kermit the Frog. Frank Oz was briefly considered for the role of Big Bird, but since Oz hated working in full-body costumes, he declined. Spinney was eventually hired, but almost left the show in 1970 after reportedly having pay issues! But, in the end, Spinney still remains on the show. Good thing too, because had it not been for Spinney, our next Muppet would cease to exist.

First Appearance: Episode 1 (November 10, 1969)
Voiced by: Carroll Spinney

It must have been a bit difficult for Spinney to perform both the roles of Oscar and Big Bird, especially in scenes in which both appear together! Fortunately, the sound department arranged for Spinney to pre-record Oscar's voice onto a tape, and from there Jim Martin took over the puppet duties for Oscar when Spinney was performing as Big Bird.

TRIVIA: Oscar may not find it easy being green like Kermit the Frog. There's a reason for that. He was originally ORANGE! Don't believe me? Have a look!

I'm not exactly sure why Oscar changed from orange to green, but one explanation that I heard was that the lighting for Sesame Street changed in season two, and this made Oscar's fur appear as a day-glo orange shade which was way too bright for the television screen. So, he was changed to green to combat that. Again, I don't know how much truth there was to that explanation, but to me, it made sense.

By the way, Oscar the Grouch could very well be Sesame Street's original hoarder. Sure, his trash can may seem incredibly tiny, but he has so much junk inside of his can that not even Dr. Robin Zasio could clear it all out in one episode of “Hoarders”. I mean, he has a pet worm named Slimey, an elephant named Fluffy, and he still manages to have space to entertain his girlfriend, Grungetta! I mean, how does he do it!

First Appearance: Episode 276 (November 8, 1971)
Voiced by: Jerry Nelson, Michael Earl, Martin Robinson

Okay, so there was a huge running gag involving Mr. Snuffleupagus. For fourteen years, Big Bird was the only one who ever saw him. Snuffy popped up out of the blue in Big Bird's nest one autumn day, and made friends with the young bird. I actually found Snuffy's first appearance, so have a look.

Thankfully, Snuffy's eyes became a lot less scary as the show progressed.

But it was really frustrating for Big Bird because every time he would try to introduce Snuffy to his friends Gordon, Susan, and Bob, Snuffy would disappear, making Big Bird look like the biggest fool of them all.

It wasn't until 1985 that Snuffy was finally brought onto Sesame Street as more than Big Bird's big secret. With help from Elmo (who was a fairly new character at that time), Big Bird successfully introduced the group to Snuffy, and welcomed him to the neighbourhood with open arms. But the reason why may surprise you.

It was later explained that by kids seeing Big Bird trying to tell the adults of Sesame Street that Snuffy was real and the adults not believing them, it may have sent out the wrong message, citing the example of a story from the news about staff at a daycare center sexually abusing children. So, the decision was made to incorporate Snuffy into the fold so that adults would be more apt to believe children when they had something important to say.

First Appearances: Episode 1 (November 10, 1969)
Voiced by: Jim Henson, Steve Whitmire (Ernie) – Frank Oz, Eric Jacobsen (Bert)

Ernie and Bert have been the subject of some unintended controversy, mainly due to their living situation. They've lived in the same apartment for 44 years and sleep in the same room (albeit in twin beds). This has seemingly been enough proof for some people to believe that Ernie and Bert are a gay couple. Believe it or not, there was even a petition online that demanded that Bert and Ernie get married on Sesame Street! The things people come up with, huh?

I mean, yes, if Ernie and Bert did get married, so be it. More power to them. But, I don't believe that they are this ambiguously gay couple at all. If anything, Ernie is the “Oscar” to Bert's “Felix”. Bert's pigeons clash with Ernie's rubber duckie, and that's what makes their segments fun to watch.

Of course, I liked Ernie slightly better than Bert...mainly because he had better songs.

First Appearance: December 24, 1967
Voiced by: Frank Oz, Eric Jacobsen

You're not reading this incorrectly. Grover is one of two Muppet characters (the other one being Cookie Monster) that pre-date Sesame Street. He actually started on the Christmas Eve, 1967 episode of The Ed Sullivan Show. The only difference was that Grover was instead named “Gleep”, and his fur was a greenish-brown instead of his signature indigo.

I just included Grover in this mix because he was my all time favourite Sesame Street Muppet growing up. I had a soft spot for Super Grover.

First Appearance: November 21, 1972
Voiced by Jerry Nelson, Matt Vogel

The passing of Jerry Nelson in 2012 was a sad one, as it meant that the original voice of the Count was silenced forever. But I must admit, the Count had some very interesting ways in teaching everyone how to count. Whether it be from his bat belfry...

...or his many songs...

...or even the thunder, lightning, and infectious laugh, you could always count on the Count. And now that Matt Vogel has taken over the voice of the Count, we still are able to count on him.

TRIVIA: According to a BBC interview, the Count's favourite number of all time is reportedly 34,969.

First Appearance: 1972
Voiced by: Carroll Spinney, Brian Muehl, Richard Hunt, Kevin Clash*

The star is beside Kevin's name because as of right now, we don't know who will take over ever since that scandal broke out a couple of months ago. I won't bother posting it can just Google it.

Elmo is an interesting case. He first appeared on the show in 1972, but he was just known as “Baby Monster”, back then. He made sporadic appearances between 1972 and 1984 before being made a regular character on the same day that Snuffy was revealed to the Sesame Street humans. Since then, his popularity has exploded. He was given his own “Elmo's World” segment in 1998, and his likeness ended up on one of the biggest selling toys of 1996.

Tickle-Me-Elmo, anyone?

It's hard to say what the future will hold for Elmo. Though, I think that his popularity will still endure. Much to the frustration of Sesame Street traditionalists, Elmo will still be around...even if he may sound like he's going through puberty as a new voice artist takes the reins.

That's all that I have to say about Sesame Street's muppet population. Now, it's your turn. Who are some of your favourite Sesame Street characters? I look forward to hearing from you!

For now, let's end this blog off with a song from Cookie Monster!

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