By Lee Alan Hill
Special to TelevisionWeek
Name any prime-time show, news show, sports show, performer or technician. None has won more Emmy Awards than one of television’s most famous children’s shows, “Sesame Street.” With the eight statuettes it received at this year’s Daytime Emmys, “Sesame Street’s” take now stands at an astounding 109.
“A former executive producer of the show used to say we had to spread the Emmys around the studio so we remember they’re hard to get,” said Carol-Lynn Parente, one of the executive producers of the series.
The accumulation of Emmys for “Sesame Street” is even more impressive when one realizes that the show has won the award for outstanding pre-school children’s series all 12 years that it has been given.
“We’re especially pleased by the many categories we’ve won aside from best series,” said Ms. Parente. “In areas such as music and the technical categories we don’t compete in children’s categories; we compete against all shows.”
“Sesame Street,” which, of course, features a gaggle of puppets that have gone on to their own fame as The Muppets, was developed by the Children’s Television Workshop, which still produces the series though it has changed its own banner to the Sesame Workshop.
“It has deservedly won these Emmys,” said Carolyn Finger, VP of research for TVTracker.com, a Web-based service that provides information for all things television. “‘Sesame Street’ was the first TV show I probably ever watched. I was a member of the first generation of viewers of that show. It’s incredible it is still around, still going strong and still being honored for its continued excellence from a business that can, as we know, be fickle and eager to move on to the next big thing.”
Ms. Parente said that research shows there are now grandparents-albeit demographically young ones-who watched as kids. Meanwhile, she said, teenagers who watched as preschoolers continue to watch because “it remains a cool thing to do.”
She believes the show has remained successful because, “We work hard at it. We are in constant communication with child development experts to make sure our content is servicing our young audience.
“And we have adjusted for the times, not stood still with the concept. You use different pacing today than 10, 20, 30 years ago. Different music. Different images. You use what is best to reach the audience. That’s what continues to drive us: reaching our young audience.”
At this year’s Daytime Emmys ceremony, Caroll Spinney, the puppeteer who plays the trademark “Sesame Street” roles of Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch, was honored with a lifetime achievement award.
Mr. Spinney has been with the series since the pilot, but has stayed “under the radar as an individual,” Ms. Parente said. “Puppeteers are like that. They operate as their characters.”
Ms. Parente herself has been employed by the series for 17 years, beginning as a post-production coordinator, “schlepping tapes.”
Why have so many stayed connected to the show in a business where mobility is the status quo?
“Working on ‘Sesame Street’ makes it hard to consider another job or even want to compete for another job,” Ms. Parente said. “We look at what we do as an awesome responsibility.”