Sesame Workshop

Sesame Workshop
Sesame Workshop

The 2000-2008 logo
Formation 1968 (as Children's Television Workshop)
Type Non-profit
Headquarters 1 Lincoln Plaza
New York, NY 10023
Location New York City, New York, United States
President and CEO Gary Knell
Key people Joan Ganz Cooney, co-founder
Lloyd Morriset, co-founder

Sesame Workshop, formerly known as the Children's Television Workshop (CTW), is a Worldwide American non-profit organization behind the production of several educational children's programs that have run on public broadcasting around the world (including PBS in the United States). Sesame Workshop was instrumental in the establishment of education children's television in the 1960s, and continues to provide grants for educational children's programming four decades later. Joan Ganz Cooney and Lloyd Morrisett were the original founders, with the intention of producing a revolutionary television series based on cutting-edge research into childhood learning. The result was Sesame Street, a landmark program which has been reproduced in countries around the world.

Although it was originally funded by the Carnegie Corporation and the United States Office of Education, the majority of the Workshop's funding is now earned through licensing the use of their characters to a variety of corporations to use for books, toys, and other products marketed toward children. This ensures that the Workshop has reliable access to funding for its programming without depending on unpredictable grants.



Founded by Joan Ganz Cooney and Lloyd Morrisett in 1968 to produce Sesame Street, the company, currently run by President and CEO Gary E. Knell, has since produced many other shows and a variety of multimedia content. The CTW name was officially changed to Sesame Workshop on New Years Day 2000 to reflect the company's reach into new media and capitalize on the worldwide recognition provided by the Sesame Street name (although Sesame Street continued to use the CTW name until April 2000).

Gathering talent for Sesame Street

Moving to Carnegie Corporation of New York, the grant-issuing foundation, to act and advise independent of what is now WNET, Cooney began laying the groundwork for the Children's Television Workshop. Carnegie hired Linda Gotley to help Cooney write the proposal. Barbara Finberg and Lloyd Morrisett, program officers at Carnegie would regularly react as funders, every few days trying to find holes in the proposal. During these days, segments like "One of these things is not like the others" were established.

Despite the insistence of the US Office of Education that there was no money to fund the project, Howe persisted, and insisted the project be classified as a research project. Ford joined funding, as did the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which was being established just as Sesame Street was. Between those organizations and Carnegie, US$8 million was raised to create a semi-autonomous organization. This organization was established to become completely separate, should they succeed.

At a press conference in March 1968, the Children's Television Workshop and Sesame Street were announced. Jack Gould, television critic for The New York Times, gave the project front page space. "If you had Jack Gould in your corner, you could not believe what it meant," said Cooney decades later.[1]

With Cooney, an assistant, and a secretary, CTW began production on the show. Cooney tried to talk George DeSarde of WCBS-TV to come to CTW as producer of the series. Within a few days of being graciously declined by DeSarde, Cooney received a letter from Mike Dann of CBS, who eagerly wanted to join as an executive producer.[1] Dann and Fred Silverman decided Cooney should try to get David Connell as a producer.

Connell had recently left Captain Kangaroo, and started his own company in an attempt to get out of the kids' TV industry. After four meetings, Cooney talked Connell into signing on, after being assured creative freedom and no micromanagement on Cooney's part. Connell insisted on a few "non-negotiables". First, he wanted to include four hosts, both black and white, male and female, none of whom would ever "own the show", as Bob Keeshan "owned" Captain Kangaroo, or Fred Rogers "owned" Mister Rogers' Neighborhood. He also wanted "commercials" to promote letters of the alphabet, like this one for example [2]. Perhaps most importantly, Connell wanted a guarantee that education and entertainment would never be separate elements of the program.

While attracting Connell, Cooney received a call from Lou Hausman, who worked for the Commissioner of Education; he suggested Jon Stone, also from Captain Kangaroo, a producer who had retired to Vermont, though no more than 35 at the time. Stone came to New York to speak with Cooney, but declined the opportunity to be an executive in the production. Stone wanted to be a producer, reporting to Cooney; Cooney suggested such an organization structure would only create "madness". Stone and Connell had a history of disputes, which were smoothed out, after the two re-met. Sam Gibbon, CTW's third alumni, had also initially declined joining any children's programming. According to Cooney, the day after Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated, Gibbon called her to say "if you still want me, I'm yours." He was primarily involved with integrating curriculum into the series.

Edith Sornow, who was not yet the film producer for Sesame Street, called Cooney, asking her to come to the Johnny Victor Theatre to see a reel of commercials by Jim Henson. Cooney had heard of Henson before then, but never actually seen his work; the commercial had not aired in New York, and she had never tuned into The Ed Sullivan Show when his Muppets appeared. After "almost falling on the floor laughing," she was open to getting him to sign on, but was doubtful he'd agree. Jon Stone, who'd worked with Henson on ABC television special Hey, Cinderella!, discussed the idea with a reluctant Jim.

Gerald S. Lesser of Harvard became the head of CTW's board of academic advisors, and later brought in the Educational Testing Service.[3]

Establishing curriculum

The Department of Education and other funders had decided they wanted to study children's comprehension of topics before and after watching Sesame Street. Lesser set up four two-and-a-half-day seminars over the summer with producers, meeting to establish what was important to teach children. The session topics were: on perception, reasoning skills, pre-reading and pre-math, and "affective skills", the period's term for emotional skills.

Cooney remembered seeing a leather-coated Jim Henson come into one of the seminars at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, and becoming worried by his appearance that he was one of the Weathermen. Her concern was heightened due to the recent event of a building in Greenwich Village having been blown up by Weathermen. Cooney whispered her fears to Connell, who reassured her. Once Cooney and Jim met, Cooney says they automatically clicked. Jim much preferred general family audiences, but Cooney was able to allay Jim's fears of being "ghettoized" into children television. Joe Raposo, who worked with Henson and Stone before, was added soon after.

When the Corporation for Public Broadcasting signed on to sponsor the program, the organization's chairperson was Frank Pace. Pace warned strongly against the broad curriculum Sesame Street aimed to teach. "Pick only a few goals, and accomplish them. Don't try and do too much; show... only three or four or five goals," Pace told Cooney and Connell.

Early investments

Knowing that government funding would not last forever, the Ford Foundation helped CTW start investing. The company bought into small cable systems in Akron, Ohio, Hawaii, and another location, worthwhile investments, according to Cooney. Not as worthwhile was 1977 Emmy Award winning mini-series The Best of Families. While Noble and The Corporation for Public Broadcasting each chipped in money, the Workshop came up $1 million short. Too late to turn around, it was forced to fund the miniseries with Ford Foundation money meant for Sesame Street.

International growth

In 1970, Mike Dann finally came to the Children's Television Workshop from CBS, in the capacity of international sales. He called the CTW "one of the most important breakthroughs in the history of media".[4]


In the 1980s, CTW created a series of video games under the name of Children's Computer Workshop, including Cookie Monster Munch and Alpha Beam with Ernie. Today the company also publishes Sesame Street Magazine in cooperation with Time Inc.'s Parenting magazine. At one time it also published The Electric Company, Kid City, 3-2-1 Contact (later Contact Kids), and Sesame Street Parents magazines.

In August 1997, Fox Family started efforts to increase its quantity and quality of children's entertainment, "which could lead to an equity investment by Fox in the non-profit CTW in exchange for programs for its Family Channel." Nothing ever materialised.[5]

In 1999, CTW partnered in a joint venture with Viacom's Nickelodeon to launch Noggin, a 24-hour cable channel aimed at 6-13 year olds; Viacom's MTV Networks division (which also operates Nickelodeon) operated the channel with CTW and MTV Networks jointly owning Noggin. In 2002, low ratings in part prompted the now-renamed Sesame Workshop to pull out and sell its interest in Noggin to Viacom. As a result, most of the Sesame Workshop-produced series carried by the channel were dropped. Noggin soon after became a timeshare service (in the same vein as Nickelodeon is by carrying Nick at Nite over the same channel space) starting the teen-oriented The N that fall, which became a separate channel from Noggin on December 31, 2007 with Noggin becoming a 24-hour channel for preschoolers; the Noggin channel was rebranded Nick Jr. on September 28, 2009.

Although Sesame Workshop is occasionally confused with PBS,[citation needed] Sesame Workshop is an entirely separate and independent organization. Some Workshop programs are broadcast on PBS, and although PBS provides some funding for those programs, the money received covers only a fraction of production costs. Other financial support comes from individual donors, charitable foundations, corporations, government agencies, program sales and licensed products. Sesame Workshop grants licenses to various manufacturers who create toys, apparel and other products featuring Sesame Street characters, and Sesame Workshop receives a portion of the proceeds.

On March 12, 2009, Sesame Workshop announced that it had planned to cut 20% of its workforce due to the recession.[6]

On October 15, 2009, Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. announced a distribution deal for the Sesame Street library, including new and old titles. They plan to release 10 titles a year starting in 2010 with Elmo's World: Let's Play Music on February 2, 2010, Elmo's Rainbow and Other Springtime Stories on March 9, 2010, Bert and Ernie's Great Adventures on April 6, 2010, The Best of Elmo 2 on May 4, 2010, Firefly Fun and Buggy Buddies on June 1, 2010, Preschool is Cool!: ABCs with Elmo on July 6, 2010, P is for Princess on August 3, 2010, Preschool is Cool!: Counting with Elmo on September 14, 2010, Iron Monster and Other Sesame Heroes on October 5, 2010, and C is for Cookie Monster on October 19, 2010, but none were released from Warner Bros. for the remainder of 2009.

Notable persons at Sesame Workshop

  • Gary E. Knell, President, CEO
  • Jerald Harvey, Senior Adviser
  • Joan Ganz Cooney, Co Founder
  • Lloyd Morrisett, Co Founder
  • Franklin Getchell, Executive Vice President
  • Nina Elias-Bamberger, Chief Executive Officer
  • Majorie Kalins, Series Administrative Officer
  • H. Melvin Ming, Chief Operating Officer
  • Susan Kolar, Executive Vice President, Chief Administrative Officer
  • Dr. Lewis Bernstein, Executive Vice President, Education, Research and Outreach
  • Carol-Lynn Parente, Executive Producer of Sesame Street
  • Terry Fitzpatrick, Executive Vice President, Distribution
  • Daniel J. Victor, Executive Vice President, International
  • Maura Regan, Vice President and General Manager, Global Consumer Products
  • Sherrie Westin, Executive Vice President and Chief Marketing Office
  • Myung Kang-Haneke, Vice President, General Counsel
  • Hillary Rodham Clinton, former director, board member
  • David C. Cole, former director[7]


Television series

Films, telefilms, specials and miniseries

Sesame Street Muppets have appeared in cameos in various feature films, including The Muppet Movie (1979), The Great Muppet Caper (1981), The Muppets Take Manhattan (1984), Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian (2009), and The Muppets (2011). These productions, however, were not produced by Sesame Workshop.

Sesame Street ABC's Videos

  • Sesame Street - Letter A: Big Bird Adventures (Video Tape 02)
  • Sesame Street - Letter B: Zoe and the Runaway Ball (Video Tape 04)
  • Sesame Street - Letter C: C is for Cookie (Video Tape 06)
  • Sesame Street - Letter D: Diddly Diddly D! (Video Tape 08)
  • Sesame Street - Letter E: Easels for Everyone (Video Tape 10)


Current licensees include Procter & Gamble (Pampers diapers), Fisher-Price, Nakajima USA, Build-A-Bear Workshop (Build-An-Elmo, Build-A-Cookie Monster, And Build-A-Big Bird), GUND, Hasbro (Sesame Street Monopoly), Wooly Willy, Betty Crocker (Elmo Fruit Snacks), C&D Visionary (air freshners) and Children's Apparel Network. Former licences include Applause, Child Dimension, Gibson Greetings, Gorham Fine China, Ideal Toys, Milton Bradley Company, Nintendo, Palisades Toys, Questor, Radio Shack, Tyco, and the Western Publishing Company. Creative Wonders (a partnership between ABC and Electronic Arts) produced Sesame Street software for the Macintosh, since at least 1995 and on the PC since 1996; Atari produced Sesame Street games in 1983. Before going bankrupt, Palisades Toys was to release a line of deluxe series action figures, for adults, as part of Sesame Workshop's push to expand into retro products for teens and adults. Only a Super Grover figure was distributed to conventioneers.

The Sesame Beginnings line, launched in mid-2005, consists of apparel, health and body, home, and seasonal products.[11] The products in this line are designed to accentuate the natural interactivity between infants and their parents. Most of the line is exclusive to a family of Canadian retailers that includes Loblaws, Fortinos, and Zehrs.

As a non-profit organization, a percentage of the money from any Sesame Workshop product goes to help fund Sesame Street or its international co-productions.[12]

Barrio Sésamo, Plaza Sésamo, Sesamstraße, Sesame English and Sesamstraat have all had merchandise of their local characters. Shalom Sesame videos and books have also been released.

In 2004, Copyright Promotions Licensing Group (CPLG) became Sesame Workshop's licensing representative for The Benelux,[13] adding to their United Kingdom representation.[14]


Tickle Me Elmo was one of the fastest selling toys of the 1996 season. That product line was and still is one of the most successful products Mattel has ever launched. Both it and its most notable successor, TMX, have caused in-store fights, because Elmo starred in a Christmas special that year, in which he wished every day of the year was Christmas.[15]

After Fisher-Price recalled a large number of Sesame Street brand toys (among multiple licenses) in 2007,[16] Sesame Workshop announced that they would independently inspect the products of all manufacturers. It went so far as to threaten withdrawing entirely from toy licensing, if it were not satisfied with the manufacturer's guarantees.[17]


Its fiction books are published on five continents, primarily by Random House in North America. Over 18 million Sesame Street books and magazines were purchased in 2005.[18] The books often mention that children do not have to watch the show to benefit from its publications.

Public service campaigns

Characters are also used to endorse safety and educational causes. Big Bird has promoted safe seating practices and the wearing of seatbelts, for the Ford Motor Company,[19] while Grover promoted a new course on children's informal learning, created by Harvard University with Sesame Workshop.[20] Elmo has appeared before the US Education Appropriations Subcommittee to urge more spending on music in schools.[21]

Live performances

In 1975, ice-skating show Sesame Street on Ice presented costumed actors and dancers as touring casts, each performing a unique-multi-million dollar budget ice show. Sesame Street on Ice ran from 1975-1980.

Live touring show Sesame Street Live presents costumed actors and dancers as characters from the series, in original plots. In recent years, VEE has had four touring casts, each performing a unique multi-million dollar budget show. Each season, the tours reach 160 different cities across North America, reaching 2 million people annually. Since the first production of Sesame Street Live on September 17, 1980, 48 million children and their parents have seen the show performed, across the world.[22]

Theme park

Busch Entertainment Corporation (BEC) is the license holder for Sesame Street in its U.S. amusement parks including a completely Sesame Street themed park, Sesame Place, in Langhorne, Pennsylvania, United States. BEC also has a stage show at SeaWorld Orlando Elmo and the Bookaneers. In 2009 Busch Entertainment's Busch Gardens Europe, located in Williamsburg, Virginia, opened "Sesame Street Forest of Fun" with plans to open "Sesame Street Safari of Fun" at its Busch Gardens Tampa Bay park in Tampa, Florida for the 2010 operating season.

Monterrey, Mexico based Parque Plaza Sésamo uses Sesame Street characters as does Universal Studios Japan in a three-dimensional movie based on the show.


  1. ^ a b "Archive of American Television Interview with Joan Ganz Cooney", an interview by Shirley Wershba for the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Foundation.
  2. ^
  3. ^ Fox, Margalit. "Gerald S. Lesser, Shaper of ‘Sesame Street,’ Dies at 84", The New York Times, October 4, 2010. Accessed October 4, 2010.
  4. ^ Lesser, Gerald S. (1975). Children and Television: Lessons from Sesame Street. New York: Random House. p. 36. ISBN 0-394-71448-2. 
  5. ^ Ross, Chuck (August 11, 1997). "Fox eyes linkup with CTW to boost its kids offerings". Advertising Age. , accessed through EBSCOhost.
  6. ^ "1, 2, 3 ... Sesame Street jobs go", The Age (Australia), March 12, 2009
  7. ^ Shira P. White (2002). G. Patton Wright. ed. New ideas about new ideas: insights on creativity from the world's leading innovators. Basic Books. ISBN 9780738205359. 
  8. ^ [1] - Sesame Workshop
  9. ^ "Munchin: Impossible Cookie Monster’s Tastes Get Shaken, and Stirred" - Sesame Workshop
  10. ^ "Elmo's Backyard" - Sesame Workshop
  11. ^ "Loblaws and Sesame Workshop Introduce Exclusive Line of Sesame Beginnings and Sesame Street Products to Canada". Sesame Workshop Press Release. April 20, 2005. Retrieved 2009-10-22. 
  12. ^ 40 Things You Didn't Know About Sesame Street, Sesame Workshop Press Release, 2009,, retrieved 2009-10-22 
  14. ^ Previously The Licensing Company Ltd. held the British rights to Sesame Street. Its licensees included Reed Books Children's Publishing for books. ("Reed to publish Sesame Street Books in the UK". Publishers Weekly. April 28, 1997. )
  15. ^ Gliatto, Tom (December 23, 1996). "Elmo Saves Christmas". People. , accessed in EBSCOhost.
  16. ^ Fisher-Price Recalls Licensed Character Toys Due To Lead Poisoning Hazard!
  17. ^ "Elmos to get 'Sesame St.' testing". Daily News (New York). September 21, 2007. 
  18. ^ Sesame Workshop: Sesame Street Season 37 Press Kit
  19. ^ Bryant, Thomas L. (July 1997). "Big Bird and Ford". Road & Track. Retrieved 2006-03-02. , accessed through EBSCOhost.
  20. ^ Viadero, Debra (March 2, 2005). "Grover Promotes Harvard Course". Education Week. p. 6. Retrieved 2006-03-02.  The course itself was developed by professor Joseph Blatt, who told Education Week "it focuses on how to harness the positive power of the media to improve children's health, particularly problems that stem from alarming levels of obesity among youngsters nationwide." Guests to the course include Sesame Workshop staff. Students are required to pitch media projects to promote healthy behaviors among 6- to 9-year-olds to Sesame executives at the end of the course.
  21. ^ Bruce Morton, "Mr. Elmo goes to Washington". Atlanta, GA: CNN, April 24, 2002. The characters of Sesame Street have a major presence in Washington. President Bill Clinton's 1997 inaugural guests included Elmo. (Roberts, Roxanne (January 13, 1997). "For inauguration celebration, a group of diverse diversions". Washington Post. , through EBSCOhost.)
  22. ^ Sesame Street Live Press Kit, Minneapolis MN: Vee Corporation, 2004.

Further reading

External links

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