A revisionary, religious analysis of a beloved children’s TV show.
Over the course of 46 seasons on the air, the popular PBS (and now HBO) show Sesame Street has imparted gentle lessons about tolerance, patience, and optimism to countless children and given great help to parents and teachers along the way. In this often engaging nonfiction debut, Dreibelbis refers to it as “one of the most significant television programs of all time,” and aims to make the case that the core teachings of Sesame Street map onto those of Christianity with nearly one-to-one fidelity. He takes readers through a lucid, engaging recounting of the show’s origins as the “brainchild” of educational-TV documentary producer Joan Ganz Cooney; her husband, Tim Cooney; and Lloyd Morrisett, the vice president of the Carnegie Corporation. He tells with understated skill how Joan Ganz Cooney learned about Jim Henson and worked to sell him on the idea of lending his talents to the new show. After relating humorous details of the first meeting between the laid-back Henson and corporate network representatives, Dreibelbis quotes a Cooney interview in which she flatly admitted: “We would not be around if not for the Muppets.” All of this makes for a very enjoyable entertainment-industry history along the lines of Michael Davis’ Street Gang: The Complete History of Sesame Street (2008). However, Dreibelbis puts his own spin on the story by overlaying some biblical parallels that might have surprised the Cooneys and their colleagues (such as “There may be a parallel between Doubting Thomas and Sesame Street’s Big Bird and his good friend Snuffleupagus”). At one point, for example, the author unconvincingly links the concept of targeting the show at economically disadvantaged children to a biblical reading that asserts that “Jesus Didn’t Hang Around With the Cool Kids”; he also tries to compare the show’s emphasis on healthy living to dietary discussions in the Book of Daniel, and so on. Readers who come to the book for an anecdote-rich history of their favorite TV show will find it more rewarding reading than those who come to the book looking for religious inspiration.
An earnest but lopsided Christian reading of the birth and growth of Sesame Street.