Voluminous and populous, though patchy history of the “grandest and most ambitious experiment in children’s television.”
Distilling scores of recent interviews, former TV Guide editor Davis spins his tale around two central figures: Joan Ganz Cooney, a founder and longtime CEO of the Children’s Television Workshop; and the inimitable Jim Henson, an inspirational, enigmatic genius whose fuzzy creations are still familiar to nearly everyone who ever sat in front of a television as a child. Both receive heavy, deserved doses of idolization. They didn’t work alone, of course; in fact, the author trots in so many supporting characters—some to play recurring roles, others just for a sound bite or two—that lines or scenes from the show itself seldom elbow their way onstage. No matter: Even behind the scenes there were full measures of comedy (a prank ad campaign pairing Cookie Monster with a brand of kielbasa) and tragedy (Henson’s early death and Northern Calloway’s severe, ultimately fatal, bipolar disorder). Not to mention melodrama, irony, dissipation, brilliance, triumphs over critics and multiple reinventions. Davis is too fond of cute turns of phrase (“in most cases, Muppets marinate before they mature”) and he occasionally repeats anecdotes. Also, he spares barely a glance at Sesame Street’s seldom-better-than-second-rate print spinoffs. Still, there’s plenty to relate about the 40-year-old show. Readers less interested in the puppets than the human cast—and perhaps disinclined to lug around such coffee-table histories as David Borgenicht’s Sesame Street Unpaved (1998) or Louise Gikow’s Sesame Street: A Celebration of Forty Years of Life on the Street (2008)—may be drawn to it.
Somewhat ponderous, but contains enough original material to fill Oscar’s cozy can.