Street Gang: The Complete History of Sesame Street, by Michael Davis

Status: Bookseller Picks

It's hard to believe Sesame Street is now 40 years old. When the show had its debut on NET (a predecessor to PBS) in the fall of 1969, it was a bold new experiment no one was quite sure would work. Over a generation later, it's an indelible part of America's cultural landscape. Veteran TV Guide scribe Michael Davis takes readers not just behind the scenes of this children's TV mainstay, but back to the beginning. He traces the roots of the show's core creative team — Joan Ganz Cooney, Jon Stone, Sam Gibbon, Dave Connell, and of course Jim Henson — as well as the evolution of educational children's TV, from Howdy Doody to Ding Dong School to Captain Kangaroo. The show's debut doesn't even occur until halfway through the book, but by taking this approach, the audience gets a clearer understanding of where Sesame Street came from, and the disparate paths that brought its creators together. 


The show's early years are tumultuous, with numerous cast changes and character tweaks (in the first year, Big Bird was quite literally stupid, and Oscar was a sort of rusty orange color) as they fine-tune the format, not to mention behind-the-scenes battles to maintain the show's federal and corporate funding. Later years are marked by numerous departures, including the heartbreaking loss of Will Lee (Mr. Hooper), the painful downward spiral of Northern Calloway (David), and the untimely deaths of Jim Henson, songwriter Joe Raposo, and Muppet performer Richard Hunt. And then, there's Elmo. While I still can't stand the character, Street Gang certainly gave me a greater appreciation for his performer, Kevin Clash, who has taken up Henson's mantle as one of the guiding creative forces behind the show today.


Davis' love for his subject manages to seep from every page without the book coming across as fawning or a puff piece. He certainly doesn't shy away from things unpleasant (as his material on Northern Calloway clearly shows). Street Gang is a fast, entertaining read, and one that will deepen your appreciation for the show which made education fun.


(A chapter on actor Roscoe Orman, the third and longest-running Gordon, is available on the book's website, and will be included in the upcoming trade paperback edition of Street Gang.)

Message Edited by JL_Garner on 08-17-2009 03:12 PM
Categories: entertainment
by Jon_B on ‎08-18-2009 09:13 AM
I've been meaning to grab this one since it came out - thanks for the reminder!
by B&N Bookseller melissas on ‎08-23-2009 02:34 AM
This is a great local interest book for those of us in the Philadelphia area, being right next to the author and Sesame Place.
by B&N Bookseller Meg_K on ‎08-26-2009 09:24 AM
Thanks for highlighting this fun and informative book.  As someone who grew on Sesame Street and is now watching it with my daughter, I found it fascinating to discover the show's origins and the complex geniuses who created it!
by jpjoop on ‎01-20-2010 02:01 PM

I knew Northern many years ago when he used to go AWOL from Ft. Ord to spend the weekend with me in Berkeley.  The real tragedy is that with all his talent he was relegated to a role on Sesame Street.  Although that might seem a lofty goal for many anyone who actually had the pleasure to see him perform has an understanding of why his life ended the way it did.  Perhaps the tragedy was not his life but his relegation to relative back waters.

by B&N Bookseller JL_Garner on ‎01-20-2010 05:13 PM

^I'm glad you had the pleasure of being his friend, and it is a shame that he died without reaching his full potential. I'm not going to debate whether his work on Sesame Street held him back or not; either way, it's a tragedy.


Just FYI to everybody — the paperback edition of Street Gang did not include the new material on Roscoe Orman. It is still available on the website linked above.

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