I've been recently reintroduced to the wonders of Sesame Street through my four year old son who saw it for the seemingly FIRST time last week. I refuse to believe that it really is the first time because I believe that getting to know this little utopia of a street, where diversity is celebrated and being smart if fun, is the birthright of every child and for some reason my child stared at Big Bird in confusion when we were flipping through channels. "Wow, that's a funny looking bird", he said. When I asked him what the bird's name was he said, "how would I know?" Yikes! It has now become my personal mission to throne the Sesame Street muppets as the preferred characters in my house. I'm sick of that smug little SpongeBob anyway, with his fancy square pants and pineapple house. This all being said, I started to wonder where the idea of Sesame Street came from? Did some bigwig exec at PBS have a meeting where he said, "I need a show with an infinite amount of marketing opportunities and a lock on the preschool demographic?" I highly doubt it. Today I was reading an article about the roots of Sesame Street and found that the show was the result of a conversation between a Carnegie Foundation exec and a producer. From the article:
"The idea they came up with was kind of radical: If you can sell kids sugared cereal and toys using Madison Avenue techniques, why couldn't you use the same techniques for teaching counting, the alphabet and basic social skills? And it works."
Indeed, as Davis notes in "Street Gang" (Viking), the genesis of Sesame Street was when the 3-year-old daughter of a Carnegie foundation executive was fascinated by television, waking up to watch the broadcast day begin and memorizing commercial jingles. He talked about his daughter with a friend, producer Joan Ganz Cooney. In the liberal ferment of the mid-'60s, both wondered whether educational TV could go beyond the staid classroom shows of the era.
Foundations are perfectly positioned to encourage this kind of innovation. Foundation staff meet with experts from a wide variety of fields and can bring ideas from one sector to another. This foundation exec had the interest in improving children's education and the connections with a producer to ensure that this innovation happened.
How are you expanding your network to make sure that you have the right experts in your network to make the next Sesame Street Happen?