How do most average schmos mark their 40th birthday? They might have some cake, get some crappy novelty gifts like a “40 Isn’t Old If You’re a Tree” t-shirt, and endure a lot of jokes about being over the hill. But Sesame Street is no ordinary schmo. It’s one of the greatest TV shows of the last five centuries, which is why it deserves a big fancy book like the brand-new Sesame Street: A Celebration — Forty Years of Life on the Street by Louise Gikow. That’s a pretty long title, but then, Sesame Street is a pretty long street.
The first thing you’ll notice about this book is that it’s massive. It’s a coffee table book, yeah, but you might just have to get a bigger coffee table to accommodate it. And if you were to hand the book to a small child of Sesame Street-watching age, he would most likely wobble unsteadily for a moment before adorably toppling over. This is a good thing: The bigger a book like this is, the more comprehensive it’s likely to be, and we’ve been waiting for a Sesame book that we can not only sink our teeth into, but devour hungrily, Cookie Monster-style.
The second thing you’ll notice about the book is that the pictures are amazing. Even if you’ve read the previous behind-the-scenes books, seen the various TV specials about the show, and downloaded Muppet Wiki directly into your brain, I guarantee you will come across pictures you’ve never seen before.
It’s just as well the book is too big for me to take on the subway, because I would constantly be disturbing my fellow passengers with exclamations upon seeing all these cool and rare photos. Hey look, it’s Brian Meehl in China, wearing Barkley’s head and feet! Hey look, it’s a promotional shot of the entire Muppet and human cast having a huge party on the “Around the Corner” set! Hey holy crap, it’s a shot of Jim Henson trying on Bert and Frank Oz trying on Ernie at an early workshop session!
The third thing you’ll notice is that the book is equally perfect for the casual fan and the hardcore geek. About half of it is all the expected stuff, like how the show got started, how Maria and Luis got married, yada yada yada. That’s all well and good for most of the book-buying public. But those of us who know how to spell “Snuffleupagus” without looking it up need more, and this book delivers. There are sections about how the set is built, how the music is recorded, the cartoons seen on the show, the various studios the show has occupied… and there are lots of tidbits throughout the book that I never knew: Slimey the worm’s voice is that of sound effects editor Dick Maitland! Caroll Spinney still uses the exact same monitor when performing Big Bird that he used in the first season! Bobby Payne performed Telly in his first appearance! And so on.
And consider the fact that by the halfway point of the book, Sesame camera operator Frank Biondo has already been mentioned, like, eight times. That’s right — cameraman Frank Biondo is a major character in the book, and that is awesome. These shout-outs come during the pages that describe production on recent and yet-to-be-aired episodes, which really make you feel like you’re there. Louise Gikow was a great choice to write this book, as she’s more than just a casual fan, she’s an insider, having worked with the Jim Henson Company and Sesame Workshop on numerous projects.
I was initially a bit disappointed that there wasn’t a 40th anniversary TV special, but now I think this book is actually better. At 300 pages, it can delve into a little bit of everything instead of just showing us the same old boring clip of Ernie singing “Rubber Duckie” again.
As I said, it’s great for both geeks and normal people, and anyone can pick up the book and either read it straight through from beginning to end, or open it to any random page and find something to love. If you get sick of reading, you can stick the bonus DVD in your DVD player and watch the show’s first episode. Sure, you’ve already seen it, but it’s always fun to watch orange Oscar yell at Gordon #1.
So this is a book for anyone, basically, who’s ever heard of Sesame Street. I’m so glad it exists, and from cover to cover, it reminds me how glad I am that Sesame Street exists.
Come back later this week for part two of our interview with this book’s own author Louise Gikow! And click here to give Sesame Street a crappy novelty 40th birthday gift on the Tough Pigs forum!
by Ryan Roe – Ryan@ToughPigs.com