NEW YORK (AP) — Lloyd Morrisett, the co-creator of the popular children’s education TV series “Sesame Street,” who used empathy and fuzzy monsters like Abby Cadabby, Elmo, and Cookie Monster to charm and teach generations around the world has died. He was 93.
Morrisett’s death was announced Tuesday by Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit he founded called Children’s Television Workshop. No cause of death was given.
In a statement, Sesame Workshop welcomed Morrisett as one “wise, thoughtful and above all kind leader” who was “constantly thinking about new ways” form.
Morrisett and Joan Ganz Cooney worked with Harvard University developmental psychologist Gerald Lesser to develop the show’s unique teaching approach, which now reaches 120 million children. Legendary puppeteer Jim Henson provided the animals.
“Sesame Street” is shown in more than 150 countries, has won 193 Emmys and 10 Grammys, and received the Kennedy Center Honor for Lifetime Artistic Achievement in 2019, the first time a television show has received the award (Big Bird strolled down the aisle, basically sitting in Tom Hanks’ round).
Morrisett was born in Oklahoma City in 1929 and initially trained as a teacher with a background in psychology. He became an experimental educator and sought new ways to educate children from less privileged backgrounds. Morrisett received his bachelor’s degree from Oberlin College, a degree in psychology from UCLA and a doctorate in experimental psychology from Yale University. He was Oberlin trustee for many years and from 1975 to 1981 chairman of the board.
The germ of “Sesame Street” was sown in 1966 at a dinner party where he met Cooney.
“I said, ‘Joan, do you think television could be used to teach little kids?’ Her response was, ‘I don’t know, but I’d like to talk about it’.” he recalled The Guardian in 2004.
The first episode of “Sesame Street” – sponsored by the letters W, S and E and the numbers 2 and 3 – aired in the fall of 1969. It was a turbulent time in America, rocked by the Vietnam War and raw by the assassination of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. the year before.
The children’s program at that time consisted of shows like “Captain Kangaroo”, “Playroom” and the often violent cartoon skirmishes in between “Tom Jerry.” “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood” mainly the teaching of social skills.
“Sesame Street” was developed by education experts and child psychologists with one goal: to help low-income and minority students, ages 2-5, overcome some of the deficiencies they had when they entered school. Social scientists had long noted that children who were white and came from higher-income families were often better prepared.
The show was set on an urban street with a multicultural cast. Diversity and inclusion were baked into the show. Monsters, humans and animals lived peacefully together.
It was the first children’s program to feature someone with Down syndrome. It had dolls with HIV and in foster care, invited children in wheelchairs, covered issues like incarcerated parents, homelessness, women’s rights, military families and even girls singing about loving their hair.
It introduced the bilingual Rosita in 1991 – the first Latina Muppet. Julia, a 4-year-old Muppet with autism, arrived in 2017 and the show has since provided support for children whose parents are dealing with addiction and recovery, and for children suffering as a result of the Syrian civil war. To help children after 9/11, Elmo was traumatized by a fire at Hooper’s store, but was reassured that the fire department was there to help.
The company said after news of his death that Lloyd had left “An outsized and indelible legacy shared among generations of children around the world, with ‘Sesame Street’ being just the most visible tribute to a lifetime of good work and lasting impact.”
Mark Kennedy can be found at http://twitter.com/KennedyTwits