Sunday, January 25, 2009

Street Gang by Michael Davis


"If Sesame Street is the most successful show on television, it is also the most analyzed, criticized, evaluated, debated, debunked, championed, viewed with alarm, pointed to with pride, interpreted, misinterpreted, and overinterpreted media event since William Randolph Hearst declared war on Spain:---Ron Powers, television critic for the Chicago Sun-Times, 1970 (one year into the life of "Sesame Street").

Conceived in 1965 by television producer Joan Cooney and experimental psychologist Lloyd Morrisett, and born in 1969, "Sesame Street" became an overnight success after four years of gestation.

In Street Gang, Michael Davis takes us through the entire history of "Sesame Street". From research into how children watch television and learn (short segments, "jingles", colors, animation) to the decision to have Sesame Street, itself, an inner city street, to funding, to hiring everybody both in front of and behind the cameras.

Davis includes small biographies on each of the players as they arrive on the scene. The reader gets to know "Gordon and Susan" (Matt Robinson/Roscoe Orman and Loretta Long), Jim Henson and Frank Oz, Joe Raposo and Jon Stone, and countless other professionals and entertainers who strove to make "Sesame Street" the most innovative children's program on television yet.

Street Gang also gives a bit of background on earlier children's programming..."The Howdy Doody Show", "Kukla, Fran and Ollie" and, possibly most importantly, "Captain Kangaroo".

Writers and producers (including Jon Stone) from "Captain Kangaroo" were involved in the development and production of "Sesame Street". The character of Mr. Hooper (portrayed by Will Lee) was created as homage to Bob Keeshan (Captain Kangaroo). Although, reading through Street Gang, one would think it was actually Oscar the Grouch (brought to life by Caroll Spinney) who was meant to mirror Keeshan.

This is probably the most comprehensive book you will ever read about any television show. Yet, far from being a dry tome, author Michael Davis keeps Street Gang flowing (much like "Sesame Street", itself) with quick moving scenes, so the reader is never bogged down in the details that could easily become tiresome, such as the financial and political wranglings in creating and keeping this show on the air. Davis gives us just enough at just the right time to keep the story flowing.

If you have any doubt about whether you should read Street Gang, pick it up, read the prologue...and then enjoy the rest of the book.

Title: Street Gang
Author: Michael Davis
Publisher: Viking
ISBN: 978-0-670-019960

5 comments:

Staci said...

I adored Captain Kangaroo when I was a kid. We didn't watch to much Sesame Street but when my boys were little they were in love with Elmo...of course. Sounds like a very interesting glimpse behind the scenes. I love these types of books!!

Laza said...

This books sounds so interesting. My roommate loves Sesame Street, I might have to get this for her. How do you find these!

Cathy said...

Here's a little something for you. You deserve it!

The Book Chook said...

I would never have chosen this book, but your review makes it sound great!

Anonymous said...

It is remarkable, rather the helpful information