on the Educational
and Social Impact
of Sesame Street
Keith W. Mielke Children's Television Workshop (retired)
From its very conception in 1968 at the Children's Television Workshop (CTW), Sesame Street was to be a different kind of children's television series. Probably the most obvious differences in the beginning were its high production values and the topics it covered. But there were also important and innovative differences behind the scenes, such as in the goals CTW set for itself, and the commitment it made to find out through research if they had been achieved.
The earliest research on Sesame Street's effects was either done in-house at CTW or commissioned by CTW to outside research groups. Later, academic researchers added their work to the pool of evidence about the effects of this series. Collectively, there is now more research on the effects of Sesame Street than for any other television program or series in the entire history of the medium. Only recently, major studies have added the dimension of long-term effects to this body of knowledge (Huston et al., chap. 8, this volume; Wright, Huston, Scantlin, & Kotler, chap. 6, this volume; Zill, chap. 7, this volume). The majority of this chapter, however, focuses on the earlier Sesame Street work that staked the claim, so to speak, that it was possible for television to make a major contribution to the education of young children. The initial research grew directly out of the goals set for the series, so the discussion begins there, with goals.
The most common and general goal for any television series, whether commercial or noncommercial, is to reach the largest possible audience within some target category, such as “women 18 to 39 years of age,” or “children 6 to