1929, Phoenix, AZ
Cooney based Sesame Street's fast pace, repetition of segments, and multiple formats on 1960s commercial television shows like "Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In," hoping to bring her educational curriculum to life.
Photos: (left) Corbis; (right) WGBH
She invented fun, educational television for preschoolers -- creating an institution with a measurable, positive impact on millions of children.
Helping Kids Learn
A New York public television producer, Joan Ganz Cooney, founded the innovative Children's Television Workshop (C.T.W.) in 1968, with foundation and government funding. Quickly famous for its flagship program, Sesame Street, C.T.W. filled a void on the airwaves and measurably improved American children's early development.
On Her Way
Joan Ganz was born in 1929 in Phoenix, Arizona. After attending the University of Arizona, she worked in media, first as a newspaper reporter and later as a television publicist. She then became an Emmy award-winning television producer at New York City's PBS station, WNET/Channel 13.
Sweeping the Clouds Away
In the mid-1960s, with television growing rapidly, Cooney saw a need for children's programming. She consulted dozens of educators in order to develop her idea for a daily, hour-long show that couched language and math education in entertainment. Despite discouragement from both her immediate boss and the president of Channel 13, Cooney found backing from the Carnegie and Ford Foundations, and the U.S. Commissioner of Education. She had a year and $8 million to silence the skeptics.
A Diverse Cast
Cooney got to work, hiring a stellar creative team -- including Jim Henson, who created the show's Muppet characters. She also had the foresight to establish a collaborative process with educators and child development researchers to plan the show. Soon, creations like Big Bird, Oscar the Grouch, Cookie Monster and math whiz Count von Count (along with a cast of human characters like Maria and Mr. Hooper) made their debut.
Over 4,000 episodes and 35 years later, Big Bird and company still fascinate millions of children. The multiple-award-winning Sesame Street is a national treasure. C.T.W. (renamed Sesame Workshop) continues to produce it, along with other children's programming. And Cooney's efforts have been recognized with such accolades as the Presidential Medal of Freedom, which she accepted in 1995.