Seattle area kids — and those who are still kids at heart — are in for a special treat this summer: “Sesame Street” will pop off the TV screen to make a live, three-day stop here on a nationwide road trip to celebrate the PBS show’s 50th anniversary.
Producers Sesame Workshop will tape content for the show, and hold a free, one-day festival during the July 25-27 visit. It’s part of a 10-city tour that stretches from coast to coast this summer.
“We’re excited to be able to go out and engage with the people we’ve touched and impacted as we look back at our past and plan for our future,” said Steve Youngwood, Sesame Workshop president of Media and Education and chief operating officer.
During their three days in Seattle, Sesame Workshop will tape scenes for the show’s 50th season, capturing what kids love about their community. (Producers are still working on the exact locations.)
The family festival, to take place on Saturday, July 27 at a location to be determined, will include a stage show as well as a giant maze, treasure dig, photo opportunities and a milk-and-cookies station.
One of the longest continuous-running shows in television history, “Sesame Street” launched in 1969, with the mission of helping kids become smarter, stronger and kinder. The 50th season will kick off in November with a prime-time special on HBO.
The show is so popular it’s now active in 150 countries with a footprint that continues to grow across television and digital platforms. Characters like Big Bird, Elmo and Oscar the Grouch have become unforgettable parts of pop culture, while legions of other children’s programs have faded from memory. While technology, educational philosophies and kids themselves have changed over the decades, the show has remained relevant by evolving right along with them.
“We try to be innovative and try to take risks and make sure we’re on the relevant platforms and the relevant types of content,” Youngwood said. “We are trying to talk to all kids and make sure they see themselves and can relate to what we’re saying.”
Sesame Workshop expanded the show beyond PBS to HBO and took its web presence to YouTube and other places where children find content in the 21st century. They cut the show’s runtime in half, reflecting today’s shortened attention spans. And they also began to ramp up efforts in communities, interacting directly with schools and organizations, and tried to more accurately reflect members of different communities. For instance, creators added to the show Julia, a Muppet with autism.
“Today’s world, if you’re a brand and you really want to have impact, you need to connect with audiences in different ways,” Youngwood said. “TV is one way and it’s a mass way. But there are so many different outlets engaging kids. Where TV is one-to-many, some of the digital outlets let you do one-to-one so you have more targeted content, which is a lot of what Sesame Street in Communities is. It’s using digital for distribution and asking community organizations to match it with kids who need it.”
For the 50th anniversary celebration, there will be a #ThisIsMyStreet social media campaign that encourages people to share their favorite “Sesame Street” memories. And there will be an expansion of the Sesame Street in Communities initiative, addressing issues like substance abuse and foster care, according to a news release.
“I hope that all the people in Seattle that have been touched by ‘Sesame’ or been inspired by ‘Sesame’ come out and join us,” Youngwood said, “as we look at the past but also get excited for a great future where we hope to truly educate a third, if not a fourth generation of kids.”
Correction: This article has been updated to reflect that the location of the Saturday festival has not yet been chosen. Due to incorrect information provided to The Seattle Times, that information was incorrect in a previous version.