Freedman, Cooney, Morisett are the pioneers of educational television for children

Schlepping and Schmoozing along Interstate 5: Chapter 8 (Exit 5B: Main Street); sesame place

Proceed east on Main Street for almost five miles and turn right on Heritage Road, go three tenths of a mile to Entertainment Circle, turn right, go three tenths of a mile and turn left to stay on Entertainment Circle, in two-tenths of a mile turn right onto Otay Valley Road, entrance is approximately 350 feet at 2052 Entertainment Circle, Chula Vista.

Jewish TV producer Lewis Freedman’s enthusiasm for raising children led the Jewish mayor of Phoenix’s granddaughter to start the TV show ‘Sesame Street’

Sesame Square conceptual drawing

“Chula Vista” is a Spanish name meaning “Pretty View”, which seems to fit an amusement park based on the famous children’s TV show for promoting cross-cultural relations. Nevertheless, this theme park is called “Sesame Place San Diego”, even though it is located in the suburban town of Chula Vista. The name of the place was obviously chosen to help people from other parts of the United States and international visitors understand the approximate location of the park. A venture between the Children’s Television Workshop and SeaWorld (which has one of its main theme parks in San Diego, located further north on I-5) in 2022 combined Sesame Street-themed rides and costumed characters with 11 retained water-focused experiences from Aquatica San Diego, which had occupied the premises until summer 2021.

Joan Ganz Cooney, 1985 (Photo: Wikipedia)

Joan Ganz Cooney, co-founder of the Children’s Television Network, which produced sesame street for public television, grew up in a mixed religious household. His father, Sylvan Ganz, was the son of Emil Ganz, a German Jewish immigrant businessman and banker, who was elected several times in the late 19and and early 20and century as mayor of Phoenix. Sylvan followed his father into banking, but not into Jewish religious observance, describing himself as an atheist. He married Pauline Reardon, an Irish Catholic, in whose religion Joan was educated as a daughter and as a young woman in Catholic parochial schools and at the Dominican College. However, she decided to quit the all-girls college and instead attended the University of Arizona. In high school and college, Joan was enthusiastic about an acting career, appearing not only in plays but also in amateur productions in Arizona. Her father told her bluntly that he would never support her as an actress, which led her to major at the University of Arizona in education, one of the few careers open to women in the 1950s.

Later, reflecting on her father’s fiat, she commented “I bless him for stopping me” and that she “had a much better life” than if she had spent it auditioning for roles and hoping to find a job on Broadway.

Rather than become a teacher, she went after graduation to Washington DC, where she worked for a year as a clerk/typist, then returned to Phoenix, where she worked as a reporter for the Arizona Republicand later moved to New York, where she worked first as a publicist for the Radio Corporation of America (RCA), later for its television affiliate NBC, and later again as a publicist for US Steel-sponsored television programming. – three jobs that prepared her to become a producer on WNET television, focusing on public policy debates and other adult civic programming.

The idea for Sesame Street germinated during a dinner that she and her first husband Tim Cooney had organized in 1966 in their New York apartment, attended by, among others, Lloyd Morisett, a psychologist, then employed by the Carnegie Corporation. , and television producer Lewis Freedman, his boss at WNDT, sister station to public broadcasting station WNET.

In an interview with the American Television Archive, Cooney recalled that Freedman spoke at that dinner about the great educational potential of television. “He was a beautiful, fascinating man,” she said. “He could have been a revival minister, an Elmer Gantry. He was simply magnificent. He explained that the potential had not been tapped for education on television. Well, something clicked in Lloyd’s mind because Carnegie was funding research into the educational development of children – how they learn.

“He and his wife after 10 years of marriage had two little kids and he noticed there was nothing really planned for them,” Cooney continued. “He had gotten up one morning to find them staring at the test pattern, waiting for something to happen. So, it all kind of came together in his mind: why not do something educational, good, for the kids that will help them cognitively? Lloyd’s and Carnegie’s interests were in cognitive development, that is, “how do children acquire cognitive skills?” » How do they learn to read? How do they learn math? So he called Louis a few days later and asked if he could come to Carnegie and talk, and we did. Lloyd said “maybe we could do a little study for two or three months by having someone walk around and talk to various people about how they would view a TV show to help cognitive development.” Louis said, ‘well that’s a good idea;’ he could certainly conduct this study.

Turns out Cooney did the study. She took time off from her job as a producer and traveled across the United States and Canada, interviewing experts in the field of parenting, and writing a report that became a model for the sesame street series.

Initially, it was thought that WNDT would produce the show, but to his surprise, the station declined the opportunity. She resigned from the station in favor of a full-time position at Carnegie, as executive director of the Children’s Television Workshop. The Public Broadcasting Network was established sesame street in 1969, and the show was an immediate success, winning three Emmy Awards and a Peabody Award in its first season.

Freedman had his own successful career. His four-part series, benjamin franklin, won 12 Emmy Awards for CBS; and his Minutes of the bicentenary in 1976 won an Emmy and a Peabody Award. While working for Channel 13 in New York, he produced game of the weekwith a memorable episode featuring Robert Redford and Jason Robards Jr. as Eugene O’Neill The ice cream man is coming. Its production of The Andersonville Trial for PBS won an Emmy and a Peabody in 1970.

Over time, Joan Ganz Cooney introduced a range of sesame street characters – in association with puppeteer Jim Henson of “Muppet” fame – who have become favorites with children and their parents, and who, as costumed characters, roam the streets of Sesame Place.

So welcome Bert, Ernie, Grover, Cookie Monster, Oscar the Grouch, Big Bird, Count Von Count, Abby Cadabby, Zoe (and her pet Rocco), Rosita and Telly (who loves triangles). Besides the family amusement park rides, with names evoking sesame streetSesame Park San Diego features parades, plenty of character selfie opportunities, and interactive playtime at the Sesame Street Bike Shop and Laundromat, plus an exhibit that gets kids “talking like a freak.” “.


Next Sunday, February 27, 2022: Exit 6 (Palomar Street): South Bay Salt Works

This story is copyright (c) 2022 by Donald H. Harrison, Editor Emeritus of San Diego Jewish World. He can be contacted via

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