Lloyd Morrisett, the co-creator of Sesame Street, the educational TV show watched by millions of children around the world, has died aged 93.
Morrisett’s death was first announced on Tuesday by Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit he helped co-found as Children’s Television Workshop. No cause of death was given.
Born in 1929 in Oklahoma City, Morrisett initially trained as a teacher with a background in psychology. He became an experimental educator, seeking new ways to educate children from less privileged backgrounds through his work at Carnegie Corporation, a philanthropic foundation that focuses on education.
It was while working there that he teamed up with public television producer Joan Ganz Cooney to eventually form the Children’s Television Workshop, with the idea of making educational programs for children.
Its first show, Sesame Street, debuted in November 1969 and reached more than half of the 12 million three- to five-year-olds in the United States by the end of its first season. Sesame Street is now the world’s largest source of informal education, reaching millions of children in more than 140 countries each year and winning nearly 200 Emmys.
Morrisett would later recall the inspirational moment behind it: waking up early one morning in 1965 to find his then three-year-old daughter, Sarah, mesmerized by a station-identifying message on television while waiting for the drawings. animated begin. At a dinner party in 1966, he met Cooney and told him about it.
“There was something fascinating about it,” he said in a 2004 interview. I did not know. I said, ‘Joan, do you think television could be used to teach young children?’ His response was, “I don’t know, but I’d like to talk about it.”
“Sarah Morrisett had a whole repertoire of TV jingles memorized,” author Michael Davis wrote of the moment in his book Street Gang: The Complete History of Sesame Street. “It’s no exaggeration to say that Sarah’s mastery of jingles led to a central hypothesis of the grand experiment we know as Sesame Street: if television could successfully teach lyrics and music to commercials. , couldn’t she teach the children more? substantial material by co-opting the very elements that made the ads so effective? »
Cooney spent months traveling across the United States, interviewing teachers, child psychologists, development experts and television producers for a study called The Potential Uses of Television in Early Childhood Education. At the time, half of the nation’s school districts had no kindergartens.
“More households have televisions than bathtubs, telephones, vacuum cleaners, toasters or a regular daily newspaper,” Cooney wrote in the study, which was funded by Carnegie Corporation, where Morrisett worked at the time. .
Morrisett convinced his superiors at Carnegie to invest $1 million in Sesame Street and picked up another $4 million from the U.S. Office of Education and $1.5 million from the Ford Foundation. As commercial broadcasters refused to air the show commercial-free, Morrisett approached public television stations on what would soon become Public Broadcasting Services (PBS).
At the same time, Cooney assembled the show’s creative team which included the Muppets’ young mastermind, Jim Henson. The show aired nearly four years after Morrisett’s original idea.
In Big Bird & Beyond, a book about Morrisett’s career, Lee D Mitgang wrote: “If Morrisett had been less successful in obtaining financial support, the Cooney report would probably have become just another long-forgotten foundation idea. “
Morrisett was president of Sesame Workshop from 1970 to 2000. In 2019, he attended the Kennedy Awards with Cooney when Sesame Street became the first television show to be honored by the annual ceremony.