45 years ago today, Americans got their first taste of Sesame Street. A half-hour preview episode called "This Way to Sesame Street" aired on NBC (!) on Saturday, November 8, 1969 at 5pm.
The preview episode aired on network TV to introduce the concept of Sesame Street to parents, two days before regular episodes premiered on PBS. "This Way to Sesame Street" was hosted largely by Bert & Ernie, and it included early skits, animated segments, musical numbers, and appearances from Big Bird, Cookie Monster, Gordon, Mr. Hooper, Bob, Susan, and...wait for it...Carol Burnett!
Watching this episode, the main descriptor that springs to mind is "trippy." Imagine what was going on in America when this showed up on TV: Apollo 11 had landed on the moon just a few months before, and Apollo 12 would lift off in a matter of weeks. Nixon was in office. The hunt for the Zodiac killer was hot news. It feels completely appropriate that Sesame Street came to life, this explosion of creativity aimed at very young kids, in the midst of all this.
It's impressive to see how well-formed the show was even in its first episode (technically, two days prior to its first episode). It's also pretty wild to see then United States Commissioner of Education Dr. James E. Allen, Jr. closing the show by saying, in part:
"Sesame Street represents both an historic step forward by the medium of TV and an equally significant innovation in mass education. In plain words, there never has been before a nationwide TV program designed especially to prepare young children for school. Next week, there will be."
45 years on, the innovation continues. If you grew up watching Sesame Street, or you're watching it now, this is a hoot. Enjoy:
Two days later, the show began its regular run. If you're curious what that looked like, check out 10 classic Sesame Street moments we wouldn't show today's kids, examining the early show through video clips. And keep in mind that just one year later, Big Bird was on the cover of Time magazine.
For more Sesame Street goodness, check out: Sesame Street International: 9 Notable Muppets From Around the World; 13 Sesame Street Muppets That Make a Difference; and Sesame Street's Star Wars Parody (and more parodies!).