20 Fashionable Facts About Miami Vice

NBC
NBC

Though its extra-large “car phones” and pastel-hued costuming decisions might seem laughable to some today, Miami Vice’s impact went far beyond the small screen. From music to travel to fashion to facial hair, no corner of American culture was left untouched by the huge presence of officers Sonny Crockett (Don Johnson) and Ricardo Tubbs (Philip Michael Thomas). Throw an Armani jacket over that pink T-shirt and let’s revisit one of TV’s most groundbreaking crime series.

1. “MTV COPS” WAS THE MAIN CONCEIT OF THE SERIES.

There have been differing opinions as to who came up with the idea of “MTV Cops” as a summary for what Miami Vice should be. While many sources claim that it was Brandon Tartikoff who scribbled down the two-word idea as a brainstorming memo, show creator Anthony Yerkovich has maintained that he spent years developing the idea that would become Miami Vice. “I thought of [Miami] as a sort of a modern-day American Casablanca,” Yerkovich told TIME in 1985. “It seemed to be an interesting socioeconomic tide pool: the incredible number of refugees from Central America and Cuba, the already extensive Cuban-American community, and on top of all that the drug trade.”

Regardless of whether you believe the story about the Tartikoff memo, there’s no denying that Miami Vice did become a cop show for the MTV generation. “The show is written for an MTV audience, which is more interested in images, emotions, and energy than plot and character and words,” said Lee Katzin, who directed two episodes of the show’s first season.

2. SONNY CROCKETT WASN'T THE FIRST SONNY CROCKETT.

Prior to Miami Vice, Yerkovich was a writer and producer on Hill Street Blues. In 1983, a year before Miami Vice’s premiere, actor Dennis Burkley appeared in four episodes of Hill Street Blues, playing a racist biker named “Sonny Crockett.”

3. NICK NOLTE AND JEFF BRIDGES WERE APPROACHED TO PLAY CROCKETT.

Producers showed interest in both Jeff Bridges and Nick Nolte for the role of Crockett; both passed, reportedly to focus on their film careers. Gary Cole—who played a smuggler in season two’s “Trust Fund Pirates”—also auditioned for the role of Crockett.

4. THE NETWORK DIDN’T WANT DON JOHNSON.

Though the casting conversation kept coming back to Don Johnson for the role of Sonny Crockett, the network was against casting him, deeming him pilot poison. “I had made five pilots for Brandon Tartikoff back then, and none of them were picked up,” Johnson told Rolling Stone.

5. CHIPS’ LARRY WILCOX WAS JOHNSON’S BIGGEST COMPETITION.

Ultimately, the Crockett role came down to two actors: Don Johnson and Larry Wilcox, who played “Jon” on CHiPs for five years. In 2011, on his official fan site, Wilcox recounted how it all went down:

“Michael Mann asked me to read for this series called Miami Vice. He asked if I would grease my hair back and have stubble and moustache and be a hard ass. I said sure ... My agent told me they had read tons of actors and could not find the right guy. They had read even Don Johnson originally according to my sources.

When Universal saw my screen test they went crazy, saying that I was one of the finest and most intense actors they had ever seen in a screen test and told my agent, David Shapira, that I should have been a screen star with that intensity. I wallowed in the ego of those statements and of course … agreed.

Then they said that, ‘We need you to read with other actors to see if we can find someone that will be good with you.’ I read with many actors and did stunts and fight scenes and all kinds of crap for Michael Mann and the writer. Later I found out that the writer of the original series pilot did not want me and was perhaps just using me to read other actors. I went and read for NBC for the final decision and Brandon Tartikoff, the esteemed president of NBC, said in his book, that ‘Larry Wilcox was the choice for Miami Vice.’

On the day before Christmas, after helping them (Universal and Michael Mann) to find an actor, taking hits to my face in fight scenes, and all of the other such tests … I was informed that it was all bullsh*t and they were not going to use me and in fact were going to use Don Johnson. It was a cold blow and a manipulative blow the day before Christmas and I was upset and dejected. I wondered about all the compliments and all the hoopla and the lies or truth of it all. I still do not know what happened but it could have been the writer, it could have been an agent pulling a move with other actors in some other production if they would take Don Johnson on Miami Vice, or it could have been Don was just great. In retrospect, I think they made the right choice!”

6. CROCKETT’S BELOVED FERRARI WAS ACTUALLY A CORVETTE.

By DougW at English Wikipedia - Transferred fromen.wikipedia to Commons., Public Domain

Like his cutting-edge fashion choices, Crockett was immediately associated with his beloved Ferrari. In the series’ earliest episodes, he drives a Ferrari Daytona; in actuality, his Ferrari was a custom-built 1980 Corvette. Unhappy that the series was using an imposter, Ferrari filed a lawsuit against the show’s creators. Ultimately, both parties came to an agreement whereby the car-maker would supply the series with two brand-new Ferrari Testarossas—but only if the old “Ferrari” was destroyed on the show. (It was.)

7. IT WAS ONE OF THE MOST EXPENSIVE SHOWS ON TELEVISION AT THE TIME.

Given the show’s commitment to authenticity, by shooting in Miami—not to mention its music licensing rights—Miami Vice was one of the most expensive shows of its decade, with an average cost of about $1.3 million per episode.

8. A TRIP TO A PAINT STORE INSPIRED THE SHOW’S PASTEL COLORS.

In discussing the genesis of Miami Vice’s pastel-heavy costuming and production design, executive producer Michael Mann explained that it was the result of two things: a vacation he had taken to South Beach several years before the show’s debut, and a couple of color chips he found at the paint store. "I was playing around with them and I realized: three colors become thematic, two colors don't," Mann told the Los Angeles Times in 1987. "Three colors, you can actually start telling a chromatic story. You can create a mood with three colors."

9. JAN HAMMER’S THEME SONG SET A RECORD.

Jan Hammer’s “Miami Vice Theme” became a huge radio hit, going all the way to number one on the Billboard chart, and remaining there for 12 weeks—a record for a television theme song.

10. THE SHOW BOOSTED MIAMI’S TOURISM.

When Miami Vice premiered, Miami and Miami Beach were not the destinations people flock to today; the blighted backgrounds seen in the show are 100 percent authentic. In 1984, the same year the show premiered, Miami was dubbed America’s “Murder Capital.” But the series played an essential part in rehabbing the city’s infrastructure, and its reputation.

“When we were there, it was all retirement apartments that were dilapidated and rundown,” Johnson told Rolling Stone. “We painted the facades of virtually every building up and down Collins Avenue and Ocean Avenue to match the color palettes that we had for the show.” The show’s popularity led to a huge influx of tourists (many of them European), and as a result, improvements to the area’s hotels, restaurants, and other visitor attractions—a phenomenon that’s often referred to as “The Vice Effect.”

11. “THE VICE EFFECT” LED TO PROTECTION FOR THE CITY’S ART DECO BUILDINGS.

Miami Vice’s pastel-leaning design mandate included what audiences saw in the background. In order to help achieve this (Mann had declared that “no earth tones” were to be visible), the show’s production team was often tasked with prettying up the historic buildings that would be seen in the background of a shot, which meant that boring beige tones could be reworked in shades of pink, blue, and beyond. Seeing the opportunity for a powerful ally in their quest for recognition and protection of the hundreds of historic Art Deco buildings that lined the beach, the Miami Design Preservation League (MDPL) was able to work in concert with the show’s producers to make South Beach pretty again. “Miami Vice helped politically, economically and artistically,” MDPL co-founder Michael Kinerk said. “I have absolutely no doubt. It certainly put the Art Deco district on the world map.” Mann even ended up sponsoring one of the first editions of Art Deco Weekend, an annual event that continues to this day.

12. IT WAS A BOON TO THE MUSIC INDUSTRY.

One thing that made Miami Vice so groundbreaking was its use of popular music, and its ability to popularize music. Many of the day’s best-known musicians lent their tunes (and sometimes their acting chops) to the series. The show’s high budget was made even higher with the $10,000 that was allotted for music rights for each episode—an amount that allowed them to showcase music from The Rolling Stones, U2, Eric Clapton, and The Who. For the record labels, it was also a surefire way to see a boost in sales. The series even packaged some of these songs into a number of official series soundtracks.

13. THE SHOW KICKSTARTED SOME SERIOUS MEN’S FASHION TRENDS.

NBC Television/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

It’s impossible to think of Miami Vice without picturing Crockett’s iconic T-shirt-with-an-Armani-jacket look. A 1985 TIME cover story talked about the series’ impact on the fashion industry:

“‘The show has taken Italian men’s fashion and spread it to mass America,’ says Kal Ruttenstein, a senior vice president of Bloomingdale’s. ‘Sales of unconstructed blazers, shiny fabric jackets, and lighter colors have gone up noticeably.’ After Six formal wear is bringing out a Miami Vice line of dinner jackets next spring, Kenneth Cole will introduce ‘Crockett’ and ‘Tubbs’ shoes, and Macy’s has opened a Miami Vice section in its young men’s department. TV cops have never been so glamorous. Says Olivia Brown-Williamson, who plays Undercover Detective Trudy Joplin on the show: ‘Who wanted to look like Kojak?’”

14. CROCKETT’S STUBBLE HAD A NARRATIVE PURPOSE.

While it was important that Crockett and Tubbs be fashion-forward, Johnson also made some tweaks to his outfits to deal with the logistics of playing a Miami cop. “It was the eighties, man,” Johnson said. “It was all about what it looked like. I took what was handed to me and I turned it into my style. The rolled-up sleeves were a function of the fact that I had to have a jacket to cover the gun and the holster. I just stripped everything down to the bare minimum. I didn't wear socks because it was too hot to wear damn socks. And the stubble was born out of the character, because it was intimated that he had been up partying with drug dealers for two or three days at a time. That was sort of an unspoken thing, which is why he was always unshaven and looked like he slept in his clothes.”

To maintain Crockett’s five-o-clock shadow, "I shave with a sideburn trimmer," Johnson told People. Fans of the show—and its facial hair—had an even more appropriate option: the Miami Device, which was named for the series … until its manufacturer worried that they might be sued, and changed it to the Stubble Device. In either case, no one was buying it; the trimmer was quickly discontinued.

15. MIAMI VICE HELPED TO QUADRUPLE SALES OF RAY-BAN WAYFARERS.

By 1983, Ray-Ban was on the brink of collapse, until Tom Cruise donned a pair of their Wayfarers in Risky Business, making them the shades to own in the '80s. While Risky Business helped the brand sell 360,000 pairs of the sunglasses in 1983, Miami Vice—and Johnson in particular—helped to push that total up to 1.5 million by 1986.

16. PHILIP MICHAEL THOMAS MAY HAVE INVENTED THE WHOLE “EGOT” THING.

Though he always claimed that it stood for Energy, Growth, Opportunity, and Talent, many others swore that the “EGOT” necklace Thomas wore around his neck was a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy of the awards he hoped to claim: Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony. Thomas has yet to be nominated for any of those accolades (though he did score a Golden Globe nomination, for Miami Vice, in 1986).

17. JOHNSON TRIED TO LEAVE AFTER THE SECOND SEASON.

By the end of season two, Johnson’s contract was up—and he was ready to bolt. When filming resumed on the show and Johnson had still not negotiated a new contract, he was a no-show on the set. “We’re shooting around him for now,” an anonymous network executive said at the time. “But it’s costing $50,000 a day to shoot without him, and we’re not going to let him drag the show down with him.” So the network came up with a plan: they tapped Mark Harmon to take over for Johnson. Eventually, both sides came to an agreement—one that made Johnson one of the highest paid actors of the 1980s.

18. THOMAS LIKED THAT JOHNSON WAS THE MORE POPULAR ACTOR.

Though reports of onset rivalries plagued the series, both Johnson and Thomas vehemently denied it. While Thomas admitted that the two didn’t socialize much outside of their workdays, he told People that, "I like Don a lot. We have a good time." He went on to explain why Johnson’s overshadowing popularity was a good thing: "I liked that Don was getting the publicity. I wanted the mystique. The bigger he got, the bigger we got."

19. DALLAS WAS PARTLY RESPONSIBLE FOR ITS CANCELLATION.

By the time Miami Vice’s third season rolled around, the show was shifted from the 10 p.m. to 9 p.m. Friday time slot, which pitted it against ratings juggernaut Dallas. For many insiders, this contributed to the show’s decline in popularity. On March 21, 1987, TV Guide ran a cover story titled, “Dallas Drubs the Cops: Why Miami Vice Seems to be Slipping.”

20. THOMAS WAS "MISS CLEO" BEFORE "MISS CLEO."

A few years after Miami Vice's finale, Thomas signed an agreement to become the spokesperson for the Psychic Readers' Network, where he promised that "together with the world's most powerful and influential psychics," The Philip Michael Thomas International Psychic Network could help callers live their best lives. Too bad he couldn't have predicted that he'd end up suing the company for violating his contract, and would spend the next several years arguing his case in court. In 2002, Thomas was awarded $2.3 million. In the meantime, the company brought in "Miss Cleo" to replace the former Miami Vice star. 

11 Great Gifts for Retro Gaming Fans

No Starch Press/Amazon
No Starch Press/Amazon

Video games are more realistic, expansive, and ambitious than ever, but there’s one thing that most modern titles can’t offer: a hit of nostalgia. If you’re shopping for the retro gaming enthusiast in your life, check out these 11 gift suggestions that promise to level up their holiday season.

1. Pac-Man Ghost Light Table Lamp; $30

The Pac-Man Ghost Light Table Lamp is pictured
Paladone/Amazon

Liven up a stagnant work area or nightstand with this cool LED lamp in the likeness of Pac-Man’s ghost nemesis. It can flash in a variety of different colors, and at a compact 8 inches tall, you can buy more than one to haunt your living space.

Buy It: Amazon

2. Street Fighter II Home Arcade; $245

Street Fighter II Arcade Cabinet.
ARCADE1UP/Amazon

Relive the sweaty palms and raw fingertips of your youth with this Street Fighter II arcade cabinet from Arcade1Up. The entire package is true to its classic arcade roots, with era-appropriate artwork adorning the outside and buttons and joysticks that look like they were transported right out of a '90s Pizza Hut. But this cabinet comes with a bonus: Instead of just getting Street Fighter II: Champion Edition, it also plays Street Fighter ll: The New Challengers and Street Fighter ll Turbo. If you're not in the mood for competitive play, the company also offers a retro Star Wars arcade cabinet, featuring games based on A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi.

Buy It: Amazon

3. Level One Donkey Kong T-Shirt; $41

A Level One 'Donkey Kong' T-shirt is pictured
80sTees.com

Show off your love of arcade gaming with this cool design that depicts Mario’s earliest challenge: navigating the barrel-tossing rage of a giant ape.

Buy It: 80sTees.com

4. Playstation Coasters; $12

A set of four Playstation coasters is pictured
Paladone/Amazon

Keep beverage stains off your gaming-adjacent furniture with this set of four coasters depicting classic Playstation controller buttons.

Buy It: Amazon

5. SEGA Genesis Mini-Console: $79

Sega Mini Classic System.
Sega/Amazon

Flash back to the Genesis era with this retro console that features over 40 games from SEGA’s heyday, including Sonic the Hedgehog, Earthworm Jim, and Virtua Fighter. The system also features a port of the arcade version of Tetris, which never actually made its way to the original Genesis.

Buy It: Amazon

6. Sock It to Me Retro Gaming Socks; $11

Sock It to Me Retro Gaming Socks are pictured
Sock It To Me/Amazon

Keep it professional in a suit but game on underneath with these dress socks featuring iconic game controllers from Nintendo, Microsoft, and Sony.

Buy It: Amazon

7. The Game Console: A Photographic History from Atari to Xbox; $19


No Starch Press/Amazon

Take in a photographic history of gaming consoles, from the vintage devices of the ‘70s like the Magnavox Odyssey on through Nintendo’s reign and the emergence of Sony and Microsoft. In all, 86 consoles are on display, ending with the era of the PS4 and Wii U.

Buy It: Amazon

8. Nintendo Super Mario Bowser Vs. Mario 3-Pack Diorama; $26

A Nintendo Super Mario and Bowser diorama is pictured
World of Nintendo/Amazon

Let other people display fine art. You can show off this diorama depicting the biggest rivalry in retro gaming between Mario and Bowser. You'll also get a Bob-Omb figurine, just in case you want to recreate one of the duo's video game battles.

Buy It: Amazon

9. Playstation Wallet; $25

A Playstation wallet is pictured
SONY PlayStation/Amazon

Keep your cards and cash in one place with this Playstation-shaped wallet. There's even a button-snap opening in the shape of the system's disc tray.

Buy It: Amazon

10. Pong Shirt; $38

A 'Pong' T-shirt is pictured
80sTees.com

Go so retro that Millennials won’t even know what you’re referencing with this nod to the popular game Pong.

Buy It: 80sTees.com

11. The Legend of Zelda Ugly Christmas Sweater; $39

Legend of Zelda Ugly Christmas Sweater
Nintendo/Amazon

It may call itself ugly, but those pixelated images of Link from Legend of Zelda are nothing but gorgeous to retro gamers. There's also a Mario version, if the portly Italian plumber is more your style.

Buy It: Amazon

Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a small percentage of any sale. But we choose all products independently and only get commission on items you buy and don’t return, so we’re only happy if you’re happy. Thanks for helping us pay the bills!

15 Secrets of Sesame Street Puppeteers

Abby Cadabby, Suki Lopez, and Elmo (L-R) on Sesame Street
Abby Cadabby, Suki Lopez, and Elmo (L-R) on Sesame Street
HBO

For 50 years and more than 4500 episodes, Sesame Street has been imparting valuable moral, ethical, and social lessons to young audiences using a sprawling cast of puppets. The Sesame characters—Big Bird, Elmo, Oscar the Grouch, Cookie Monster, Bert and Ernie, the Count, and others—have become instantly recognizable to generations of viewers. But behind every memorable character is a human performer, one tasked with juggling the technical demands of puppet operation without losing the humor and heart that makes their furry counterpart so memorable.

To get a better sense of what goes into this unique skill set, Mental Floss spoke with three veteran Sesame Street performers during the show’s semicentennial celebration. Here’s what they had to say about crossed puppet eyes, grooming habits, and enjoying a long career finessing felt.

1. Sesame Street puppeteers usually get started lending a (right) hand.

Though there’s no definitive set of directions for puppeteers to get to Sesame Street, a number of performers selected to work on the show begin as apprentices with one specific task: operating the right hand of characters alongside the veteran cast members. “A lot of performers will almost only do right hands for a very long time,” Ryan Dillon, the puppeteer behind Elmo, tells Mental Floss. “Some characters, like Cookie Monster, require two performers with two practical hands.”

Dillon started working on Sesame Street in 2005 at the age of 17. He performed as a right hand and as supporting characters for years before scoring the Elmo role in 2013. Throughout that training, he accompanied the main puppeteer, who uses their dominant (usually right) hand to control the mouth and the other to control the left hand. The newcomer will manipulate the right, a duty informally known as right handing. “It’s a great training ground,” Dillon says. “You’re working directly next to a performer with years of experience. You become one character together.”

2. Sesame Street puppeteers have tricks for making their characters emote.

Abby Cadabby, Elmo, and Big Bird (L-R) appear in a scene from 'Sesame Street'
(L-R) Abby Cadabby, Elmo, and Big Bird delve into fine art.
HBO

Peter Linz, who portrays Ernie (among other characters) on the series, tells Mental Floss that getting a puppet to exhibit a personality takes some finessing. “You have to show the entire range of human emotion through something that doesn’t have an expression,” he says. Linz, who also teaches classes on puppeteering, says that there are some techniques to get puppets to show off their mood, however. “You can make them look sad by having them look down. You can get them to smile by opening their mouth. If they’re angry, maybe you close their mouth and then shake their arms ever so slightly. There are degrees of subtlety in all of that.”

Linz says the audience does part of that work themselves, projecting their own feelings onto a puppet. The ultimate proof might be in the example of Miss Piggy. While not a Sesame Street cast member, Linz says it’s telling that people often seem to believe the vivacious and flirtatious porcine character bats her eyes. “She can’t,” he says. The puppet doesn’t have that ability.

3. Not all Sesame Street puppets can perform the same tasks.

Sesame Street utilizes three major varieties of character. There’s the full-body puppet, like Big Bird and Snuffleupagus; “bag” puppets with two articulated hands, like Cookie Monster; and hand-and-rod puppets that have arms controlled by thin rods. “Elmo is a hand-and-rod puppet,” Dillon says. “[The difference means] some puppets can do things others can’t. Cookie Monster can pick things up. Elmo can, but it takes longer. You need to stop [filming] and attach something to his hands with tape or a pin.”

4. Sesame Street puppeteers rely on a key design element to connect to their audience.

Grover, Oscar the Grouch, and Elmo from 'Sesame Street' are pictured
Grover, Oscar the Grouch, and Elmo.
Zack Hyman/HBO

It can be difficult to communicate that a puppet is able to focus a pair of fixed eyes on something, whether it’s another character, an object, or the audience. But Linz says that the Sesame Street crew and the rest of the Muppets were designed by Henson with that in mind. “The eyes are just two black dots against a white background,” he says. “But all the characters are ever so slightly cross-eyed. There’s a triangle between the eyes and nose and a point where it looks like they’re looking right into the camera.” It’s a sensitive illusion. Turning the puppet even slightly, he says, and they will wind up looking at something else.

5. Sesame Street puppeteers can spend their entire day crouched on the floor.

Being a Sesame Street puppeteer requires more than just having performing chops. On set, characters that may be at waist level with their human co-stars are operated by performers crouched below frame, often on wheeled boards called rollies. “The first day or two, your back and everything else is sore,” Dillon says. “It engages your whole body. Your arm is up in the air performing.” Some actors, Dillon says, have developed knee issues as a result of a career bent over. Fortunately, not every scene requires contortions. Some sets are built raised so performers can stand up straight. Other times, they’ll have to situate themselves horizontally. Scenes set on a stoop usually mean the performer is lying down behind the steps.

6. Sesame Street puppeteers have input into character design.

Elmo, Abby Cadabby, and Rosita (L-R) pose with fans of 'Sesame Street'
(L-R) Elmo, Abby Cadabby, and Rosita pose with fans.
Zack Hyman/HBO

Lurking in the offices of Sesame Workshop is a puppet factory that, according to Dillon, houses a number of "Anything Muppets"—blank designs that may one day be used as the template for a brand-new character. In 1991, performer Carmen Osbahr got an opportunity to get in on the ground floor of conceptualizing a character when she helped originate Rosita (top right), the first regular bilingual Muppet on the series. “They had a meeting and asked what I had in mind,” Osbahr tells Mental Floss. “I was able to tell them I wanted a monster and I wanted live hands because I wanted to be able to play a musical instrument. I wanted her to be active and colorful. I didn’t want a petite, tiny little monster.” Both Osahr and Rosita have been a presence on the show ever since.

7. Sesame Street puppeteers have material for a blooper reel, but you’ll probably never see it.

Puppet manipulation takes concentration and effort. Occasionally, the cast of Sesame Street can find themselves flubbing a take. According to Osbahr, that’s often due to trying to coordinate left and right hands. “The main thing is props,” she says. “Grabbing stuff is easy, but if you want to pour something into a cup or write a letter, that’s hard. You think you’ll have a glass but just miss it.” Performers can also fall off their rollies, sending their counterparts tumbling out of the frame.

8. Each Sesame Street character has a dedicated puppeteer—with a couple of exceptions.

Actress Amanda Seyfried (L) appears on 'Sesame Street' with Abby Cadabby
Actress Amanda Seyfried with Abby Cadabby.
Richard Termine/HBO

When it comes to Sesame Street characters, there is one sacrosanct rule—aside from right handing, no puppet will have more than one puppeteer. “We feel strongly each Muppet has a dedicated performer,” Dillon says. “If there were two or three Elmos, you would see a copy of a copy.” However, illnesses or personal appearances can make that rule difficult to follow every time. If Dillon can’t make a shoot, a performer will step in to operate the puppet, with Dillon going in to provide the voice later.

The cast can also cover for one another if a scene requires two characters who are normally operated by the same actor. Both Bert and Grover, for example, are played by actor Eric Jacobson. If the two share screen time, Dillon might step in to perform one of them, with Jacobson recording his lines later.

9. Sesame Street puppeteers have a specific way of handling their puppets to keep them clean.

Day after day of manipulating puppets can lead to issues with cleanliness. Performer sweat can dampen the foam insides, while body oils and other contaminants can affect their fur coats. To avoid being dirtied, Linz says performers and production members try to pick up the puppets by the scruff of their necks. “We don’t want to put our oily hands on their faces,” Linz says. Puppets are also usually delivered to and from the set by a team of “Muppet wranglers,” and stored in the workshop where they’re built and maintained. To dry out a puppet, they’re sometimes placed on a wooden stand. A hair dryer set on low might also be used to dry a sweaty interior.

10. Sesame Street puppeteers work very, very closely together.

The characters from 'Sesame Street' are pictured
The puppet cast of Sesame Street.
HBO

Owing to the frequent proximity of puppets in frame, Sesame Street puppeteers are usually working near or virtually over other performers. “We try to be very aware and conscious of the people around us,” Dillon says. “Mistakes happen. Elmo has big feet, and Abby Cadabby has big feet, so you’ll often hit the other person with a foot. It doesn’t hurt.”

11. Guest stars will talk directly to Sesame Street characters—not just the puppeteers.

Sesame Street has played host to many guest stars over the decades, from actors to First Lady Michelle Obama. According to Osbahr, their human guests will often address the character even off-camera. “Most everybody who visits us talks to the character like they’re alive,” she says. “The moment we bring a character down [to rest], we have a conversation, but it’s great to have a relationship with a character and a celebrity. They’ll talk to Elmo, Rosita, Cookie Monster, and we’re talking to them right back.”

12. Sesame Street puppeteers can take years to get fully comfortable with a character.

Actress Blake Lively (L) poses with Cookie Monster on the set of 'Sesame Street'
Actress Blake Lively (L) poses with Cookie Monster.
Zack Hyman/HBO

For many performers, it can take years before they feel like they’re fully inhabiting their character. “You can be so focused on doing something right, you forget to have fun with the character,” Osbahr says. “By the fourth season, that’s when I started letting go, taking risks, having fun. You stop having to think about it.”

Fortunately, it’s not uncommon for performers on Sesame Street to spend decades on the show, which means there's plenty of time to adjust. Carol Spinney, who portrayed Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch, retired in 2018 after 49 years as a cast member. Osbahr says the familial atmosphere encourages longevity. “I’ve been with this group of people for 30 years,” she says. “We’ve shared a lot of incredible memories together.”

13. Sesame Street puppeteers can sometimes mourn a puppet who is declared “toast.”

Made of foam and other delicate materials, Sesame Street puppets have a shelf life. Depending on use, wear, and handling, they might last a few years before needing to be replaced. Linz says two new Ernies have recently been made after one began sloughing off foam inside, a symptom the production calls “toast” because the foam resembles toast crumbs.

Even with replacements, the legacy of characters can still live on. Linz uses an Ernie with the same mouth plate that was used by Jim Henson as far back as 1982.

14. Sesame Street puppeteers have to work backward.

Actor Anthony Mackie appears on 'Sesame Street' with Cookie Monster
Actor Anthony Mackie with Cookie Monster.
Jesse Grant/HBO

The most surprising aspect of working as a Sesame Street puppeteer? According to Linz, it’s the fact that performers often have to essentially work backwards. Because they’re crouched below the camera frame, puppeteers need to watch a monitor placed low to the ground to see what the camera sees. “When you move your arm to the right, the arm on the monitor moves to the left,” he says. “You’re seeing the image the audience sees.”

15. Yes, Sesame Street puppets are technically Muppets.

Sometimes there's confusion over whether the puppets that appear on Sesame Street actually constitute Muppets, or whether that term is reserved for non-Sesame projects like The Muppet Show or other endeavors featuring Kermit, Miss Piggy, and the others. According to Dillon, any Henson-birthed or -inspired puppet is a Muppet. “It’s become a catch-all term for puppets,” he says. “It’s a brand name, like Kleenex. Jim Henson came up with the name. A Muppet is used for characters that he came up with."

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