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'Sesame Street' co-creator Lloyd Morrisett has died at age 93

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Lloyd Morrisett died earlier this week at the age of 93. Whether or not you recognize his name, you'll almost certainly recognize the television program he helped create.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SESAME STREET THEME")

THE KIDS: (Singing) Sunny day sweeping the clouds away.

SHAPIRO: NPR's Cory Turner has this remembrance of the man behind "Sesame Street."

CORY TURNER, BYLINE: One morning in the mid-1960s, Lloyd Morrisett found his young daughter Sarah sitting in front of the television. She was waiting for her show to come on, just watching the TV station identification signal. Morrisett had trained as an educator and a psychologist, and he wondered if TV is that riveting, could it possibly be used for good to educate young children? In a 2019 interview with the public radio program On Point, Morrisett said that question was on his mind...

LLOYD MORRISETT: Because too many children entered school three months behind and by third grade were the year behind.

TURNER: Especially low-income children and children of color who often didn't have access to high-quality preschool or even kindergarten. Morrisett wondered, could TV teach? In 1966, he found himself at a dinner party and asked that same question of a TV producer there named Joan Ganz Cooney. Intrigued, she came up with a proposal for a show. And in 1968, they co-founded what would become known as Sesame Workshop. The following year, in November of 1969, "Sesame Street" premiered with Kermit, Big Bird, Bert and Ernie.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "SESAME STREET")

JIM HENSON: (As Ernie) Hey, Bert. You ought to take a bath. It would cheer you up. Then you wouldn't be such a grouch.

FRANK OZ: (As Bert) I don't need cheering up.

HENSON: (As Ernie) I can tell you don't. But everybody in the world ought to take a barth. Then they'd be happy. And hey, you out there in TV land. Everybody wash.

TURNER: The genius of "Sesame Street," as imagined in part by Lloyd Morrisett, is that all that joyfulness hides its thoughtfulness.

MORRISETT: We had a deliberately developed curriculum designed to help children watch the show succeed in school.

TURNER: The program was designed by educators and child psychologists, with a big chunk of its budget devoted not just to Muppets, but to research. Last fall "Sesame Street" kicked off its 53rd season. In a statement, co-creator Joan Ganz Cooney said, without Lloyd Morrisett, there would be no "Sesame Street." Cory Turner, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Cory Turner
Cory Turner reports and edits for the NPR Ed team. He's helped lead several of the team's signature reporting projects, including "The Truth About America's Graduation Rate" (2015), the groundbreaking "School Money" series (2016), "Raising Kings: A Year Of Love And Struggle At Ron Brown College Prep" (2017), and the NPR Life Kit parenting podcast with Sesame Workshop (2019). His year-long investigation with NPR's Chris Arnold, "The Trouble With TEACH Grants" (2018), led the U.S. Department of Education to change the rules of a troubled federal grant program that had unfairly hurt thousands of teachers.
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