Wednesday, August 02, 2017

Street Gang by Michael Davis

Street Gang: The Complete History of Sesame Street by Michael Davis is a book I picked up for a dollar or two at a library book sale several years ago.  It's been on my to read pile for a very long time and I just couldn't muster any enthusiasm for it, but when I was between library books, I picked it up and immediately fell asleep. It was...not riveting. It may be true that I can fall asleep anywhere and anytime, but this book was like a sleeping pill.
The first part of this book is BRUTAL. It's a detailed history of anyone who was remotely involved in early puppetry in children's television - and I'm not using the word "detailed" lightly here.  Do you want to know when exactly the former producer's grandparents came to the United States from Poland? Good, because you're going to get it. And, honestly, this was probably because Davis did SO MUCH RESEARCH. Which, good on him. He then needs to learn how to edit down his information into something people can follow.  Or, forgoing that, figure out to to include a cast of characters somewhere that we can consult when you do a callback to a person we met 100 pages and 350 people ago.

The first part of the book really centers on the story of how Sesame Street came to be, not the actual show itself. That's fine and it was really interesting to learn about how people didn't really think that television could be a useful teaching tool and how the show got funded, but for those people (*raises hand*) who really think Sesame Street = Jim Henson, you're going to be disappointed by how little he's even talked about in the book. I mean, I think I did get a lot of the book in terms of public policy and the politics of public television, but it just wasn't what I was expecting.

It does take a turn, however, when the show goes on the air. You hear some of the backstage drama and the ups and downs. It's too bad you'd have no idea who any of the people were if you just picked up the book around the fifteenth chapter, because that's really when the book took off for me.  It was published in 2009, so there's a lot of recent history missing, but if you're a true Muppets fan or you are interested in television history, maybe this book is for you. If you're just a casual I like Cookie Monster and Oscar fan, maybe this book isn't for you.

Anyone want a nice hardbound, old library copy?  I'll mail you mine.

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