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Episode 1839

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Sesame Street
Plot Bob and the other adults explain Mr. Hooper's death to Big Bird, who doesn't understand why his friend isn't around anymore.
Air date November 24, 1983 (Thanksgiving day)
Season Season 15 (1983-1984)
Sponsors J, M, 5
Syndication Sesame Street Unpaved
Releases Sesamestreet.org (minus scene 2) (SSvideo)
Hooperpicture

1839

Background

This episode is available for viewing, uncut,
at the Paley Center for Media.

When actor Will Lee died in 1982, it left the producers of Sesame Street with the question of how to deal with the loss of Mr. Hooper, a beloved character who had been on the show since the first episode. Dulcy Singer, executive producer at the time, said that "if we left it unsaid, kids would notice." [1] One way out was to avoid the issue of death entirely. Producers toyed with the idea of telling viewers that the character had gone away. Caroll Spinney said that "we didn't know what to do. [We] thought perhaps he could just retire, move to Florida or something, but then the producers thought that the best thing to do would be to actually deal with death."[2] After much discussion and research, the producers decided to have the character of Mr. Hooper pass away as well, and use the episode to teach its young viewers about death as a natural part of life and that it is okay to grieve and feel sad when a loved one passes away.

After consulting with numerous child psychologists, Norman Stiles, the head writer for the show, prepared a script designed to deal with the issue of death on Sesame Street. The cause of death was not discussed on the show, nor is the process of growing old. Valeria Lovelace, director of research at the show's production company, the Children's Television Workshop, said "We were advised to take the direct approach... Children don't understand words like 'passing away.'"[1] The show took an honest and direct approach. Show producer Fran Kaufman said that the goal was to avoid "sugar-frosting" the message.

That message, according to the producers, was "[Mr. Hooper] died, he won't be coming back, and we are all going to miss him...Another message of the segment was that children have to understand that they will continue to be cared for."[1]

In the episode, Big Bird thinks that Mr. Hooper will return later, but is told about the irreversibility of death. Although being reminded of already being told Mr. Hooper died, Big Bird, like many kids, shows his initial inability to comprehend this concept. But Big Bird's concern soon switches to his own needs. "He's gotta come back," Big Bird exclaimed, "Who's going to take care of the store? Who's gonna make me birdseed milkshakes and tell me stories?" The other adults reassure him that everything will be okay and he will be taken care of. Big Bird gets frustrated by these comments exclaiming "but it won't be the same". Bob addresses Big Bird's concern head-on saying "You're right, Big Bird. It'll never be the same without him. But you know something? We can all be very happy that we had a chance to be with him and to know him and to love him a lot, when he was here."

The farewell episode aired November 24, 1983 (Thanksgiving Day). Loretta Long noted, in an interview on The Tavis Smiley Show, "We were very careful to do it over the Thanksgiving holiday, where there would be a lot of adults in the house to help the children."[3]

The filming of the scene was very emotional for the cast and crew, whom had worked closely with Will Lee for 14 years. Genuine tears were present in almost all on set. "We barely got through that show," said Bob McGrath in a 2006 interview. "Any emotions you saw were real. We tried to do a pickup and we got about a minute into it and we all fell apart emotionally. It crossed over not only from PBS, but all of the networks. They all felt it was such an important show that they took the time to highlight it."[4]

Mr. Hooper's death received a lot of press and drew many viewers. Reports stated that the episode was used to stimulate discussion of death in many homes. Valeria Lovelace commented, "It was a relief to us all that the segment worked as we hoped it would. It was really scary beforehand; we didn't know for sure how it was going to turn out."[5] The episode was soon selected by the Daytime Emmys as being one of the 10 most influential moments in daytime television.

Aside from receiving critical acclaim, the episode garnered success with its target viewers. Loretta Long explained, "People come up to us and say, 'Thank you. Now we can explain what happened to grandma, what happened to grandpa.'"[3]

The episode was later adapted into the book, "I'll Miss You, Mr. Hooper" by episode writer Norman Stiles. The full, uncut version of this episode is available for viewing as part of the collection at The Museum of Television and Radio. The scene with the adults explaining Mr. Hooper's death was released on the DVD Sesame Street: 40 Years of Sunny Days, while Sesame Street Unpaved included a script for the scene, and portions of this scene have appeared in Sesame Street: 20 and Still Counting, Sesame Street's All-Star 25th Birthday: Stars and Streets Forever, Sesame Street Unpaved, A&E Biography: Sesame Street, and The Street We Live On.

The best episode we ever did was Mr. Hooper's death. Those were real tears. Will was the sweetest man.
-- Caroll Spinney[6]

Segments

Picture Segment Description
1839za
SCENE 1
Forgetful Jones tells Gordon about how happy he's been all day. How could he forget, he says, the simple things that make him happy?
1839zb
Cartoon
Jive Five
1839zc
Muppets
Sesame Street Pageants
Prairie Dawn presents a pageant about feelings. Bert dresses as Cupid to represent love -- but his lines don't ring true. Instead, he sings his own song about love. He sings that to him, love means pigeons, oatmeal -- and Ernie.
(EKA: Episode 1736)
1839zd
Cartoon
A delivery person delivers five tall things.
(EKA: Episode 1710)
1839ze
Film
Kids talk about building sand castles and sand structures at the beach.
Song.fuzzyblueorange
Muppets
Grover, Herry, Cookie Monster and Frazzle sing "Fuzzy and Blue (and Orange)."
1839zg
Cartoon
J family jamboree
(EKA: Episode 0423)
Noimage
SCENE 2
J-JUMP: Big Bird and Jason urge Barkley to jump over their rope. Jason gives Barkley his end of the rope to jump over it himself, but this time when Barkley hears the command JUMP, he jumps onto Big Bird.
Cut in the Noggin version
1839zh
Film
People jump.
(EKA: Episode 1707)
SandJ.1839
Cartoon
Sand J/j
(EKA: Episode 1364)
1839zj
Film
As a boy plays with a tugboat in the bathtub, we watch footage of a real tugboat.
1839zk
Insert
The two Chaplins open umbrellas.
1839zl
Cartoon
J - Jam
(First: Episode 0012)
1839zm
Film
A boy takes dance lessons at a dance studio.
Grover again
Muppets
"Sing After Me" by Grover and Madeline Kahn.
(EKA: Episode 1112)
1839zn
Cartoon
Don't mess with the Mighty M.
Artist: Bruce Cayard
1839zo
SCENE 3
As Gordon watches, Big Bird walks backwards with his head between his legs "just because".
1839zp
Film
A zookeeper feeds some polar bears sardines.
Bae9
Muppets
Ernie and Bert At the Movies: Tall hat lady
(EKA: Episode 0677)
2356-9
Cartoon
In rhyme, a man points out animals who stole and/or ruined his clothing.
(EKA: Episode 1118)
1839zr
Muppets
A Large Lavender Live Hand Anything Muppet closes everything.
Toon.fromtadpoletofrog
Cartoon
How do frogs make more frogs? The birth and growth of a frog is documented. At the very end, the fully-grown frog hops in the middle of a field and calls out, "Hey, Kermit!"
Cut in the Noggin version
Ssnews.chooseprince
Muppets
News Flash
A princess claims that the man she intends to marry has small ears, bulgy eyes, and a funny voice, wears a hat and coat, and is a frog. Kermit is the only one who fits that description, so she kisses him and, in a puff of smoke, she turns into a frog. Kermit invites her to "the hop", and she accepts.
(EKA: Episode 0952)
1839zs
Film
A boy visits the hospital to see his mother's new baby.
(EKA: Episode 1125)
1839t
SCENE 4
Big Bird hears his adult friends having a conversation about Mr. & Mrs. Williams's new baby.
1091-29
Muppets
Muppet & Kid Moments: Bert tells John-John that he's lost his paper clips, and he feels sad. He asks John-John to show how he looks when he feels sad. Then Bert feels angry about losing his paper clips, and John-John acts out that emotion. Bert remembers where he left his collection, and John-John acts happy, too.
(EKA: Episode 0729)
2341y
Cartoon
"That's About the Size of It"
Artist: Bud Luckey
Cut in the Noggin version
(EKA: Episode 0811)
1839b

1839p

Bird&hooperpic
SCENE 5
Big Bird gives his friends pictures he drew of them. Mr. Hooper's death is revealed as Big Bird finds out that Mr. Hooper is no longer at Hooper's Store. David will fill in for Mr. Hooper but, as Bob explains, it won't be the same without him.
This scene was released on Sesame Street: 40 Years of Sunny Days.
Sadflower
Film
A film shows parts of a flower.
Music: Vivaldi's Concerto for lute, 2 violins and continuo in D Major II - Largo
(First: Episode 0008)
2485u
Cartoon
A man learns that it's better not to pick the flowers.
1839y

1839zt
SCENE 6
Big Bird hangs the drawing of Mr. Hooper by his nest. With the adults, Mr. and Mrs. Williams show Big Bird their new baby boy, Leandro.

Notes

  • All of Big Bird's drawings of his adult friends, including the famous Mr. Hooper picture, were drawn by Caroll Spinney, Big Bird's performer and a cartoonist in his own right.
  • The staff considered, but ultimately rejected, the use of film flashbacks to scenes with Mr. Hooper, citing that it would confuse younger viewers, because, "for them, if something moves, it's alive."[7] They also considered it important that they not make it known that Mr. Hooper died while in a hospital, for fear that that might make kids afraid to go to one.
  • Several other episodes since focused on remembering Mr. Hooper, including episodes 2073 and 3611.

See Also

Sources

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Death of a Character is a Sesame Street Topic, The Associated Press. August 31, 1983.
  2. Caroll Spinney Interview on NPR Morning Edition, May 2003.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Loretta Long on The Tavis Smiley Show. November 9, 2004.
  4. "Q&A with Sesame Street's Bob McGrath", The Mercury News (San Jose), December 2006.
  5. "Valeria Lovelace", ECU Magazine, Winter 86/87, Vol 1, No. 1
  6. "Man behind Big Bird, Oscar is nostalgic for early days of Sesame Street", The Mercury News (San Francisco), October 26, 2006.
  7. "Valeria Lovelace", ECU Magazine, Winter 86/87, Vol 1, No. 1


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