Monsterpiece Theater is a recurring Sesame Street sketch hosted by Cookie Monster as Alistair Cookie. The sketch parodies the PBS anthology series Masterpiece Theater, originally hosted by Alistair Cooke. In his earliest introductions, the urbane Alistair Cookie held an unlit pipe (which he usually ate by the end). Due to concerns over even the appearance of smoking, the pipe was later dropped, and scenes in earlier skits were re-taped (without the prop). The segment premiered in Season 10 and continued to appear on the show through Season 32.
The segment brings a cultural element to the series by presenting stirring dramas based on classic literature, plays, or movies. As befits the title, many of the stars were indeed monsters, most notably Grover (who starred in more than a dozen skits). A few (notably "Me, Claudius" and "Upstairs, Downstairs") spoofed specific Masterpiece Theater series. The stirring theme music was composed by Sam Pottle. The segment was created by Tony Geiss.
Similar segments have appeared in recent years sharing certain elements with the "Monsterpiece Theater" segments. In Season 37, "Dinner Theatre" premiered in which food themes are used to parody classic plays and musicals. The following year in Season 38, Cookie Monster bookended a sketch he describes as an "American Monster Classic." In it, Grover plays a monster who has forgotten his keys, in a take on A Streetcar Named Desire.
|Picture||Title / EKA||Description|
| Upstairs, Downstairs |
(EKA: Episode 1271)
|Grover runs up and down a flight of stairs. (Look for a picture of Dr. Teeth on the wall.) This segment features an announcer introducing "Monsterpiece Theater" and a title card for the featured story. Inspired by Upstairs, Downstairs.|
| Me, Claudius |
(EKA: Episode 1448)
| Bruce, Harvey, Maurice, and the monster who would become Elmo (performed here by Jerry Nelson) fight over which one is Claudius. Slimey also makes a cameo crawling over the title card art, instead of the snake in the original I, Claudius titles.
| Chariots of Fur |
(EKA: Episode 1836)
| Grover and Herry Monster have a race across the beach. Inspired by Chariots of Fire.
| The Sound of Music |
(EKA: Episode 2243)
|Grover is sitting on a hill, which moves to the sound of music. Inspired by The Sound of Music.|
| 39 Stairs |
(EKA: Episode 2342)
| Grover climbs 39 stairs to see what is at the top, and ends up being disappointed with the results. Inspired by the Alfred Hitchcock film The 39 Steps.
This segment was taped on January 26, 1987, and was directed by Jon Stone.
| Gone with the Wind |
(EKA: Episode 2393)
| The household goods and livestock of Tara are being blown away by the wind. Kermit (as Green) and a female frog (Ms. Scarlett) demonstrate subtraction, and are blown away themselves. Inspired by Gone with the Wind.
The segment was taped on September 10, 1987, and also directed by Jon Stone.
| Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves |
(EKA: Episode 2402)
|The forty thieves insist that they be introduced along with Ali Baba before the story begins, but by the time Alistar Cookie finishes counting them, the show has run out of time. Alistar then announces that next week's story will be "Snow White and the Seven Dwarves". ("Me think me can get that one in.") Inspired by the story from One Thousand and One Nights.|
| The Taming of the Shoe |
(EKA: Episode 2587)
|In this play by the famous podiatrist William Shoespeare, "Grovero" is accompanied by a talking shoe, whom he convinces to cooperate to take him to the Padua Mall. Inspired by The Taming of the Shrew.|
| Guys and Dolls |
(EKA: Episode 2636)
|Herry Monster sings about how he likes to play with dolls, and Ruby sings about how she likes to play with trucks. Inspired by Guys and Dolls.|
| The 400 Blows |
(EKA: Episode 2680)
|Grover has to blow out the candles on his birthday cake 400 times, but since this is Part 1, he only gets up to 40 before he faints. The conclusion has to wait until next time. Inspired by The 400 Blows.|
| The King and I |
(EKA: Episode 2695)
| Grover plays a king who dances with the letter I. In A Celebration of Me, Grover, Roger Ebert refers to Grover's role as actually being the King of Siam (now Thailand). Inspired by The King and I.
This segment was taped on January 19, 1990, and was directed by Lisa Simon.
| The Postman Always Rings Twice |
(EKA: Episode 2729)
|Grover is waiting for the postman to deliver his important letter but, while waiting, many other people come to his house. Inspired by The Postman Always Rings Twice.|
| The Old Man and the C |
(EKA: Episode 2757)
|Grover is playing an old man in a rowboat, talking about his love for the sea,which is on a giant letter C. Inspired by The Old Man and the Sea.|
| Twin Beaks |
(EKA: Episode 2822)
| Agent Cookie investigates a mysterious town, trying to discover why the town is called Twin Beaks. Even the Log Bird and David Finch can't explain the secret. Inspired by Twin Peaks.
| The Sun Also Rises |
(EKA: Episode 2860)
|An early version of Merry Monster and Grover are worried because their rooster will not crow (he's sick). Merry decides to experiment to see if the sun will rise even if the rooster doesn't crow. It does, but all the animals are asleep -- so Merry crows. Inspired by The Sun Also Rises.|
| Monsters of Venice |
(EKA: Episode 2861)
|The people of Venice (Anything Muppets) get ready for their big party. Grover and the monsters of Venice get upset because they weren't invited. But it turns out to be a surprise party for the monsters of Venice. Inspired by The Merchant of Venice.|
| One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest |
(EKA: Episode 2982)
|Numbers keep flying over the wrong things, until finally, a number 1 flies over a cuckoo's nest. (The sketch features a brief appearance by The Muppet Show's white chickens.) Coming next week: "Rocky 20". Inspired by One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.|
| Much Ado About Nothing |
(EKA: Episode 2991)
|Waiter Grover laments to Mr. Johnson that the restaurant doesn't have anything he orders. Inspired by Much Ado About Nothing.|
| Waiting for Elmo |
(First: Episode 2998)
|Telly and Grover wait for Elmo, and experience different emotions while reflecting on what they think is keeping Elmo away. The tree gets disgusted waiting for this modern storyline to make sense, and walks away singing Oklahoma. Inspired by Waiting for Godot.|
| Lethal Weapon 3 |
(EKA: Episode 3012)
|Mel Gibson and Danny Glover star in Lethal Weapon 3. Gibson and Glover read a sign that says DANGER. Suddenly, they duck and take cover from a gigantic stone number 3 which falls from the sky. Inspired by the Lethal Weapon movie series.|
| Hamlet |
(EKA: Episode 3047)
|Mel Gibson plays Hamlet, who keeps repeating "words, words, words" -- but Elmo can't read, so he only looks at "pictures, pictures, pictures." Inspired by Hamlet.|
| 12 Angry Men |
(EKA: Episode 3075)
|After going through a situation similar to "One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest" and "The Horse Whisperer", Alistair Cookie announces he's out of time and is confronted by twelve angry men. Inspired by Twelve Angry Men.|
| Inside/Outside Story |
(EKA: Episode 3111)
|Maria is inside; Tony is outside. They sing a song about how they can get together. The cats Chip and Dip are also seen. Inspired by West Side Story.|
| Cyranose de Bergerac |
(EKA: Episode 3113)
|Cyranose de Bergerac, a poet with a two-foot-long nose, tries to help the queen of France finish her poem. Unfortunately, the word used to finish it is the word he's the most sensitive to: "nose." One mention of that word and he'll go medieval on you! Inspired by Cyrano de Bergerac.|
| Monster in a Box |
(EKA: Episode 3117)
|Spalding Monster is supposed to be in a box, but instead he's on a box, and then under a box. Inspired by the Spalding Gray monologue.|
| Monsters with Dirty Faces |
(EKA: Episode 3134)
|Grover plays a police officer who tries to get Rocky to wash his face. Inspired by Angels with Dirty Faces.|
| Room at the Top |
(EKA: Episode 3135)
|Grover, the "little guy," climbs from the bottom of the mountain, all the way to the top, only to find a gang of monsters up there, including Telly. When Grover tries to squeeze in between them, they all fall off the mountain, and land in Alistair Cookie's room. Inspired by Room at the Top.|
| Little House on Prairie |
(EKA: Episode 3207)
|Alistair Cookie displays an embarrassed Prairie Dawn with a little house on her head. Cookie then displays "Little House UNDER Prairie," but then when he announces "Little House IN Prairie," she comes into the studio and tells him that would be impossible. He proves her wrong when he eats the little house, calling it 'Little House in Alistair Cookie!' Coming up next week: "The House of Seven Gobbles". Inspired by Little House on the Prairie.|
| Little Red Riding Cookie |
(EKA: Episode 3231)
| Cookie Monster is the star of this adaptation of Little Red Riding Hood, in which he eats all the cookies before he gets to his grandma's house.
| Dances With Wolves |
(EKA: Episode 3234)
|A female pig is reluctant to dance with a wolf due to their differences, but eventually finds out that it's okay for two people who are different to dance together. Inspired by Dances with Wolves.|
| Conservations with My Father |
(EKA: Episode 3241)
|Alistair Cookie makes a wardrobe change to star as his usual self in a film about conservation. Cookie Monster's Pop teaches his son about saving water by turning the faucet off tightly and saving electrical energy by turning off the TV when nobody is watching it. They spy a plate of cookies and decide that those shouldn't be wasted either, but Chef John and a group of monsters rush in to admonish the pair for eating the cookies which they were saving for themselves. Inspired by Conversations with My Father.|
| Dr. No |
(EKA: Episode 3243)
|James Bond comes to the office of Dr. No because he has trouble reading words. Dr. No tells him to take off his ridiculous glasses. James does so, and he can read again. Next time, another James Bond episode: "The Spy Who Loved Me and Left Me a Plate of Cookies!!" Inspired by the James Bond film, Dr. No.|
| Anyone's Nose |
(EKA: Episode 3287)
|A monster sings a song about various noses and what they do. Next week's show will be "A Nose Blows in Brooklyn". Inspired by Anything Goes.|
| Howard's End |
(EKA: Episode 3402)
|A yellow and pink rattlesnake named Howard slithers on a stone wall while he shows his beginning, middle, and end. Inspired by Howard's End.|
| ABCD Blue |
(EKA: Episode 3531)
|Grover and Herry play police officers who help a group of neighborhood kids with the alphabet. Inspired by NYPD Blue, by Stephen Bochco. After the skit, Cookie remarks "a singing cop show? Who writes this stuff?", in reference to Cop Rock, which Bochco also wrote and produced.|
| Fiddler on the Roof |
(EKA: Episode 3659)
|A farmer and town villagers sing about "Addition," which involves putting one fiddler on the roof after another. By the song's end, the roof (under which "Monsterpiece Theater" is filmed) collapses. Inspired by Fiddler on the Roof. The addition song is based on the opening number called "Tradition".|
| The Horse Whisperer |
(EKA: Episode 3848)
|First, the wrong animals keep whispering. Then the horse whispers the wrong sounds, before he finally whispers "Neigh, neigh." Inspired by The Horse Whisperer.|
American Monster Classics
|Picture||Title / EKA||Description|
| || A Streetcar Named Monster |
(First: Episode 4152)
|Cookie Monster introduces a spoof of A Streetcar Named Desire in which Grover has left his keys at the bowling alley. Because it's the crack of dawn, he must shout softly up to the window so that Stella may let him in.|
This segment has had at least three different openings, the first two of which specifically reflected the then-current Masterpiece Theater intros. Each opening change effectively replaced the previous title format on all sketches in most cases (old and new, though a 1998 airing of "The 39 Stairs" used the 1992 intro rather than the 1995 intro, possibly due to an editing mistake.)
One early skit, "Me, Claudius," featured no title card and opened on the camera panning across various statues before trucking over to Alistair Cookie as the theme was heard.
The first regular opening sequence had the title on a blue background, with a Union Jack flag as the P in "Monsterpiece", with the camera zooming out on the flag. A handful of sketches that originally featured this opening ("Upstairs, Downstairs", "Chariots of Fur", "The King and I") also ended with a shot of the title card. "Upstairs, Downstairs" is the only known instance (so far) of the title card zooming back into the "P" to close the segment.
Some time in Season 23, this opening was replaced with a longer opening, which panned around a room, showing pictures and books referencing past and then-current segments. The opening theme music was also re-recorded to sound more full and orchestral, heard in its entirety over audio of Cookie Monster eating cookies (mostly lines taken from a sketch involving eating cookies of various shapes, along with a belch and "Excuse me" from Christmas Eve on Sesame Street). The name of the skit was also spelled as "Monsterpiece Theatre."
In Season 27, another new opening (much shorter) had the title sliding in front of a computer-animated green curtain.
Most international productions simply omit the title card; however, the 1996 version of Barrio Sésamo had a custom intro for "Teatro de Monstruos."
- ↑ Virginia Heffernan, "Sweeping the Clouds Away", New York Times, November 18, 2007.
- ↑ Norman Stiles interview, video interview for the Archive of American Television, conducted on December 12, 2014.