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Sesame Street Pitch Reel

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Sesame Street Pitch Reel

Rowlf and Kermit

In 1969[1], a promotional pitch reel was produced for the series that would become Sesame Street, starring the Muppets. The reel was intended as a sample to be shown to station representatives at NET (later to become PBS), as well as parents and teachers, and included some of the earliest cartoon and film inserts (the street scenes concept had yet to be developed or filmed).

When the film was produced, the Children's Television Workshop staff were still deciding on a name for the show, and this difficult process was spoofed by the Muppets. The film features Rowlf describing what the new show will be like to Kermit. Interspersed between the explanatory scenes are board room sequences, in which various Muppets (including chairman Grump, Scoop, Gleep, Beautiful Day Monster, Conrad Love, an Anything Muppet and the Spook) try to come up with a name for the show. The reel is also marked by extensive use of the word "groovy" and phrases like "I'm hip."

Later in the year, an updated version of the reel was produced, with a beginning and ending featuring Joan Ganz Cooney encouraging stations to pick up the new program. And since the show's name had finally been decided on at that point, this second version also has a brand-new ending, in which Kermit suggests the name Sesame Street.

Summary

Picture Segment Description Version 1 Version 2
Joanganzoldschool
Introduction
Joan Ganz Cooney discusses the goals of Sesame Street and roughly describes what will be included. She notes the fact that real people will be used on the actual show to "set each segment in the proper learning context," and the use of fast-moving, repeated elements.
Pitchreel-set
Pitchreel-scene1
SCENE 1
The film opens on a minimal set including flats, a ladder, and the Children's Television Workshop seal (as used in the early season closings) hangs overhead. A blackboard is prominent; through the course of the reel, markings are added to it, until the final version includes a finished game of hangman (the answer is school) and several ornate doodles.

Rowlf pops up from behind one of the boards, and points to a round shape on the board and asks Kermit what it is. Kermit guesses it's a really bad triangle, but Rowlf corrects him that it's a circle. He points out that Kermit knows it, but a lot of little kids don't. He then introduces a groovy way to teach kids about what round things look like.
Pitchreel-circles
Film
A live-action film shows circles in every-day life, from Coca-Cola bottle caps, to moving wheels, to yo-yos, bubbles, and balloons, set to a lively soundtrack (which also serves as the opening/closing theme for the framing Muppet scenes).
Pitchreel-boardroom1
Pitchreel-scene2b
SCENE 2
Rowlf introduces himself properly, along with his friend Kermit. He explains the fact that the Muppets will be on the show anyway, though Kermit is annoyed that nobody's talked to him about it. The scene briefly pans to a boardroom and a gathering of Muppets; Kermit wants to know a little more about the project, such as what those guys are doing. Rowlf explains about the title meetings. Scoop suggests The 2 and 2 Are 5 Show (or possibly The 2 and 2 Ain't 5 Show). Rowlf explains that the goal is to teach basic letter and number concepts to pre-school kids, and spending lots of time and money on it. Rowlf tells Kermit the cost will be upwards of several million dollars. This floors the frog, who falls off his perch.
Littlegirlsalphabet
Cartoon
A little girl sings "The Alphabet Song," while continually admonished by an adult in voice-over.
In a scene snipped from Version 2, the girl is informed that "you may consider yourself unemployed," and responds by saying "Drat!"
Pitchreel-scene3
SCENE 3
Rowlf points out that they also have short little films for the individual letters. Kermit is still staggered by the cost: "Upwards of several million..."
Pitchreel-D
Cartoon
A small man and his assistant Dudley attempt to demonstrate both the capital and lower-case letter D. When it's over, Kermit remarks, "That goes by pretty fast!"
Pitchreel-scene4
SCENE 4
Rowlf points out that these will be repeated, just like commercials until they sink in. Kermit is beginning to think that the Children's Television Workshop may know what they're doing after all, but is affronted to learn that the advisory board doesn't include frogs.
Film-boysshovels
Film
Body Parts vs. Heavy Equipment: Three boys (including Brian Henson) pretend to be steam shovels, playing in the dirt. This segues into footage of real construction vehicles. A parallel is drawn between the machinery and how the boys' arms and mouths work.
In Version 2, this segment is shortened from 3:21 to 2:04.
Pitchreel-flippers
SCENE 5
Kermit notes that "they cut it off before the part about the flippers." Kermit is affronted again, that they're teaching body parts and leaving out flippers. Rowlf defensively points out that they didn't include anything about paws, tails, or floppy ears either. Kermit: "Don't lay your hang-ups on me, doggy!" Kermit also remains skeptical of "that bunch working on a title."
Muppet research
Pitchreel-kiddyshow
SCENE 5
cont'd
Back in the boardroom, a Muppet suggests they call the series The Little Kiddy Show. Grump likes it, but suggests appending The Nitty-Gritty Little Kiddy Show. Conrad Love raises an objection about specifying the age group, so it becomes The Itty-Bitty, Nitty-Gritty Little Kiddy Show. Kermit remains skeptical of their efforts, while Rowlf introduces a rocket launch short, to help number recognition.
Rocketfallsover
Cartoon
In an animated segment with styling similar to The Beatles' animated Yellow Submarine feature, a countdown announcer counts backwards from 10, only to have the rocket fall over.
Pitchreel-rocketcomment1
SCENE 6
Kermit hopes the show works better than the rocket, but Rowlf says it was only his first try.
Rocketblowsup
Cartoon
This time, the rocket goes off at the count of 4, leaving the announcer and spectators covered in ash.
Pitchreel-rocketcomment2
SCENE 7
Kermit is unnerved by the catastrophe, but Rowlf calls it an accident, and assures him he'll get it next time.
Rocketcountdowntakeoff
Cartoon
The announcer completes the countdown, but then blasts of himself.
Pitchreel-arrivederci
SCENE 8
Kermit looks up and says "Arrivederci!" to the upwardly mobile announcer. He notes that not only do they have a crummy rocket, but they'll breed a whole generation of kids counting backwards. Rowlf assures him they're going to count forwards too.
Erasercartoon
Cartoon
A boy with an eraser recites a variation of "One Two, Buckle My Shoe" while erasing various objects. The appropriate numbers appear for each couplet.
Artist: Fred Calvert
Pitchreel-boardroom3
SCENE 9
Boardroom. With all of the qualifiers, the show title becomes The Itty-Bitty, Farm and City, Witty Ditty, Nitty-Gritty, Dog and Kitty, Pretty Little Kiddy Show. Pure chaos ensues, since in addition to the chorus of objections, Beautiful Day Monster begins eating the conference table, Grump's chair, and generally running amok: "Who invited him anyhow?"
Lesser2
Jstoryboard
Pitchreel-CTWmeetings
SCENE 9
cont'd
Kermit is beginning to question whether anyone at the CTW knows what they're doing, "or are you just doing the whole thing with your little doggy brain?" Rowlf brings in Gerry Lesser of the Harvard University School of Education to explain the production process. Lesser describes the history of the production, beginning with the seminars between educators and "TV people."

As a specific example, Lesser highlights the development of the "J Commercial," from script idea to storyboard to the advisors' review. Experts and producers shown include production head David Connell, research director Dr. Edward Palmer, assistant project director Bob Davidson, child psychologist Dr. Marianne Blanc, Joan Ganz Cooney, curriculum specialist Edwina Myers, and teacher/CTW staffer Jane O'Connor. The next step is the recording session, featuring two unidentified child voice actors. Then come the animation artists. Lesser sums it up as a collaboration between production, researchers, and educational advisors, and then introduces the finished cartoon.
Herecomedejudge
Cartoon
"The J Commercial:" Two boys scrutinize a J, saying it looks like a fish-hook. A resonant voice (Gary Owens) informs them that it's the letter J. This leads to a jazzy story about Joe. Moral: "Don't jive a judge by jamming a junebug."
Artist: Fred Calvert
Pitchreel-testkids
SCENE 10
Kermit judges the cartoon as "groovy," but Dr. Lesser points out that one more step remains, test screenings with a sample audience. Six children are shown viewing the cartoon, each pair having seen it a different number of times. The children are tested to see if they can identify the symbol of the letter J, what words begin with the letter, and whether they can draw a J. Researcher Barbara Frengel reports the results to Palmer and Connell.
Version 2 is missing almost two minutes of this part, including some of the testing and the conversation between the researchers.
Pitchreel-scheduling
SCENE 10
cont'd
Kermit: "Rowlf, I hate to admit it, but you're beginning to make sense." Rowlf discusses how it's going to be an important show, and again uses the adjective "groovy." He also explains why the show is programmed for the morning. Kermit notes that frog kids are more receptive in the morning.
Pitchreel-boardroomfinal
SCENE 10
cont'd
Kermit still has one question, whether they're really depending on "that bunch" to come up with a title. Back in the boardroom, where the remaining members are tired and haggard, a final suggestion occurs. Scoop, reasoning that the audience will be kids who don't know how to read or write, suggests the title Hey, Stupid!
In Version 1, the other members look at him wearily and give signs of disapprovement. Scoop remarks, "No good, huh? ... Eh, just a thought."
Pitchreel-kiss
SCENE 11
A fed-up Rowlf ejects the group. Kermit calls it the smartest move he ever made, but Rowlf is beginning to despair. Kermit asks about the series, and Rowlf explains that it will take place mostly on a street, on the front steps of a house, and is intended to open up new worlds. Kermit suggests Sesame Street, evocative of both "Open Sesame" and a street where neat stuff happens. Rowlf gives Kermit a grateful kiss.  
Pitchreel-rowlfsobbing
SCENE 11
cont'd
Rowlf asks Kermit if he's going to help out with the show. Kermit admits he's unsure. After Rowlf gives out with an emotional appeal, Kermit says no. Rowlf collapses emotionally, while Kermit ponders whether to tell him that he was only kidding. The scene ends with a close-up shot of the Children's Television Workshop seal.
Both Version 1 and Version 2 have a different take of this ending.
Pitchreel-conclusion
Conclusion
Joan Ganz Cooney returns, to urge that the show be aired at the mid-morning (10 AM in the West and 9 in the Midwest), as the time when the pre-schooler is in control of the set. She also says the timing will allow for repeats later in the afternoon (a common practice until recent years) and hopes that station managers will participate in "this important experiment," beginning next fall.
Rowlf mentioned some of this in the part of Scene 10 which this conclusion replaces.

Credits

Henker60s

Jim Henson with Kermit on the set.

Television/Home Video Releases

Several documentaries have used clips from the film: Sesame Street Unpaved, A&E Biography: Sesame Street, The Muppets Celebrate Jim Henson, and The World According to Sesame Street.

The second version of the pitch reel was included as a bonus feature on the DVD release Old School: Volume 1 in 2006.

Sources

  1. Jim Henson's journal, pictured in Sesame Street: A Celebration - 40 Years of Life on the Street on page 30, says it was filmed on January 22, 1969
  2. Sesame Street: A Celebration - 40 Years of Life on the Street, page 31

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