The Man from Alphabet was a series of four five-minute film segments made for the Sesame Street pilot episodes in July, 1969. Created by Sesame executive producer David Connell, the segments referenced such tongue-in-cheek spy series as Get Smart and The Man from U.N.C.L.E. The series starred the Man from Alphabet (played by Gary Owens), a bumbling spy in a trenchcoat who, with the help of a young paperboy called H.B., tried to catch the villainous Digby Dropout and his henchman Dunce using clues from H.B.'s "Alphabet Book." Initially, the Man was also to have had a chief, "Teacher."
As one of the earliest film segments completed, the series was heavily featured in advance promotion for Sesame Street, mentioned in newspaper articles and promotional copy as early as March 1969, at a time when even the street format hadn't been settled. Most of the promotion placed stress on the "comic strip" aspect of the series, and on the presence of Gary Owens, then an up and coming personality.
Later in the year, a color ad appeared in the November issue of several DC Comics, with Batman and Superman promoting Sesame Street and their own forthcoming appearances on the series, which laid particular emphasis on "The Man from Alphabet."
Despite the advance publicity, and Connell's investment in the series, "The Man from Alphabet" proved to be a failure with test audiences. The combination of the Man from Alphabet's constant bungling and problem solving attempts confused kids, and the lessons never came across. H.B.'s role as the true problem-solver was not clearly understood, a fact exacerbated by the child actor's stilted delivery and poor diction. As assessed by Edward L. Palmer, "The amount of truly effective educational content, relative to our goals, is virtual nil." The Man from Alphabet also walked through the window of his door to enter his office, a violent movement which might have proved imitable.
After reviewing the test results, producer Connell advised that the segments be shelved, referring to them as "Connell's Folly". The segments never aired on Sesame Street, although elements of the series (a detective who solved problems using letters of the alphabet) do appear in the earliest installments of the recent Jane Tuesday segments.
- Gary Owens as The Man from Alphabet
- Bob Arbogast as Teacher
- Gene Moss as Digby Dropout
- Jim Thurman as Dunce
- David Ketchum as Newspaper Customer
- Murrow, Robert F. Sesame Street and the Reform of Children's Television. pgs. 91-92. 2005.
- Lesser, Dr. Gerald S. Children and Television: Lessons from Sesame Street. pgs. 123, 158, 162 1974.
- Feinstein, Phyllis. All About Sesame Street. 1971.