APPENDIX II


A VISIT TO A SESAME STREET TAPING (Take I—The Muppets)

Teletape studios look exactly the way Hollywood envisions a filming studio to look: dark, mysterious, slightly musky. The ceiling is alive with black-encased kleig light. Grounding wires snake crazily over, around and under the floor. The floor is crowded with cameras, electric equipment and a master switchboard with numbers 1 through 47 (Wouldn’t this make a great Sesame numbering sequence?) Grips, cameramen, producers, script people, and visitors group and regroup into tight conversational clusters. An imperious disembodied voice shoots directions from a mike; they swell and echo throughout the studio.

The Muppets, visible from their ankles down behind their puppet stage, are listening to an audio playback of a sequence they have just taped. It involves a man who knocks on Ernie’s door and says:

“Excuse me, sir. May I borrow your (ring, ring)? I was taking a ride in the (V-room) with my (waa-waa). I wanted to take him to the country to show him the (cluck, cluck) and the (moo) and the (neigh) and the (oink, oink). But I had to (screech) because a (choo-choo) was crossing the road. And I when I tried to get going I couldn’t get (whirr-whirr-whirr). And so I (clump, clump) to your house and want to use your (ring, ring).”

Understandably, Ernie was having some difficulty following the troubled man’s line of thought and so he asked him to repeat. Which he most obligingly did:

“Excuse me, sir. May I borrow your (ring, ring)? I was taking a ride in the (V-room) with my (waa-waa). I wanted to take him to the country to show him the (cluck, cluck) and the (moo) and the (neigh) and the (oink, oink). But I had to (screech) because a (choo-choo) was crossing the road. And I when I tried to get going I couldn’t get (whirr-whirr-whirr). And so I (clump, clump) to your house and want to use your (ring, ring).”

“Would you mind repeating that one more time?” asked Ernie.

“Excuse me, sir, etc….”

Finally Ernie (by his innate reasoning power) figured out what the man was saying.

“You mean, you were taking a ride in the country with your little boy. You wanted to show him the baby chicken and the cows and the horses and the pigs. But you had to stop because a train was crossing the road. And when you tried to get going you couldn’t get started. And so you walked to my house and want to use my telephone.”

“Yes, that’s right,” said the man.

“Of course,” Ernie replied, “You can use my (ring ring).”

“Say, are you making fun of the way I talk?” the man said.

“Why, no, I just….” Ernie said.

“Well if that’s the kind of guy you are, I’ll just go use someone else’s (ring ring).”

FADEOUT

At this point, a man in a black sweater begins to pass out chocolate cupcakes. How civilized, the visitor thinks, a coffee break. No such luck. The goodies are props for the next taping.

A tow-headed, sandled preschooler enters with her mother, kisses her daddy (Jon Stone) and quietly wriggles her bottom into a chair to watch the Muppets from the sidelines. Children are frequent guests at the tapings but there is very little opportunity for fun and games during working time. While the atmosphere is very, very relaxed and everyone kind of grooves together, everyone connected with the show is professionally concerned with working toward getting the very most creatively. Temperament is rare—if not obsolete—here. But they do take time to get things right. For example in a sequence of Ernie and Bert in their bedroom listening for the man upstairs to drop his two shoes, Frank Oz, as Bert, does a pratfall. First he tried it headfirst onto the bed. Then he tried a sideways dive—then backwards onto the bed. Nothing seemed right. The action stopped, the pressure was turned off, giving Frank time to think it out. The solution—Bert falls between the beds.

(Take II—The Street)

The second time around, I didn’t trip over the wires. As I opened the door to enter the studio, I plugged head-on into expanded scenery. When the Muppets taped, action was confined to a relatively concise space. However, when the Sesame Street is set up, it consumes the studio. This leviathan set, redesigned this year by Production Designer Chuck Rosen, has the dingy look of a typical New York brownstone. But Chuck didn’t build his set from demolition castoffs. He purchased them new—even the seedy corrugated tin walls—and then “aged” them.

You never know who’s going to turn up on Sesame Street. And today it’s Pete Seeger, big as life, joshing around with the kids. This is a return visit since his appearances in the first year were well received. Dressed in blue denims, red bandana tucked into his back pocket, Seeger leads the children into his “imagination” game.

“One of my children when we were riding in our car once said, ‘I see a long white zipper.’ Actually he imagined he saw a zipper in the broken white line on the center of the highway. That’s the way the game started. You look at something and imagine it looks like something else. Can you see imagination things?” he asked.

The children took to it right away. “I see a skinny monster with messy green hair.” (A tree)

“I see a blue thing with four legs.” (Mailbox)

“There’s a long, fat worm.” (Pipes)

When Big Bird strolled in on their game, the pitch rose decibels. The children’s love for is not pretense. More prized than Beatle hair ever was is Big Bird’s feathers. (Yes, BB molts.) And when Big Bird and Pete Seeger sing a duet (to “Michael Row Your Boat Ashore”) the children go wild. As Matt Robinson comments from the sidelines: “That’s really something else.”
Make your own free website on Tripod.com