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Joan Cooney

Co-Founder, Sesame Workshop

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Joan Ganz Cooney, co-founder of Sesame Workshop, was producing documentaries at Channel 13 when she took on the opportunity to research how television could be used to educate pre-schoolers. The research led to one of the most beloved children's shows still on air today.
A founder of the Sesame Workshop and co-creator of Sesame Street, Joan Ganz Cooney knew that educational television was her calling the moment she walked into Channel 13. Born and raised in Phoenix, Arizona, Cooney moved out east after college working as a publicist for the likes of RCA, NBC, and CBS's United States Steel Hour. It was at CBS when a colleague told her about educational television and her new career took off.   At a dinner party with Lloyd Morrisset, an executive at Carnegie Corporation, a conversation on whether children could learn from watching television spurned into a study on the topic funded by Carnegie Corporation and conducted by Cooney. The final report suggested a show like Sesame Street. With $8 million in funding, the Children's Television Workshop (now Sesame Workshop) was founded to produce the show. The first episode of Sesame Street premiered on PBS on November 10, 1969 to critical acclaim and high ratings, and after four decades remains a beloved children's television show.   Cooney was the first female non-performer to be inducted into the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Hall of Fame, was given the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Clinton, was awarded an Emmy Award for Lifetime Achievement, and in 2007, the Sesame Workshop founded The Joan Ganz Cooney Center, named in her honor.

More From Joan

Jim Henson & The Muppets
Cooney recalls how Jim Henson initially turned down Sesame Street because he didn't want to be a children's producer, and how it wound up being the perfect opportunity for him...and his Muppets.

"There's Educational Television?"
Cooney talks about how she felt her 20s were wasted not making a difference until she learned about educational television and did everything she could to get involved. 

Grown Ups Were Watching Too
Cooney explains how it was important that not only children watch Sesame Street, but their parents, too, and how critically acclaimed the show was.

How Big Bird Was Born
Cooney shares how the Muppets came to live on Sesame Street based on the research that children paid more attention to a mixture of fantasy with reality.

One Degree-itis
Cooney talks about the advice she received from Ford Foundation's Fred Friendly on how to not fall victim to "one-degree-itis" and to hold on steadfastly to her vision.

Muppets Around the World
Cooney shares her surprise when different countries wanted part in Sesame Street since she saw it as the "quintessential American television show."

Only Men in Children's TV
Cooney on how she made her way through a male-dominated industry by being "one of them" to avoid the "unraveling" woman role.

Drawing in the Producers
Cooney explains the initial trouble she had drawing entertainment producers, but because of the combination of the traumatic times and an $8 million budget, people were interested in joining a project that would speak to disadvantaged children.

How Do Children Learn?
Cooney talks about one of the most significant pieces of research she received from a child psychiatrist on how children learn.

Widow's Insurance Policy
Cooney shares why majoring in education was a very popular thing to do back in the day and how it actually wound up helping her when she was researching for Sesame Street.

Reborn at 32
Cooney explains how educational television was a calling for her. She had always wanted to make a difference in the world, and she knew she could do just that with Channel 13.

Oh, You've Got To Go Into Analysis!
While living in NYC, Cooney found that she was not happy with her career. With the advice of a friend, she went to see a analyst who would change her life.