Lewis Bernstein

Producer


The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Foundation Presents

02:26

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About
About this interview

Dr. Lewis Bernstein says of the staff of Sesame Street: "We torture ourselves, but we really try to think— how can we make an effect? Because we are still pretty much the sole whole curriculum show for pre-school children on the air." Lewis Bernstein has contributed as an executive, producer, and researcher at Sesame Workshop and has been one of the guiding forces of Sesame Street for several decades.  In his one-hour Archive interview, Bernstein talks about his early interest in teaching children and his education in the United States and Israel. He describes how he landed a job as a research fellow on Sesame Street in 1972, and chronicles the many stages of his career at the Workshop, from Director of Research, to Vice President of Global Television, to Sesame Street's executive producer. He describes the methods by which the series develops a yearly mission: utilizing the work of researchers and assigning writers and producers to create programming. He defines such early research techniques as the "distraction study" of Dr. Ed Palmer, which tested if a program was engaging enough to keep a child interested. Noting the importance of the cultural aspects of the series, he then speaks in great detail about episodes that were produced in response to 9/11. He talks about the mentoring of foreign producers to create their own series based on the Sesame Street model and describes the Israeli and Palestinian shows with which he was directly involved in developing— and the challenge in sharing material between the two versions: "There were certainly advisors whom we spoke with saying, 'what are you going to do the day there's a bus bomb in Israel and you show Palestinians and Israelis dancing together?' And you have Palestinians saying, 'what are you going to do when there's a closure and there's an ambulance that can't get from one side to another?' And we said, 'we're doing it now because now is when the need is the greatest. If we wait until everything's okay, you don't need this show.'" Other segments of Sesame Street that Bernstein comments on include: "Sesame English" (segments which were created to teach English to the foreign market), "Elmo's World" (segments for infants that were created in response to the competitive market), and "Global Grover" (segments employing footage of children from around the world). Karen Herman conducted the interview  on July 21, 2004 at the Sesame Workshop in New York, NY.

"I see my role somewhat like a conductor of a multi-talented orchestra who could almost conduct themselves, but every now and then you need somebody to hold a baton and say, 'let's do this together.'"

Highlights
Lewis Bernstein on his impressions of Sesame Street upon seeing the show for the first time, circa 1970
00:26
Lewis Bernstein on appealing to adults as well as children in the writing of Sesame Street (such as with a Six Feet Under reference by Count von Count)
01:36
Lewis Bernstein on Sesame Street's effect on racial tolerance in children
00:46
Lewis Bernstein on continuing the legacy of Sesame Street
00:42
Full Interview

Chapter 1

On his background; on the television shows he watched growing up; on earning his degrees in Psychology and Communications, and the epiphany he had about applying them after seeing Sesame Street; on landing a job as a research fellow on Sesame Street in 1972
On Sesame Street's joining of TV producers and educators; on the "distraction study" of Dr. Ed Palmer, which tested a child's engagement; on how Sesame Street researchers (in tandem with executives Joan Ganz Cooney and Lloyd Morrisett) geared the show to the "disadvantaged child"; on the show's effect on racial tolerance in children; on the show's "magazine format"
On appealing to children and adults in the writing of Sesame Street; on the international distribution of the US version and creation of foreign versions of the show; on the shows produced immediately following 9/11 that addressed children's fears and tolerance

Chapter 2

On bringing the stories of the world to Sesame Street with the "Global Grover" segment (in response to 9/11); on creating the Israeli/Palestinian co-production of Sesame Street (Shalom Sesame and Sha'ra Simsim), in which he had direct involvement, and overcoming resistance
On "Sesame English"— segments which were created to teach English to the foreign market; on becoming Vice President of Global Television at Sesame Workshop; on rethinking Sesame Street for the current market and considering the show's competition, out of which came "Elmo's World"
On continuing the legacy of Sesame Street; on keeping current with the issues that affect children; on changes to curriculum over the years; on serving as Sesame Street's executive producer

Chapter 3

On a coming up with a plan for a season's writing on Sesame Street; on the importance of music to Sesame Street; on the importance of innovation in developing television
Shows

Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In

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Exectuive producer Lewis Bernstein on the creation of Sesame Street's "magazine format" (influenced by such shows as Laugh-In)
01:41

Sesame Street

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Executive producer Lewis Bernstein on his impressions of Sesame Street upon seeing the show for the first time circa 1970
00:26
Executive producer Lewis Bernstein on landing a job as a research fellow on Sesame Street in 1972
01:32
Executive producer/former Director of Research Lewis Bernstein on Sesame Street's joining of TV producers and educators, which he discovered as he learned the ropes in the 1970s
02:42
Executive producer/former Director of Research Lewis Bernstein on the "distraction study" of Dr. Ed Palmer, which tested a child's engagement, used in early Sesame Street research
01:33
Executive producer/former Director of Research Lewis Bernstein on how Sesame Street researchers (in tandem with executives Joan Ganz Cooney and Lloyd Morrisett) geared the show to the "disadvantaged child"
01:02
Executive producer/former Director of Research Lewis Bernstein on Sesame Street's effect on racial tolerance in children
00:46
Executive producer/former Director of Research Lewis Bernstein on the long-term research of children who watched Sesame Street in the early years
00:38
Executive producer/former Director of Research Lewis Bernstein on the international distribution of the US version and creation of foreign versions of Sesame Street
02:20
Executive producer Lewis Bernstein on the Sesame Street shows produced immediately following 9/11 that addressed children's fears and on tolerance
03:07
Executive producer/former Director of Research Lewis Bernstein on the approach to culture in foreign versions of Sesame Street
01:04
Executive Producer Lewis Bernstein on bringing stories from around the world to Sesame Street with the "Global Grover" segment (in response to 9/11)
02:28
Producer Lewis Bernstein on creating the Israeli/Palestinian co-production of Sesame Street (Shalom Sesame and Sha'ra Simsim), in which he had direct involvement 
05:10
Producer Lewis Bernstein on overcoming the resistance to a Israeli/Palestinian co-production of Sesame Street (Shalom Sesame and Sha'ra Simsim)
00:35
Exectuive producer Lewis Bernstein on "Sesame English"— segments of Sesame Street created to teach English to the foreign market
02:19
Executive producer/former Director of Research Lewis Bernstein on rethinking Sesame Street for the current market and considering the show's competition, out of which came "Elmo's World" in the late 1990s
03:36
Executive producer/former Director of Research on what research indicated were the successful elements of "Elmo's World"
00:57
Lewis Bernstein on the rethinking of the original "magazine" format of Sesame Street in the late '90s when "Elmo's World" was introduced
02:15
Lewis Bernstein on continuing the legacy of Sesame Street
00:42
Lewis Bernstein on keeping current with the issues that affect children on Sesame Street
00:58
Lewis Bernstein on changes to Sesame Street's curriculum over the years
02:07
Lewis Bernstein on serving as Sesame Street's executive producer
02:02
Executive Producer Lewis Bernstein on what goes into a season's writing on Sesame Street
02:49
Executive producer Lewis Bernstein on the importance of music to Sesame Street
00:54
Executive Producer Lewis Bernstein on Children's Television Workshop (Sesame Workshop) visionary Joan Ganz Cooney
01:04

Six Feet Under

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Executive producer Lewis Bernstein on appealing to adults as well as children in the writing of Sesame Street (such as with a Six Feet Under reference by Count von Count)
01:36
Topics

9/11

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Executive producer Lewis Bernstein on the Sesame Street shows produced immediately following 9/11 that addressed children's fears and on tolerance
03:07
Executive Producer Lewis Bernstein on bringing stories from around the world to Sesame Street with the "Global Grover" segment (in response to 9/11)
02:28

Lyndon B. Johnson

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Executive Producer Lewis Bernstein on how executives Joan Ganz Cooney and Lloyd Morrisett's approach to Sesame Street was an outgrowth of Lyndon Johnson's "Great Society"
01:02

Minorities

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Future executive producer Lewis Bernstein on his impressions of Sesame Street upon seeing the show for the first time circa 1970
00:26
Executive producer/former Director of Research Lewis Bernstein on Sesame Street's effect on racial tolerance in children
00:46

We Considered

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Future executive producer Lewis Bernstein on his impressions of Sesame Street upon seeing the show for the first time circa 1970
00:26
Executive producer Lewis Bernstein on the Sesame Street shows produced immediately following 9/11 that addressed children's fears and on tolerance
03:07
Genres

Children's Programming

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Lewis Bernstein on what goes into a season's writing on Sesame Street
02:49
Executive producer Lewis Bernstein on the importance of music to Sesame Street
00:54
People

Joan Ganz Cooney

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Sesame Street Executive Producer Lewis Bernstein on Children's Television Workshop (Sesame Workshop) visionary Joan Ganz Cooney
01:04

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