'Sesame Street' Celebrates 40 Years

Photo: Sesame Street 40th Anniversary

"Sesame Street," the beloved children's show, turns 40 this week. The longest-running show in children's television history, whose fuzzy, lovable muppets are now seen in more than 140 countries, revolutionizing children's television. "Sesame Street" became the first show for kids that had education as its guiding principle and used the power of TV to teach.

Today is the season 40 premiere, but Google.com celebrated early, including Big Bird's feet in the "Google Doodle," the icon on the site's homepage. Bert and Ernie, Cookie Monster and Count Dracula also graced the site.

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And the show is pulling out all the stops, planning a season filled with celebrity appearances, by Cameron Diaz, Sarah Jessica Parker, Kobe Bryant and others. First lady Michelle Obama will plant a garden with Big Bird and Elmo, pushing a new focus on nature, the environment and "green" issues.

VIDEO: "GMA" throws a party to celebrate the shows 40 years on the air.
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CLICK HERE to see Sesame Street's stars and celebrity guests through the years.

But since the series premiered in 1969, "Sesame Street" is no longer the only game in town. More and more kids are drawn to cartoons like "SpongeBob Square Pants," or options on the Internet, making it more difficult to captivate the newest generation of young viewers.

But for the staff at "Sesame Street," adapting to the times and changing technologies is nothing new. It has broadened its target audience, adding new characters and tweaking the format each season.

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"The thing that keeps 'Sesame Street' on the air is that we are constantly evolving with the times," said Executive Producer Carol-Lynn Parente. "We start every season with a research seminar. We bring educators and experts in to tell us what the needs of preschoolers [are] today. And that today has changed from the 20 years since I've been here and certainly over the 40-year span of the show. The show is vastly different than the 'Sesame Street' I watched as a kid."

The show's cast of characters has undergone makeovers. The original Oscar in 1969 was orange. Now, the grouchy, trash-can muppet is the more recognizable green. The lovable and ticklish muppet Elmo was added to the show in the late '70s to appeal to its younger audience.

 Video: View co-host talk about controversial Sesame Street skit.
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"One of the main reasons Elmo was put on the show was that they found out how young the kids were who were watching the show .. .and they needed a younger character," said actor Kevin Clash, who has been the voice behind Elmo since 1983. "When I first started performing, Elmo was more primitive -- 'Elmo do this, Elmo do that' -- but now he speaks in fuller sentences."

Video: Ricky Gervais and Elmo outtakes.
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