Sesame Street has been teaching kids their ABCs since 1969 and still adheres to its initial goal of "mastering the addictive qualities of television and doing something good with them".
Starring a group of muppets designed by Jim Henson, it was conceived by TV producer Joan Ganz Cooney and Lloyd Morrisett of the Carnegie Corporation (an organisation that promotes learning) as an alternative to violent programmes aimed at children.
Big Bird was the first muppet to join Sesame Street and was joined by Elmo - most kids' favourite character - Bert, Ernie, Grover, Oscar the Grouch, The Count, Snuffleupagus, the Cookie Monster and later Zoe and Abby Cadabby.
The Cookie Monster is one of the original characters and until recently was voiced by Frank Oz, who also voices Miss Piggy and Fozzie Bear in The Muppet Show, directed the 1986 Little Shop Of Horrors remake and Dirty Rotten Scoundrels and was the operator and voice of Yoda in the Star Wars series. David Rudman has voiced Cookie Monster since 2002.
Sesame Street is now broadcast in 140 countries. It faces tough competition from cable networks but has extended its appeal by adding new characters and segments, including parodies of existing storylines like "True Mud" (True Blood), "The Furry Four" (The Fantastic Four) and "Pre-School Musical" (High School Musical). It also places an emphasis on cameos and David Beckham, Colin Farrell, Cameron Diaz, Eva Longoria, Adrian Grenier and Neil Patrick Harris are among this year's guest stars.
Sesame Street has been off-air in New Zealand since June 2005, but a petition to bring it back convinced Mediaworks to purchase the rights to screen it again this year.