"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.'"
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.