Sesame Street has produced over 4,500 original episodes of television over the course of fifty years. Most TV shows consider it a huge landmark if they're able to pass one hundred episodes, an achievement that Sesame Street has reached forty-five times over.
Given the vast volume of content produced in this time, it's expected that not every production would survive (for example, the BBC's Doctor Who has famously lost a number of early episodes due to broadcaster practices during the 1960s). YouTube channels and wikis (such as lostmediawiki.com) have dedicated themselves to unearthing lost media, however the use of the term "lost" in many of these instances is something of a misnomer. "Elusive" may be a more appropriate term in the case of Sesame Street segments due to the fact that many older episodes simply haven't been rebroadcast in decades, but the segments were often repeated several times over in later episodes. More often than not, segments that have been assumed "lost" from the perspective of fandom have merely been tucked away in the archives waiting to be rediscovered.
However, a select number of Sesame Street episodes have indeed been revealed to have gone missing over the years. The reasons range anywhere from the source materials being misplaced to having been the result of some accident that caused irreparable damage (fires, floods, etc); there is no evidence that negligence on the level of the aforementioned BBC practices occurred at CTW during the 1970s, nor were they the product of having been intentionally destroyed. While working on our project to build the world's first and only complete Sesame Street episode guide, at least fifty nine episodes have been found to be missing from the Sesame Archives — a significantly small amount considering the total number of episodes and the thousands of them that have, until recently, remained elusive for decades.
The following is a complete list of those episodes accompanied by a brief summary of what is currently unaccounted for. In all cases, the Street Scenes are lost, and some episodes feature segments that are not likely to have been inserted into later episodes. Each linked episode guide has been pieced together using archival scripts and may not perfectly reflect the finished product. Visuals for the lost content have been provided when available in the form of set photos.
Season 1 (3 episodes)
- Street Scenes — Mr. Hooper hands Js out to the kids; Oscar the Grouch expands his trash can.
- Songs — "Feelin' Groovy" and an unnamed Susan song.
- Street Scenes — The cast reads Sylvester and the Magic Pebble.
- Street Scenes — Pete Seeger returns.
- Songs — seven songs with Seeger
Season 2 (24 episodes)
- Street Scenes — Oscar's lost ribbon.
- Songs — "Special"
- Street Scenes — Oscar's spinach ice cream; Susan and Big Bird's remembering game.
- Songs — "Draw Me a Circle"
- Street Scenes — Gordon paints a chest; The Monkey and the Crocodile.
- Street Scenes — Miguel has Big Bird and some kids guess what the Spanish word "silla" means.
- Street Scenes — Miguel and Big Bird make a sign.
- Songs — "Same/Different Song"
- Street Scenes — First appearance of Slimey.
- Foreign dub — some of the street scenes survive dubbed in German from Sesamstrasse Folge 0014.
- Street Scenes — Oscar's grouch poem service.
- Foreign dub — some of the street scenes survive dubbed in German from Sesamstrasse Folge 0047.
- Street Scenes — Big Bird speaks in poems; Susan and Big Bird make bacon & eggs.
- Street Scenes — Frannie, a little girl Muppet, does an errand at Hooper's Store.
- Songs — Bob sings "Special"
- Street Scenes — Frannie picks a doll at Hooper's; a grandma buys food for pet monster.
- Street Scenes — First of two appearances by Carla Pinza as "Maria."
- Street Scenes — Bob and the kids make a soapbox racer for Big Bird.
- Songs — Bob sings "Up, Up and Away"
- Segment — Arte Johnson talks about noses and eyes (two segments).
- Street Scenes — Tom imagines himself as Oscar.
- Street Scenes — Big Bird thinks he's trapped in Hooper's Store.
- Street Scenes — Oscar builds a wall around his trash can. Guest actor Chris Wines.
- Songs — Bob sings "Don't You Know You're Beautiful?" to a Muppet girl.
- Foreign dub — some of the street scenes survive dubbed in German from Sesamstrasse Folge 0021.
- Street Scenes — First appearance of Vinnette Carroll as Lillian.
- Songs — Gordon, Oscar, Bob, and Susan sing "ET Family Song"
- Street Scenes — Big Bird dresses up as his own father.
- Foreign dub — some of the street scenes survive dubbed in German from Sesamstrasse Folge 0023.
- Street Scenes — Susan's missing flowers.
- Street Scenes — Big Bird delivers ice cream for Mr. Hooper.
- Foreign dub — some of the street scenes survive dubbed in German from Sesamstrasse Folge 0051.
- Street Scenes — Oscar's postal service.
- Foreign dub — some of the street scenes survive dubbed in German from Sesamstrasse Folge 0027.
- Street Scenes — Sesame Street holds a pet show.
- Street Scenes — Cleavon Little as Pete; Big Bird builds a moon rocket.
- Foreign dub — some of the street scenes survive dubbed in German from Sesamstrasse Folge 0029.
Season 3 (30 episodes)
- Street Scenes — Cleaning Hooper's Store.
- Songs — "We've Got to Work Together"; Bob and Rafael sing "Sing / Canta"
- Street Scenes — Tom wonders why there aren't any customers at Hooper's Store today.
- Songs — "Everyone Makes Mistakes"
- Street Scenes — Oscar takes charge of Mr. Hooper's recycle bins; Gordon, Big Bird, and the kids talk about fear.
- Street Scenes — Trash collection day on Sesame Street; Snuffy gets his trunk stuck in the mailbox.
- Songs — "I Love Trash"
- Street Scenes — Big Bird tries to stop litter.
- Street Scenes — Oscar puts up too many "NO" signs.
- Street Scenes — Mr. Snuffleupagus is afraid of fruit.
- Songs — "ABC-DEF-GHI"
- Street Scenes — Big Bird wants to imitate a rooster.
- Street Scenes — Big Bird imagines Upside Down Street.
- Street Scenes — Snuffy wants to surprise Big Bird; Big Bird babysits for his sister.
- Songs — "The Sound of the Letter A"; "Five Fingers on My Left Hand"
- Street Scenes — Big Bird tries to help a little lost boy get home.
- Street Scenes — Pete Seeger visits the street.
- Songs — "Seek and You Shall Find," "God Bless the Grass," "My Hat Has Three Corners"
- Street Scenes — Oscar makes a deal with Bob to be nice and helpful all morning.
- Songs — "San Serenin"
- Segments — Bob acts like a tour guide, showing off a large letter Y.
- Street Scenes — Big Bird sends himself a package.
- Songs — "The Grouch Song"
- Street Scenes — Big Bird is convinced Snuffy is imaginary.
- Street Scenes — Brother Kirk visits Sesame Street.
- Street Scenes — The Bronx Boy's Club visits.
- Segments — The Peaceful Hour Restaurant
- Street Scenes — Big Bird takes Oscar's place as the resident Grouch.
- Street Scenes — David and Herry Monster play a remembering game.
- Songs — Luis sings a Spanish folk song; David sings "Walk Down the Street".
- Street Scenes — Little Theatre of the Deaf returns.
- Street Scenes — Snow on Sesame Street.
- Street Scenes — Gordon accidentally knocks down Big Bird's house of cards; Luis makes a sign reading "Please Don't Pick the Flowers"
- Songs — "What Makes Music?"
- Street Scenes — Snuffy blows bubbles.
- Songs — "I Love Trash"
- Street Scenes — Oscar watches the Fix-It Shop.
- Street Scenes — Another visit from Pete Seeger.
- Songs — several Seeger songs
- Street Scenes — Big Bird accidentally locks himself in the garage.
- Songs — "Same and Different Song"
- Street Scenes — The Mudman gets a mud mobile to make mud deliveries.
- Songs — "Everybody Brush"
- Street Scenes — Snuffy lets a kid named Chrissy ride on his back and Big Bird is ecstatic that someone else has seen Snuffy.
- Songs — Charlotte Rae sings "Believe in Yourself"
Season 5 (1 episode)
- Street Scenes — The Count distracts Luis; Big Bird rhymes.
- Songs — "Which of These is a Square?"; "The Sound of the Letter A"
Season 11 (1 episode)
- Street Scenes — David trains Barkley.
While the revelation of missing episodes is discouraging with concern to building a complete Sesame Street episode guide, not all is lost. There are several avenues through which they may be found. In 2011, Sesame Workshop reached out to the public in order to identify the actor who originally played Gordon in a series of test shows produced in 1969 (the saga of this endeavor is covered at The Case of the Missing Gordon). The feat proved successful and demonstrated the power of social media in discovering information misplaced even at its source.
Below is a list of potential outlets through which these materials may be recovered:
- Broadcaster archives — local PBS affiliates who may not have purged their catalogue. For example, in 2017, Nashville Public Television published a video from their archives on Instagram.
- Raw footage — when we refer to "lost (or missing) episodes", that (usually) means final ready-for-broadcast edits including Street Scenes with segments. It's possible that raw footage still exists in the archives somewhere, waiting to be discovered.
- Kinescopes — in the days before VCRs became common, elementary school educators would record TV broadcasts with a black-and-white 16mm camera, to be screened later in classrooms when convenient. Episodes 172 and 179 (which are not lost), as well as some episodes of The Electric Company, have circulated in this format.
- Dubbed episodes — international versions of Sesame Street often repurposed material from the American episodes with a foreign language dub track. Some episodes of Sesamstrasse are known to have circulated in recent years.
- Academic libraries — writers and other CTW crew have donated scripts and video materials to libraries in the past, oftentimes entrusted to their own alma mater. Examples include the Beinecke Library and Syracuse University.
- Collectors — while home video recording didn't become commonplace until the VCR was introduced in the late 1970s, it's possible missing episodes may be among some private collections.
- Family estates — guest actors who appeared on the show would sometimes get copies of their episodes, or acquire them on their own. Pete Seeger and Cleavon Little appeared in multiple lost episodes each; both individuals have passed away, but it's possible their estates have kept copies of their work.
- Imagery — in the event that no material for a given episode can be found, still images may be available in the form of production photographs, storyboards, illustrations, published episode guides, etc.