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Written by Michael Davis
Published December 26, 2008
Publisher The Viking Press
Listen & Live Audio (audio)
ISBN 0670019968
1593161408 (audio)

Softcover edition

Street Gang: The Complete History of Sesame Street is a narrative nonfiction book written by former TV Guide editor Michael Davis. The 384-page hardcover book focuses on the development and rise of Sesame Street as an influential children's show and pop culture staple.

The project was first announced in passing in trade journals in March 2006; one such article claimed that "a dozen of New York’s top publishers [were] eager to get their hands this week on the story of how Sesame Street emerged as the iconic program that shaped the minds of countless kiddies around the globe."[1] The book was released by Viking Press in December 2008. Author Michael Davis has confirmed that the book is the result of completing more than 200 interviews over the course of five years.[2]

The book's back cover features an endorsement by puppeteer Frank Oz, who says:

What I appreciate about Michael Davis' new book on Sesame Street is the depth of his research and how he spotlights those people who deserve to have more light shed upon them for their great contributions to the show. And what's refreshing is how he does not run away from conflicts that sometimes occurred behind the scenes, which were part of the creative energy of the show. He has really captured the spirit of how Sesame Street came to be. A wonderful book.

The book was adapted as a documentary, titled Street Gang: How We Got to Sesame Street, originally announced in 2016 and released in 2021.


Marty Arnold, Nick Aronson, Martin Baker, Lou Berger, Dr. Lewis Bernstein, Frank Biondo, Linda Bove, Molly Boylan, Fran Brill, Bernie Brillstein, David V. B. Britt, Alice Cahn, Dave Campbell, Christopher Cerf, Peggy Charren, Dr. Milton Chen, George Clash, Gladys Clash, Kevin Clash, Bob Colleary, Jill Colley, Judy Collins, Pat Collins, Alan Connell, Jan Connell, Joan Ganz Cooney, Mike Dann, Jim Day, Emilio Delgado, Cynthia P. Deutsch, Danny Epstein, Jason Epstein, Bonnie Erickson, Susan Erion, Annie Evans, Karen Falk, Judy Freudberg, Amy Friedman, Julian Ganz, Brian Garfield, Tony Geiss, Arthur Gelb, Dave Goelz, Linda Gottlieb, Louis L. Gould, Pam Green, Karen Gruenberg, Robert Hatch, Richard D. Heffner, Brian Henson, Cheryl Henson, Jane Henson, Don Hewitt, Jane Hunt, Kate Hunt, Al Hyslop, Eric Jacobson, Jim Jinkins, Brown Johnson, James Earl Jones, Jerry Juhl, Chloe Kimball, Emily Kingsley, Gary Knell, David Lazer, Sharon Lerner, Gerry Lesser, Loretta Long, Joan Lufrano, Sonia Manzano, Ted May, Joey Mazzarino, Mac McGarry, Bob McGrath, Alan Menken, Lloyd Morrisett, Mary Morrisett, Annie Moss, Jerry Nelson, Arthur Novell, Rosie O'Donnell, Roscoe Orman, Sarah Morrisett Otley, Frank Oz, Pete Peterson, Nick Raposo, Alaina Reed, Martin P. Robinson, Charles Rosen, David Rudman, Diane Sawyer, Josh Selig, Craig Shemin, Arlene Sherman, Cathy Short, Fred Silverman, Lisa Simon, Dulcy Singer, Liz Smith, Caroll Spinney, Norman Stiles, Beverly Stone, Jon Stone, Polly Stone, Stuart Sucherman, John Tartaglia, David Tatum, James Taylor, Rosemarie Truglio, Tom Whedon, Steve Whitmire, Caroly Wilcox, Mo Willems, Vanessa Williams, Norton Wright, and Janet Wolf.

Audio book[]


Caroll Spinney in the studio recording the Street Gang audio book.

Viking Press originally published the book on December 26, 2008, while Listen & Live Audio released an audio version of the book narrated by Caroll Spinney on the same day.[3] The nine-hour reading was released as a 7-disc CD set and as a digital download. The reading was originally advertised to have been unabridged, however the final product has been slightly abridged. Recording for the project occurred in early November 2008 at a studio in Manhattan.[3] The audiobook also features an exclusive hour-long interview of Caroll Spinney by author Michael Davis on the final disc in the set. The interview was also made available as a standalone audio download from Listen & Live's online store.[4]

A library edition of the audiobook was released in September 2009, containing the unabridged version read by Spinney.[5] It is published by Playaway/Findaway World Llc (ISBN13: 9781615748099, ISBN: 1615748091).

Second edition[]

A second edition of the book was released in paperback on October 27, 2009. The second edition apparently corrects errors present in the first edition (Davis hired an independent fact checker).[6] The second edition was to have featured an additional chapter covering the casting of Roscoe Orman as the show's third Gordon, among other topics.[7] An excerpt of the chapter can be read on the official Street Gang website,, but this chapter does not appear in the final product.

Events & Publicity[]


Michael Davis, Christopher Cerf, Roscoe Orman, and Caroll Spinney at a New York Barnes & Noble event (1/5/09)

  • On December 6, 2008, actor Denis Leary appeared on NPR's Wait Wait...Don't Tell Me and fielded three trivia questions taken from the book.[8]
  • Michael Davis was interviewed in a January 2, 2009, Associated Press video, released on YouTube. (YouTube)
  • Michael Davis appeared on NPR's The Diane Rehm Show on January 6, 2009, to talk about the book.[9]
  • Michael Davis appeared at the National Press Club in Washington, DC on January 6, 2009, to talk about the book.[11]
  • Michael Davis appeared at the Harvard Bookstore (Harvard University; Boston, MA) on January 8, 2009; Greetings & Readings (Baltimore, MD) on January 10, 2009; the University of Pennsylvania (Barnes & Noble; Philadelphia, PA) on January 27, 2009; the Gershman Y (Philadelphia, PA) on January 28, 2009; and Books by the Bay (Lewes, DE) and Browseabout Books (Rehobeth Beach, DE) on February 18, 2009; Regulator Bookshop (Durham, NC) on April 24, 2009; Barnes & Noble (Huntersville, NC) on April 25, 2009; Atlanta Fulton County Library (Atlanta, GA) on April 27, 2009; Books and Books (Coral Gables, FL) on April 29, 2009; and Inkwood Books (Tampa, FL) on April 30, 2009. Davis is also scheduled to appear at Sarasota New & Books (Sarasota, FL) on May 1, 2009; Touro Synagogue (Newport, RI) on May 31, 2009; Books on the Square (Providence, RI) on August 15, 2009; and Doylestown Bookshop (Doylestown, PA) on September 12, 2009.[12][13]
  • C-SPAN 2 program Book TV aired a program on January 24, 2009 (10:00pm), featuring a 90-minute discussion with Michael Davis.[14]
  • Michael Davis and Roscoe Orman appeared on Oprah & Friends Radio with Dr. Mehmet Oz (XM-Sirius Radio Channel 195) on February 18, 2009, to promote the book and discuss parenting and children's television.


Davis spent five years reporting and writing the story of the longest-running children's show in TV history, which was the brainchild of Jim Henson, the late Muppets creator, and entrepreneur Joan Ganz Cooney. Davis refers to the show as "a confluence of genius" and dubs Henson "wondrously human."
—Craig Wilson, USA TODAY[15]

the author’s swift narrative—the product of hundreds of interviews—is essentially a Dumpster dive into Oscar’s trash can of cast stories (particularly entertaining is Kevin Clash, the voice of Elmo) and even public controversy (Davis gives a great analysis of discussions surrounding Bert and Ernie’s sexuality). It’s a sensitive, honest account that could jog fond memories even from the amnesiac Street denizen Forgetful Jones.
—Drew Toal, Time Out New York[16]

Davis tracks down every “Sesame” anec­dote and every “Sesame” personality in his book, and the result is more an oral history than a tightly organized narrative. The development of the show’s characters, as well as the performers’ own lives, can be illuminating... Davis has written a tireless if not altogether artful history of this unique place. Here, finally, we get to touch Big Bird’s feathers.
—James Panero, New York Times[17]

Davis, a veteran journalist at publications like TV Guide, culls insights from the show's creators and cast to serve up this painstakingly detailed history of television's most famous address. He writes as an unabashed fan of the show's charms rather than as a dispassionate historian, and the approach yields mixed results.
—Alex Altman, Time[18]

Now viewed as an American institution, Sesame Street revolutionized children's television when it debuted in 1969. Journalist Davis, who wrote for TV Guide for 10 years, traces the ups and downs of the longest-running children's television show, airing in more than 120 countries... Anyone who has ever seen Sesame Street, as parent or child -- or both -- will love the detail and exuberance of this book.

One criticism of "Sesame Street" is that it is too episodic; another is that the segments are too short. "Street Gang" has the same problem. Davis is everywhere, from 1958 to 2008 and back again. He expounds on topics such as Woodstock and children of divorce... The book fails to maintain the same clear purpose and focus so important to the show it tries to describe.
—Diana Wagman, Los Angeles Times[20]

Some of the best passages in Street Gang recount behind-the-scenes stories... Davis seems quick to repeat every positive claim ever made about "Sesame Street," from singer and frequent guest-star Judy Collins's recollection that the show gave her "a spark, a will to live" during her boozy years in the '70s to a public broadcasting honcho's assertion that "This is the most important thing since the discovery of the atom bomb."
—Nick Gillespie, The Washington Post[21]


The following errors persisted in the paperback second edition of the book:

  • On page 1, Davis misstates the year that Frank Oz joined Muppets, Inc.: "Sitting nearby was Frank Oz, who in 1969—Sesame's debut year—became a Henson protégé, having joined the Muppets right out of high school." On page 84, however, Davis states the year correctly as "six months after Sahlin's arrival," i.e. 1963.
  • In chapter 5, page 80, Davis writes "Down the years, Jane Henson has steadfastly held that the name [Muppet] was derived as an amalgam of 'marionette' and 'puppet.'" A similar claim appears in the 1993 book Jim Henson: The Works, which Davis references six times in the chapter. However, a 2003 Washington Post article cited Jane Henson's thoughts on the subject: "Puppeteer Jane Henson said her husband just liked the word."[22]
  • Page 140 features a photo of Jeff Moss and Cookie Monster with the caption: "Cookie Monster owes his existence to Jeff Moss, head writer when the character was introduced". Jon Stone was head writer for the first season; Moss replaced him the following season. This error was corrected in chapter 16, page 255.
  • Page 221 says that Jon Stone took over as executive producer of Sesame Street when David Connell and Sam Gibbon began work on The Electric Company. Connell was still executive producer of Sesame Street when The Electric Company started its first season. Stone replaced Connell on Sesame Street in season 4 (while Gibbon became executive producer of The Electric Company in season 2).
  • On page 244, Davis gives a mistaken explanation of the term "right handing" (sometimes referred to as "doing right hands" or "working right hands"): "The inglorious but necessary task of operating the rod that controls the arm of a character that is not being manipulated by the main performer is called 'working the right hand.'" Although this is occasionally true, "right handing" is typically used in reference to live-hand Muppets rather than hand-rod Muppets.
  • Pages 246-247 talk about the evolution of Cookie Monster, stating that the character's personality was determined after a game show sketch ended with him choosing a cookie as a prize. However, Cookie Monster did not appear in that sketch (the monster who did appear was Beautiful Day Monster).
  • Page 276 talks about A Special Sesame Street Christmas, mentioning that Leslie Uggams, Ethel Merman, and Imogene Coca were all "early guests on The Muppet Show, before top-name talent began flocking to the syndicated show after the first season". Imogene Coca never appeared on The Muppet Show, while Uggams guest starred in season 3, at which point the show was already a hit.
  • On page 327, a list of "enriching, progressive, and groundbreaking series" that David Connell worked as executive producer for lists Out to Lunch, which was not a series but a television special.
  • Page 332 incorrectly states that Norman Stiles joined the Sesame Street writing staff in 1969. He joined in 1971, for the show's third season.


  1. "Henson’s Furry Tales in Book Form," Broadcasting & Cable, March 12, 2006
  2. Personal communication, M. Davis and S. Hanson. March 1, 2008.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Caroll Spinney to Narrate "Street Gang" Audiobook. October 22, 2008.
  4. Author Michael Davis with Narrator Caroll Spinney
  5. MuppetCast #126 at the 1:15:30 mark
  6. Personal communication, M. Davis and S. Hanson.
  7. - Extra Chapter
  8. - Wait, Wait... Don't Tell Me
  9. "11:00 Michael Davis "Street Gang" (Penguin)," The Diane Rehm Show, January 6, 2009.
  10. Time Out New York
  11. Author Describes History of Sesame Street, January 7, 2009
  12. Tour Dates and Cities for Michael Davis
  13. Michael Davis Appearances
  14. Dorian T., "Book TV - Street Gang, Book-TV, January 22, 2009.
  15. Craig Wilson. 'Sesame Street' is 40 but young at heart USA TODAY
  16. Drew Toal. Street Gang: Book Review Time Out New York
  17. James Panero. Brought to You by the Letter S New York Times.
  18. Alex Altman. The History of Sesame Street Time. December 29, 2008.
  19. Booklist review, on Street Gang press site.
  20. Diana Wagman. Book Review: 'Street Gang' by Michael Davis. January 8, 2009.
  21. Nick Gillespie, "ABCs & 123s on TV", The Washington Post, January 25, 2009, Page BW08.
  22. Shen, Fern "Do You Know the Muppet Man?" The Washington Post, Monday, September 22, 2003; p. C14.

External links[]