Television Workshop (CTW) is a nonprofit organization created in
1967 for the purpose of producing the educational program Sesame
Street. CTW was headed by Joan Ganz Cooney, a television producer
who, with Lloyd Morrisett of the Markle Foundation, attracted funding
from federal and private sources, including the U.S. Department
of Health, Education, and Welfare, the National Institutes of Mental
Health, the Carnegie and Ford foundations, and the Corporation for
Public Broadcasting. Sesame Street, designed to promote the
intellectual and cultural growth of preschoolers, particularly disadvantaged
preschoolers, revolutionized children's educational television when
it premiered in 1969 and established the Workshop's model for program
development and research regarding children and television.
CTW model refers to the unique process of educational program development
at its workshop. It evolved under the direction of Cooney, Dr. Edward
L. Palmer, director of research, and Dr. Gerald S. Lesser, Chairman
of the CTW Board of Advisors. Each CTW series begins with extensive
initial planning sessions involving producers, researchers, content
experts, and advisors. The concepts developed in these sessions
are then translated into program segments and pretested with the
target audience. Frequently the testing extends for lengthy periods
prior to actual production, so that producers can see how receptive
the audience is to the educational messages embedded in the programs.
In preparing for Sesame Street, for example, the research
and design focused on demonstrable ability to attract attention,
to appeal to the audience, and to be comprehensible. Researchers
assessed the attention holding power of material by presenting content
in competition with potential distractions. The tactics which elicited
most interactivity among viewers were explored further. The research
concluded with tests for recall by appropriate audiences. As a result
of these procedures Sesame Street went on air with very specific
attention holding tactics such as fast movement, humor, slapstick,
and animation. It was packaged in a magazine format, and presented
a carefully planned curriculum that focused on teaching letters
and number skills.
program development at CTW does not stop when programs are broadcast.
In addition to the unusual attention to formative research, the
CTW model also includes a strong commitment to summative research
and as part of the summative research plan, the Educational Testing
Service (ETS) was commissioned to evaluate the program. In a series
of studies published by ETS in 1970 and 1972, researchers Ball and
Bogatz found significant program-viewing impact and the development
of a positive attitude toward school. Cook and Connor in a 1976
summary discovered that parental encouragement was vital to learning
and that advantaged families were more likely to watch, thus ironically
arguing that the gap between that group and the disadvantaged was
Street is clearly CTW's outstanding success, broadcast continuously
since 1969. From its beginning as a weekday show designed to teach
thinking skills and factual knowledge such as letters and number
skills, the curriculum has been broadened to include goals such
as reasoning, bilingual skills, acceptance of special needs, ecology,
and health. The program is viewed by almost half of all U.S. preschoolers
on a weekly basis. Internationally it has been broadcast in more
than 40 countries and there are at least ten foreign-language versions.
the success of Sesame Street CTW went on to produce a number
of other major educational programs including The Electric Company,
which premiered in 1971 and was in production for a decade. The
Electric Company emphasized symbol and sound analysis and meaning
in a half-hour program designed to help slower readers catch up
and good readers reinforce their skills. The Electric Company
used the CTW model, a magazine format, and a variety of entertaining
and attention-grabbing production techniques. Formative research
for the program included innovative eye movement and eye contact
measures of appeal and attention. ETS evaluation found that The
Electric Company fostered significant positive effects, particularly
for the youngest target viewers. Feeling Good, a 24-episode
experimental series, was programmed in 1974, designed to examine
health issues and targeted particularly for young parents and low-income
families. Funding difficulties and low ratings forced the program
to be produced in stages with considerable format changes. Low public
awareness of the program seemed to contribute to lack of demonstrable
Contact, a 65-program series for 8- to 12-year olds, premiered
in 1980 and focused on science and technology. The goals were to
promote scientific thinking, participation in science activities,
and awareness of science as a career, particularly for women and
minority children. It used a magazine format with continuing features
such as a mystery adventure dramatic component. Research by Mielke
and Chen in 1980 and 1983 found 3-2-1 Contact attractive
to children, with particularly positive responses to the drama format
used in the Bloodhound Gang segments.
One TV premiered in 1987 with the goal of increasing problem
solving ability and positive attitude toward mathematics for 8-
to 12-year olds. Format features include Mathnet, game show parodies,
and commercials. The program covers mathematical concepts from estimation
through graphics, probabilities, and geometry and CTW research shows
increases in problem solving ability and more positive attitudes
toward mathematics in the target age group. Ghostwriter,
a series focusing on writing skills, premiered in 1992. The series'
appeal was built around a computer that provided "ghostlike" clues
which enabled a group of young people to solve problems. Of all
the CTW programs, only Sesame Street is still in production, but
because there is always a new audience of children available, most
of the programs can still be seen. And these are only a sampling
of major CTW projects. The Workshop continues with many other projects
on the air and in development.
the 1980s, many of the funds for CTW were generated from Sesame
Street product sales, the Sesame Place amusement Park, and from
Sesame Street Live, a touring company. CTW became an unhappy participant
in the struggles over PBS funding in the mid-1990s when the financial
success of Sesame Street was used as an example of why public
funding was not needed to support educational children's programming.
In spite of such difficulties the Children's Television Workshop--and
Sesame Street in particular--remain a hallmark of children's programming
in the U.S.
J., A. Alexander, and D. Brown. "Learning from Educational Television
Programming." In Howe, M., editor. Learning from Television,
London: Academic Press, 1983.
Learning from Television: Research and Development at the Children's
Television Workshop." Special Issue of Educational Technology
Research and Development (Washington, D.C.), 1990.
B.R., B. Gunter, and J. McAleer. Television and Children: Program
Evaluation, Comprehension, and Impact. Hillsdale, New Jersey:
Gerald S. Children and Television: Lessons from Sesame Street.
New York: Random House, 1974.
See also Children and Television;
Cooney, Joan Ganz