Ganz Cooney is the one of the visionaries and the chief moving force
behind the creation of Children's Television Workshop (CTW) and
the most successful children's television show in the history of
either commercial or educational television, Sesame Street.
Before Sesame Street, successful children's programs were
entertainment oriented and appeared on commercial television; educational
programs were thought to be boring and pedantic and appeared on
public television which garnered a small, more affluent audience.
Cooney recognized that television could do more than entertain;
it could provide supplementary education at a fraction of the cost
of classroom instruction. She demonstrated that quality educational
programming could attract and hold a mass audience and established
an organization which continues to produce innovative programming
for all ages. And, via Sesame Street a larger, more diverse
audience discovered public television, bringing it to the forefront
of the national consciousness.
had an early interest in education, earning a B.A. degree in education
from the University of Arizona in 1951, but she gravitated toward
the mass media in part as a result of the influence of The Christophers,
a religious group who emphasize utilizing communication technologies
for humanitarian goals. Although she began her career as a reporter
for the Arizona Republic in 1952, she moved into television
in 1954, joining the NBC publicity department in New York, and by
1955 was handling publicity for the prestigious U.S. Steel Hour.
However, public television offered greater opportunity to do in-depth
analyses of major issues, and she moved to the non-commercial WNDT-TV
(now WNET-TV) in 1962, where she produced a number of documentaries,
including A Chance at the Beginning on a Harlem precursor
of Project Head Start and the Emmy-award-winning Poverty, Anti-Poverty
and the Poor
At a 1966 dinner party at her apartment Lloyd N. Morrisett, Vice
President of the Carnegie Corporation, wondered aloud whether television
could be a more effective educator. Realizing that she could continue
to produce documentaries without having a lasting effect on the
disadvantaged, Cooney undertook a study called "The Potential Uses
of Television in Preschool Education." This vision was the genesis
of a proposal she submitted to Carnegie in February 1968, a proposal
which resulted in the establishment of CTW and the creation of
Sesame Street. Morrisett was particularly active in developing
the proposal and raising the initial funds, and he remains a guiding
force of CTW, as Chairman of the Board of Directors. But it was
Cooney who articulated the creative vision and established the organization
which brought it to reality.
proposed taking advantage of commercial production techniques, such
as the fast pacing and repetition of advertisements and the multiple
formats of Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In to give life to the
curriculum. Although she hoped the program would educate all preschool
children, she stated that if the needs of disadvantaged children
were not met then the program would be a failure.
also recognized that educational programs often fail because they
are planned by educators and implemented by production personnel.
Shortly after the creation of CTW in March 1968, therefore, she
established a series of seminars in collaboration with Gerald S.
Lesser (a Harvard educational psychologist who became Chairman of
the Board of Advisors). Production personnel (under David D. Connell,
Executive Producer) worked with educators, child development experts,
and research personnel (under Edward L. Palmer, Director of Research)
to plan the show. Cooney, as Executive Director of CTW, established
the guidelines, stressing the importance of exploiting the unique
features of television to present a well defined curriculum designed
to supplement rather than replace classroom activity. She indicated
that there was to be no star but rather a multiracial cast including
both sexes and that the primary goal was to produce an excellent
program not more academic research. The working environment she
established was one that fostered mutual confidence and participation
among its diverse members.
her vision was articulated, Cooney developed an organization that
guaranteed the production team the freedom to focus upon the creative
task. Although required by funding agencies to establish an affiliation
with National Educational Television (NET), CTW remained semi-autonomous
and self-contained, utilizing some administrative functions of NET
but retaining all rights to the program. Cooney traveled the country,
insuring morning air time for the new show. CTW also utilized unprecedented
means of informing the potential audience, enlisting commercial
networks in promotional efforts. These efforts were coupled with
more personal means of reaching disadvantaged families, using sound
trucks and door-to-door representatives, for example, in Harlem.
Street first aired in November 1969, on nearly 190 public and
commercial stations, and by all measures has been a continuing success.
In large scale studies, the Educational Testing Service of Princeton
concluded that Sesame Street generally reached its educational goals.
The show also rapidly gained a mass audience, which it currently
maintains. And, there have been numerous critical measures of success,
including a Peabody Award and three Emmys after the first year and
fifty-eight Emmys to date.
the first successful season, CTW dissolved its relationship with
NET, and Cooney became its President. The impetus was there to develop
other projects, so Cooney guided the fund raising and creative vision
for a second show airing in 1971 called The Electric Company.
This program providing basic reading instruction for eight to twelve
year olds. Although by 1973 Cooney described her work as mostly
administrative, her vision of utilizing the unique features of television
coupled with methodical planning and research to produce programming
to address identified needs was evident in other innovative CTW
productions, including Feelin' Good (1974), The Best of
Families (1977), 3-2-1 Contact (1980), and Square
One TV (1987).
the role of foundations is usually to provide start-up money, and
since government support of public television has declined, Cooney
has extended the influence of CTW productions and insured the organization's
survival by guiding the licensing of an array of commercial products
and developing foreign distribution and production agreements. Product
and international revenues have often provided as much as two-thirds
of the budget, helping to sustain CTW and provide money for new
projects. Cooney has also led CTW down the narrow road between commercial
and public television, developing tax-paying subsidiaries which
operate in commercial broadcasting, such as Distinguished Productions
which produced Encyclopedia in 1988 in collaboration with
1990 Cooney stepped down as President to become Chair of the CTW
Executive Committee, thus allowing her more time for creative development.
Still actively involved in the creation of Sesame Street, she also
focuses upon strategic planning, with more recent projects involving
interactive software and a multimedia project entitled Ghostwriter
which debuted in 1992.
Ganz Cooney has enriched children's television with her vision,
has altered the public perception of and introduced record-setting
audiences to public television, and has raised the level of expectation
for children entering school. Fittingly, among the many honors that
she and CTW have received was a 1970 Christopher Award.
Joan Ganz Cooney
Photo courtesy of the children's Television Workshop
GANZ COONEY. Born in Phoenix, Arizona, U.S.A., 30 November 1929.
Educated at the University of Arizona, B.A. 1951. Married 1) Timothy
J. Cooney, 1964 (divorced, 1975); 2) Peter G. Peterson, 1980. Reporter,
Arizona Republic, Phoenix, 1953-54; publicist, NBC, 1954-55;
publicist,U.S. Steel Hour, 1955-62; producer, Channel 13,
New York City, 1962-67; TV consultant Carnegie Corporation, New
York City, 1967-68; executive director, Children's Television Workshop
(producers of Sesame Street, Electric Company, 321 Contact, Square
One TV, and Ghostwriter), New York City, 1968-70, president
and trustee, 1970-88, chair and chief executive officer, 1988-90,
chair, executive committee, since 1990; director, Johnson & Johnson,
Metropolitan Life Insurance Company. Trustee: Channel 13/Educational
Broadcasting Corporation; Museum of Television & Radio; Columbia
Presbyterian Hospital. Member: President's Commission on Marijuana
and Drug Abuse, 1971-73; National News Council, 1973-81; Council
Foreign Relations, since 1974; Advance Committee for Trade Negotiations,
1978-80; Governor's Commission on International Year of the Child,
1979; President's Commission for Agenda for the 1980s, 1980-81;
Carnegie Foundation National Panel on High Schools, 1980-82; National
Organization of Women (NOW), National Academy of Television Arts
and Sciences, National Institute Social Sciences, International
Radio and TV Society, American Women in Radio and TV. Honorary degrees:
Boston College, 1970; Hofstra University, Oberlin College, Ohio
Wesleyan University, 1971; Princeton University, 1973; Russell Sage
College, 1974; University of Arizona, and Harvard University, 1975;
Allegheny College, 1976; Georgetown University, 1978; University
of Notre Dame, 1982; Smith College, 1986; Brown University, 1987;
Columbia University, and New York University, 1991. Recipient: National
Institute for Social Sciences Gold Medal, 1971; Frederick Douglass
Award, New York Urban League, 1972; Silver Satellite Award, American
Women in Radio and TV; Woman of the Decade Award, 1979; National
Endowment for the Arts, Friends of Education Award; Kiwanis Decency
Award; National Association of Educational Broadcasters Distinguished
Service Award; Stephen S. Wise Award, 1981; Harris Foundation Award,
1982; Emmy Award, for Lifetime Achievement, 1989; named to Hall
of Fame Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, 1989; Presidential
Medal of Freedom, 1995. Address: Children's Television Workshop,
One Lincoln Plaza, New York, New York 10023, U.S.
U.S. Steel Hour
TELEVISION DOCUMENTARIES (producer)
1962-67 Court of Reason A Chance at the Beginning Poverty,
Anti-Poverty and the Poor
Children's Television Workshop (executive)
"The First Lady of Sesame Street." Joan Ganz Cooney." Broadcasting
(Washington, D.C.), 7 June 1971.
Lynn, and Gaylen Moore. Particular Passions: Talks with Women
Who Have Shaped Our Times. New York: Clarkson N. Potter, 1981.
Roberta Brandes. "Sesame: An Open-End Play Street." New
York Post, 8 November 1969.
Cheryl. "TV Learns How to Teach...." Channels: The Business of
Communication (New York), 22 October 1990.
Michael. "A Presidential Message from Big Bird." U.S. News and
World Report (Washington, D.C.), 13 June 1988.
Gerald. Children and Television: Lessons from Sesame Street.
New York: Random House, 1974.
Dan. "Joan Ganz Cooney Created Sesame Street 20 Years Ago. Now It's
an Institution." Changing Times (Washington, D.C.), July
Cary. Women Pioneers in Television. Jefferson, North Carolina:
Richard M. Getting to Sesame Street: Origins of the Children's
Television Workshop. New York: Praeger, 1974.
Alan. "Tuning In with Joan Cooney." Public Telecommunications
Review (Washington, D.C.), November-December, 1978.
Robert. "Growing Up with Joan Ganz Cooney." American Film
(Washington, D.C.), November 1977.
Switched-on School." Newsweek (New York), 1 June 1970.
Ralph. "Cooney Cast Light on a Vision." Variety (Los Angeles,
California), 13 December 1989.
also Children and Television;
Children's Television Workshop