The Sesame Street Details That Are Darker Than You Think

"Sesame Street" is one of the most iconic and beloved children's television programs of all time. Since its debut in 1969, the landmark PBS children's show has logged thousands of episodes, per IMDb. For more than 50 years, kids and adults alike have tuned in for the teachable moments on the inner-city street that mixes colorful Muppets with human neighbors.

Years before "Blue's Clues," "Dora the Explorer," and "SpongeBob SquarePants" hit the scene, viewers had grown to love Big Bird, Bert and Ernie, and even Oscar the Grouch. In addition to winning viewers' hearts, plenty of awards were won along the way. In 2020 alone, "Sesame Street" won 11 Daytime Emmy Awards, per a press release shared by Sesame Workshop. With a 50-year run and a stash of statuettes accumulated, the show is certainly doing something right.

But it hasn't always been a sunny day on "Sesame Street." Over the years, some dark topics have been addressed, and the first instances came relatively early on in the show's run.

A kicked-off character, a Wicked Witch, and a cast member's death made for some early dark days

In the 1970s, a Muppet was kicked off of "Sesame Street." According to Yahoo Entertainment, viewers took issue with an early Muppet, Roosevelt Franklin, because he was presented as a stereotype. Documentary director Marilyn Agrelo told the outlet that the pressure to remove Roosevelt from the show "came from the Black audience."

Not long after, just seven years into "Sesame Street's" run, a 1976 episode was pulled from reruns due to parental complaints. According to E! News, when "Wizard of Oz" witch Margaret Hamilton reprised her role as the terrifying Wicked Witch of the West on the kiddie show, viewers complained that their children were scared silly -– and the scene never aired again.

A few years later, "Sesame Street" was forced to deal with an even darker topic than a witch wreaking havoc on the usually idyllic street. The real-life death of actor Will Lee, who played shopkeeper Mr. Hooper on the show from its inception, prompted the famous "Farewell Mr. Hooper" episode in which his death was discussed. The episode aired on Thanksgiving Day in 1983 specifically so families would all be home together to watch it, per The Television Academy Foundation. Like the Wicked Witch episode, "Farewell Mr. Hooper" only aired once, but it was praised for its handling of a difficult topic. The script even scored "Big Bird" actor Carroll Spinney and the show's writers a coveted Peabody Award, the outlet noted.

Characters with struggling families were also introduced

"Sesame Street" has tackled other difficult topics in addition to death; the show has featured episodes about 9/11, homelessness, and racism. Characters from not-so-perfect families have also been introduced. In 2013, online viewers met Alex, a Muppet who revealed that his father was in jail. While the character wasn't a regular part of the TV show, he was part of an online teaching kit, that addressed, in part, the stigma of having an incarcerated parent, per The New York Daily News.

An in another video segment in 2019, 6-year-old Muppet Karli came on board as a new "Sesame Street" character who revealed she is in foster care because her mother had a "problem." It turns out, Karli's mom was a drug addict and couldn't take care of her, per The New York Times. "There's a lot of kids who are in foster care, and there's not a lot of content out there speaking to them," "Sesame Street" executive producer Ben Lehmann explained to The Sun. "Diversity and inclusion have been part of our mission from the very beginning."

Sesame Street was once hacked, making the letter of the day an X

In an incident that was very much not for kids, it was a very dark day for young "Sesame Street" fans when in 2011, the series' official YouTube page was hacked. According to Insider, all of the innocent content on the page was replaced with pornography videos, exposing 148,000 subscribers to footage that was totally un-Muppet like and leaving parents freaking out. 

While it's unclear just exactly how long the pornography remained on the site or how many innocent eyes viewed the X-rated content, "Sesame Street's" YouTube channel was briefly taken offline once the videos were discovered, and an apology was issued on the channel's home page. "Our channel was temporarily compromised, but we have since restored our original line-up of the best classic Sesame Street video clips featuring Cookie Monster, Big Bird, Grover, Oscar the Grouch, and the rest of the fuzzy, feathered, and googly-eyed friends you remember from childhood," came a statement from "Sesame Street," per CNN.