Early on-location videotape segments

SkyeFan

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Back in 1972 when Sesame Street began its fourth season, I've noticed that the show started producing segments on-location with videotape. It's more common (and cheaper) to produce segments outside of the TV studio on film, but I found it interesting that Sesame Street seemed ahead at the time by using videotape on certain scenes. While we already know that the opening montage to accompany the show's theme song was on videotape starting in season four, as well as a News Flash segment involving Kermit the Frog asking a young girl about the sounds certain animals make (from the fifth season premiere show, although I'm pretty sure that there were more "on the street" news segments produced), there were also some other videotaped segments on the show, that may not have been used much beyond the mid-70s, focusing on letters of the alphabet. One that comes to mind is from the fourth season premiere episode showing the lowercase letters from A to Z one at a time surrounded by multi-colored computer-generated squares and diamonds floating around as a male voice-over recites each letter. There was also a similar segment like this with the numbers 1 to 20 being counted by a female voice as the numbers appear over what looked like a blurry image of a mirror ball slowly rotating as some rather "haunting" soundtrack of bells and chimes play. The segments showcasing a different letter of the alphabet were ones that showed a footage of something in an outdoor location with a computer-generated capital letter, that stood for the featured object(s) seen on-location, moving around the screen. A male voice-over (same one from the alphabet segment previously mentioned) would say the name of the letter and whatever it stands for. One example I know is for the letter Y. Three capital Ys are "balanced" on three individual yachts in tow at a dock during sunrise. The segment is provided with a soundtrack of music by Joe Raposo (who also did the music in the alphabet and numbers segments) that sounds like a sailor's theme to set the mood. Would anyone happen to know if there were ANY other segments produced for the show around this time? I wonder if there were any more "letters on-location" segments produced for, if not all, almost every letter of the alphabet.
 

D'Snowth

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SS was shot on videotape from the get-go: the producers felt like shooting the show on videotape could give it the appearance of a live broadcast. They were ahead of their time in that videotape had finally caught up to recording color, though not that great at the time, hence why Oscar ended up being orange, as opposed to Jim's original concept of him being purple, since those early, primitive, videotape cameras made the shade of purple look like a washed-out magenta.
 

SkyeFan

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I agree! Much of the first season episodes had VERY fading-looking colors in many scenes, and I believe that was due to the videotape used during this time. Some of the filmed segments such as the animations also looked this way too. It didn't help much that they had rather poor choices of colors for the Muppet characters on the show that didn't seem to work that well on color TV. I always thought that during the show's first run, the producers figured it didn't matter what colors were used on videotape, assuming that a good majority of children who watched the show were seeing it on a black and white set, anyway. Statistics probably proved that more children watched the first season of the show on color TV sets, and that's why any videotaped portions of the show look SO ATTRACTIVE during the second season. I feel that the videotape quality during season five is when it REALLY starts to improve. Notice how clear the picture looks and how bright and warm the colors are during that time. What I was asking about before was if anyone also happens to remember what I was referring to regarding those videotaped on-location segments involving letters of the alphabet.
 

SesameMike

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I can think of three others:

One was F for Factory. An industrial factory along a river was shown, probably at sunset or sunrise, with 2 or 3 letter F's balanced over the roof. A woman's voice said "F, factory" at least twice. About halfway through the segment, one of the F's -- I think the one on the far right -- spontaneously moved downward to the river then moved off-screen with the current (F-Float? F-Flow?) Don't remember the music soundtrack, if any, but I think it was more of a mellow tune if there was.

Another was T for Tunnel. A letter T has center-screen of a P-O-V video going through a busy highway tunnel. (T-Traffic?) They go in the entry portal, but quickly cut to the exit, and even have few seconds on the outside heading for a toll plaza. (T-Tollbooth? As a kid, I half-expected to hear this one, but didn't.) The music was a slow but upbeat piece that clearly had a big-city feel to it. The tunnel shown, BTW, was probably the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel, now known as the Hugh L. Carey Tunnel. The tollbooth, which was on the Brooklyn side only, has since been dismantled in favor of all-electronic tolling.

Still another was U for Underpass. Similar to the latter, a U led a P-O-V of a road with at least 3 underpasses (I always thought of them as overpasses, but hey.) Probably a similar music soundtrack as well, if not the same. This was recognizable as one of the transverse roads through NY City's Central Park.

Hmmm, as one myself, gotta wonder was there a roadgeek among the shows early production staff?
 

SkyeFan

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Wow, I've never seen any of those segments before! They probably discontinued further airings of any of these segments after a while, figuring they didn't capture children's interest very much (especially since these segments seemed overshadowed by more memorable and colorful animations used on the show to teach letters).

I don't know if THESE segments existed, but other possible "letters on-location" that could've been done would be-
A-Airport
B-Bus
H-Highway
I-Intersection
N-Neighborhood
R-Railroad
S-Subway

I'd be VERY surprised if ANY if these had existed and I'm just not aware of it. Some inserts on the show would just be seen in only a small handful of episodes, and would be pretty much forgotten after a while. I guess the show's producers only decide that certain inserts that research proves holds the viewer's interest well are the ones that should be played as often as possible.
 

fuzzygobo

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Wow, I've never seen any of those segments before! They probably discontinued further airings of any of these segments after a while, figuring they didn't capture children's interest very much (especially since these segments seemed overshadowed by more memorable and colorful animations used on the show to teach letters).

I don't know if THESE segments existed, but other possible "letters on-location" that could've been done would be-
A-Airport
B-Bus
H-Highway
I-Intersection
N-Neighborhood
R-Railroad
S-Subway

I'd be VERY surprised if ANY if these had existed and I'm just not aware of it. Some inserts on the show would just be seen in only a small handful of episodes, and would be pretty much forgotten after a while. I guess the show's producers only decide that certain inserts that research proves holds the viewer's interest well are the ones that should be played as often as possible.
Of the segments mentioned above, I do remember a few:
Y- Yacht
U- Underpass
N- Neighborhood
The Neighborhood segment was shot from the back of a truck, passing by several blocks of brownstones and alleys.
The quality of videotaping outdoors depends on how much light the camera is exposed to. Too much light makes the image look faded or washed out. Not enough light, nothing shows up on tape.
In the early days of Sesame Street, film still gave better results. 16 mm film was standard. 35 mm gave better resolution.
 

Oscarfan

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I often wonder if Sesame has the original film reels for a lot of those early films and cartoons before they were dubbed to tape. The Henson Legacy has some of Jim's Sesame work on film and restored some of it HD not long ago (looking really good).
 

SkyeFan

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So there actually was a segment for the letter N with the word "neighborhood" presented through a footage of a real neighborhood. The other segments I had mentioned such as B-Bus, R-Railroad, or S-Subway, were just assumptions of possible segments that MIGHT have been used. As I had said before, these segments were probably not used very much on the show after the first year they were aired. Maybe season 5 or 6 was the last season to show any of these segments.

I've also remembered some other good use of "on-location" videotape used on Sesame Street during the 70s - the subjective footage of driving down a countryside road that was seen with the end credits on Fridays from seasons 6-10 (this footage was accompanied with a pair of human hands turning a steering wheel through the use of chromakey). Even though this credit sequence was discontinued by season 10, a brief excerpt of it was seen during that season's end credits, among subjective footage of riding down railroad tracks, and a helicopter-view of mountain tops capturing some bright amount of sunlight in the distance (I believe this comes from one of the episodes from season 9 when the cast visits Hawaii).
Of course, let's not forget those episodes when some of the human cast members, along with Big Bird and Oscar, would take a special trip somewhere far away beyond Sesame Street that would make up a whole week's worth of episodes. There were even some inserts with many members of the cast on location somewhere in New York, such as Central Park. Usually, film would be common to use in order to capture these kinds of scenes, but the producers of Sesame Street just wanted to be consistent with the show's "in the studio" look, and have outdoor footage videotaped, as well.
 
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