Joan Ganz Cooney

Joan Ganz Cooney

The woman behind what many consider to be the most innovative educational programming in television history, Joan Ganz Cooney is the founder and chair of Children's Television Workshop (CTW), which has given the world "Sesame Street," "The Electric Company," "3-2-1 Contact" and "Ghostwriter" among many other series. A native of Phoenix, Joan Ganz started her career out of college as a journalist for the ARIZONA REPUBLIC. Moving to Manhattan in the mid-1950s, she soon landed work as a publicist for NBC's soap operas and then shifted to more prestigious fare at CBS, where she helped to promote the anthology "U.S. Steel Hour." By the early 60s and now married to Timothy Cooney, she moved into producing, creating public affairs documentaries for NYC's public television station WNET, reaching an apotheosis with 1966's award-winning "Poverty, Anti-Poverty and the Poor." After serving as a consultant to the nonprofit Carnegie Corporation of New York where she issued the study "The Potential Uses of Television in Preschool Education," Cooney put her findings into action by founding CTW in 1968. The following year, under its auspices, "Sesame Street" was launched and forever altered the way youngsters learned. The series concentrated on making learning the alphabet and how to count fun and spawned local versions in over 80 countries around the world where Muppets like Big Bird, Elmo, Grover and the Cookie Monster delight and instruct pre-schoolers. CTW has also developed programming for older children like "The Electric Company" (1971-76), which focused on teaching older children how to read, as well as science programs like "3-2-1 Contact" and mathematics series such as "Square One TV." Whatever one may feel about its methods (some critics fault CTW for fostering short attention spans and its reliance on merchandising), Cooney and her organization have had a profound affect on small screen programming aimed at children.