Inside the new 'Sesame Street' set: M is for Makeover
"[Big Bird's nest] was a dead end, so I wanted to make sure Big Bird wasn’t just stuck in a corner," Gallo says. "We removed the construction doors. You have to remember the iconic things that we removed. This was that wall of old doors. That’s gone now. What I wanted was for this not so much to be a dead end, but a part of the whole flow."
The set's new circular flow continues near Big Bird's nest where Gallo created an entirely new space behind the show's iconic brownstone building. Gallo expanded the area to create a community garden that looks much like the small and worn green patches that dot New York City's Lower East Side and East Village.
"Everything was about the community being able to gather in the public space," Gallo says. "So to me that kind of urban planning was a big part of what I was going for — not creating gardens with gates around them, with beautifully manicured flowers.”
Last December, Gallo spent hours exploring New York's five boroughs, looking for inspiration inside a the city with neighborhoods as different as its residents.
It all came from life.
"It all came from life. This was a reference to the original door wall," Gallo explains as he points to the garden's colorful glass door wall.
"After we tore down the building, we wanted to capture the idea of salvaging materials, and so these are theoretically the windows from that building that we then painted deliberately, sort of imperfectly, so it looked like families did it.”
The reinvention of old spaces continued with the set's previously unused carriage house that was reworked into a community center complete with a city-friendly roof deck. Gallo describes the spot as "an old space with new life breathed into it.”
Gone is the closed-off structure, replaced with a bright and open gathering place where you imagine sing-alongs and Grover game nights might take place. The shelves include wink-wink, nudge-nudge touches, including a child-friendly parody of the party game Cards Against Humanity called Cards Supporting Humanity.
Countering the newness of the community center, across an arch of cobblestone, sits Hooper's Store, a relic of the early Sesame Street days. The shop's rich history created a new problem for Gallo as he weighed up the option of a complete, HGTV-style gut job versus preservation (a problem mirrored in real urban areas).
When it came to Hooper’s, we talked about all kinds of ideas to modernize it
Hooper’s Store is another incredibly iconic location," Gallo says. "And when I came in, it had been changed so many different times, but it was just sort of flat and I felt like it had lost a lot of its identity.
When it came to Hooper’s, we talked about all kinds of ideas to modernize it, and this being the place that we could really modernize and make really hip and slick, but I thought ‘or we could make it look like it did in 1968.'"
So instead of a blinding clash of steel and glass, Gallo embraced the store's history and added 19th century details, including tin ceiling tiles manufactured by an American company for more than 100 years. Gallo painted the tiles a yellow and distressed the metal to give the space the texture it lost under years of flat walls and bland paint colors.
The addition of a neon sign outside Hooper's Store was first met with resistance, but Gallo persisted. The purple neon glow now gives the iconic Sesame Streetcorner an edgy vibrancy balanced by the vintage awnings lining the store's exterior.
As we approach the end of our visit, Gallo addresses the most controversial change to Sesame Street: the moving of Oscar the Grouch. Yes, the most curmudgeonly Muppet has relocated to a more centered position in the neighborhood. Gallo lets out a gruff laugh as he admits that he knew the move would cause controversy.
"[Moving Oscar] wasn’t an arbitrary decision — for years, he was all the way over there, but we wanted to make him much more central. So not only is he in this fancy-schmany recycling trash zone, he’s now on the corner. He’s pretty much dead-center so he can see what’s going on."When asked what he thought about some fans vocal disagreement with the move, Gallo simply says, "I like the fact that people care."
Outside the set in a studio hallway, as filming continues inside, Gallo reveals the best reaction he's received so far came from original cast member Bob McGrath.
For him to look around and feel like he was still on Sesame Streetreally told me that I did my job right.
For him to look around and feel like he was still on Sesame Street really told me that I did my job right."
Season 46 of Sesame Street, starring the new set, debuts this fall on PBS.
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------Sesame Street also posted the following images on social media:
You can also get a sneak peak at how the sets will look in this video of Peter Alexander's new Sesame Street inspired sleep wear collection: