How COVID Shook Up New Season of 'Sesame Street'

Sesame Street on HBO Max
(Image credit: Richard Termine/HBO)

Season 52 of Sesame Street begins on Cartoonito on HBO Max Nov. 11. New episodes drop on Thursdays and the season is on PBS Kids in fall 2022. 

Getting the season together amid the pandemic was “an enormous undertaking,” according to Ben Lehmann, Sesame Workshop’s senior VP & head of live action and Sesame Street executive producer. 

The shutdown in March 2020 came in a dark week for Sesame Street. Days out of the studio turned into weeks, then months. “Restarting was definitely a huge production challenge,” said Lehmann. 

Sesame shoots at Kaufman Astoria Studios in Queens, New York. The decision was made to shoot some episodes outdoors, the producers thinking that was a safer option than having the cast and crew inside for all episodes. 

Shot in the summer of 2020, seven episodes ventured outside. Elmo Mails a Letter saw Elmo check out the post office in Queens. In Hike Pirates, Abby Cadabby, Rudy and Freddy followed a map to find hidden treasure at Croton Gorge Park in Westchester County, north of New York City. Five episodes were filmed on location at Harvest Moon Farm & Orchard, also in Westchester. The first episode in the Harvest Moon bunch is Sesame Street Goes to the Farm. 

Lehmann said the al fresco episodes “came out beautiful.” 

He added, “The storylines came out of the necessity of, how do you do production during COVID?”

There was also a special episode, Elmo’s Playdate: Scavenger Hunt, shot at a crew member’s home in the New York suburbs. That aired in summer 2020. 

Guest stars in the new season include Jon Batiste, bandleader on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, Billie Eilish, Amanda Gorman, the young poet who shared a poem at President Joe Biden’s inauguration, and Kacey Musgraves. Batiste offers a unique take on Sesame classic “People in Your Neighborhood,” dedicated to essential worker heroes. Gorman writes a poem with Elmo. 

Two episodes touch on racial justice. The episode Martin Luther King Day (Jan. 13) sees Elmo, Tamir and friends make a Peace Tree to celebrate Dr. King’s legacy, and Let’s Grow Together (Feb. 17) sees Alan share his Japanese-American heritage with the gang, as they make pickled daikon. 

And Elmo has a new puppy, Tango, who appears in the season premiere. Lehmann called the adopted puppy “a great way to expand on Elmo’s character.”

Michael Malone

Michael Malone, senior content producer at B+C/Multichannel News, covers network programming, including entertainment, news and sports on broadcast, cable and streaming; and local broadcast television. He hosts the podcasts Busted Pilot, about what’s new in television, and Series Business, a chat with the creator of a new program, and writes the column “The Watchman.” He joined B+C in 2005. His journalism has also appeared in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Playboy and New York magazine.