40 years ago, a show premiered on PBS that essentially gave birth to the concept of television for children. "Sesame Street" sought to cram a handful of lessons about numbers, words, sharing and tolerance by depicting a slightly fantasized life for a group of kids living in an inner-city setting. Using humor, animation and music, "Sesame Street" proved that television could be used as an educational tool and still hold the attention of hyperactive kids. (It could easily be argued that no show has ever done it better.)
"Sesame Street" also provided the leg up that Jim Henson needed that turned the Muppets into household names. Big Bird, Oscar the Grouch and a cast of dozens more not only became well-known to children but also entered into the greater pop culture lexicon. The remarkable thing about the Muppets remains their total integration into the normal human world (like Cookie Monster appearing as a guest on "The Martha Stewart Show" or Lady Gaga bringing Kermit the Frog as her date to the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards).
The show has also become a conduit for other branches of pop culture. (They say you haven't really made it as a star until you're a guest voice on "The Simpsons," but the "Sesame Street" cameo is also worth a fortune in cultural caché.) Plenty of musical acts have appeared next to Big Bird, some of whom seemed to come from way outside of the box: Red Hot Chili Peppers, Backstreet Boys, Beyoncé, R.E.M., Gene Simmons, Ice-T and the late Michael Jackson have all appeared on the show in some form or another. The best musical cameo of the past few seasons was when Feist appeared to sing a slightly tweaked version of her hit "1234" (sample lyric: "One, two, three, four/ Penguins who were by the door"). Really, it's remarkable that the original song wasn't written expressly for the show.