Long-Lost Sesame Street Episode Surfaces Online

Last month, a 1976 episode of Sesame Street was posted online in relatively high quality, sending a shockwave through the "lost media" community. If you're unfamiliar with the term, lost media hunters are more or less exactly what they sound like: people who scour the internet, buy up old VHS tapes, and set alerts on eBay to keep a look out for movies, video games, TV shows, and other media that has been classified as missing or destroyed. These sleuths routinely turn up old TV bumpers, cartoon pilots, and even whole feature films that have been lost to time.

So why would Sesame Street, one of the most-watched shows in television history, have an episode that gets the lost media community worked up? Because Sesame Workshop (then operating as Children's Television Workshop) banned the episode from airing ever again.

You can see it below.

The episode, long known to lost media aficionados as "The Wicked Witch of Sesame Street," features a visit to Sesame by actress Margaret Hamilton, reprising her role as the Wicked Witch of the West from The Wizard of Oz. Hamilton, a former kindergarten teacher, continued to be seen as the Witch for years after the film released. She struggled with the fact that children would be scared of her, and at one point decided to go on a bit of a "redemption tour," according to All Things Lost, who described the Hamilton episode as the "Holy Grail of Lost Media.

Prior to Sesame Street, she had a successful appearance on Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, but it seems the Sesame Street episode, which centered on the Witch losing her broom and hassling Sesame Street residents to get it back, was not quite the "redemption" she might have hoped for.

The episode aired February 10, 1976, during the seventh season of Sesame Street, and producers were soon deluged with complaints from viewers and their parents, saying the Witch was too scary for the show's target audience. The Children's Television Workshop actually held a private screening of the episode in order to determine whether those results had been a fluke, and the results of the screening were deemed inconclusive. Producers decided to put the episode on the shelf, declaring that it should never be aired in reruns.

Surprisingly, given the enduring appeal of both Sesame Street and The Wizard of Oz, the ban held. Home recording was also incredibly rare in 1976, with VHS coming to the U.S. in 1977. The episode was not seen again for many years, and when it finally happened in 2019, it was at a special screening for lost episodes. Someone in the audience reportedly filmed it on their camera, and a low-quality bootleg version of the episode was uploaded not long after. 

After copies were donated to the Library of Congress and the archive at a Boston PBS affiliate, the episode was available for the public to watch -- as long as they could get to those locations. Lost media aficionados hailed the episode appearing online as a huge step forward, while Sesame Workshop reportedly had it removed from the initial uploader's YouTube account on copyright grounds. It has nevertheless been reuploaded several times since.