At this year's Aspen Ideas Festival, we asked a group of writers, journalists, and producers to explain what makes a story great. According to House of Cards showrunner Beau Willimon, the answer is a simple one: "The most important element in a good story is conflict. It's seeing two opposing forces collide with one another." Other panelists include Michael Eisner, Catherine Burns, Jay Allison, Jon Lovett, Yoni Bloch, Paula Kerger, and Jonathan Harris.
Since 1969, “Sesame Street” has been introducing small children to letters and numbers by using clever skits and songs performed by Muppets and celebrities. Patrick Stewart, for instance, reworked Hamlet’s soliloquy as an ode to the letter B (“B or not a B, that is the question”). Now a report by two economists, Melissa Kearney of the University of Maryland and Phillip Levine of Wellesley College, has tracked the first generation of watchers (who were under six in 1969). It reveals that children who had access to “Sesame Street” ended up better prepared for school and were 14% less likely to fall behind in class.
The show’s effects are not unlike those of Head Start, a federal scheme that provides poor families with services that include school-based early education. But it costs a fraction as much, says Ms Kearney. “Sesame Street” is not a replacement for early education, which most studies agree is vital; but it is certainly a very affordable supplement. “In essence,” she says, thinking of massive open online courses, “Sesame Street was the first MOOC.”
Stories are alive. The ones that last, Gaiman said, outcompete other stories by changing over time. They make it from medium to medium—from oral to written to film and beyond. They lose uninteresting elements but hold on to the most compelling bits or even add some. The most popular version of the Cinderella story (which may have originated long ago in China) has kept the gloriously unlikely glass slipper introduced by a careless French telling.