There are perks to being an 8-ft.-tall canary. Everyone recognizes you and wants to be your friend. On the other hand, our world is not built for 8-ft.-tall canaries. Inside a television studio, for example, tail feathers will brush up against camera rigs. A head that high up can get awfully close to the lighting.

So it’s a good thing the world’s most famous 8-ft.-tall canary (8 and change, actually) knows his way around a set. Big Bird, his yellow plumage bright as always, his eyes ever gentle, has spent the past 50 years on one: Sesame Street debuted on Nov. 10, 1969. Its next season kicks off Nov. 16–4,935 episodes later–and the show will celebrate the milestone with a special that airs Nov. 9 on HBO and Nov. 17 on PBS. Since it started, Sesame Street has won 193 Emmy Awards, launched thousands of products and changed early education around the world. The publicity blitz accompanying the anniversary has had the cast crossing the country on a summer road trip, lighting up the Empire State Building and, on this recent morning, appearing on NBC’s Today show.

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