Taking off with Zoom, a TV show for kids (1972-1978)

Taking off with Zoom, a TV show for kids (1972-1978)

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Zoom was an educational children’s TV show that first aired on PBS from January 3, 1972 to March 24, 1978.

The program was produced by Boston’s WGBH-TV. While the still-young PBS show Sesame Street was geared toward the preschool set, Zoom targeted kids in the grade school years.

The half-hour show initially ran for 130 episodes over six seasons, and its 1999 revival lasted even longer: 201 episodes over seven seasons.

Zoom cast members - 1972 (1)

New TV show Zoom becoming a household word

“Boy! I wish somebody would come up with a show as good as that for us grown-ups,” commented one 34-year-old father after a recent Sunday night “Zoom” show.

His two small children, however, paid no attention to daddy’s lament. They were already deep into a whispered conference about collaborating on a “Zoom” play.

Judging by audience response to PBS’ (Public Broadcasting Service) new children’s show, Zoom may turn into the kind if household word television hasn’t heard since the halcyon days of Uncle Milty.

Letters have been zooming in from the kids: “Dear Zoom: I think ‘Zoom’ is great…” “Dear Zoom: I like your program. My name is Peter and I am 11 years old. Thank you…” all in varyingly scrawled letters on cards or stationery or just plain paper.

Although “Zoom” is aimed at the 7 to 12 age group, enthusiastic responses have been coming — in from toddlers barely able to print a wavy version of their own name, to 18-year-olds enthused about the music, to parents and teachers.

Vintage 70s Zoom TV show clips (1)

Behind Zoom, a TV show for kids

Producer Christopher Sarson, known around the Boston studio these days as Zoom-papa, is delighted. The slim, blond Englishman who came to America eight years ago “just for a year” is also executive producer of “Masterpiece Theatre.

“I started thinking about a show like this five years ago,” the says. “My kids loved ‘Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood,’ and I wanted something for them to graduate up to when they got a little older.

“Of course, there were other children’s shows, and plenty of kids liked them.

“But something just didn’t seem quite right. Although the programs were for kids. they were thought up and written by adults. They were adults’ ideas of what a child wanted.

We wanted a place where kids could express the kinds of things important to them. And the only way to do that was to have them provide all the mate« rial for the shows.”

Last season, of course, NBC began “Take A Giant Step,” with the same idea, but with only moderate success due to the youngsters’ lack of experience.

The secret to Zoom’s success seems to lie in its superb editing and directional techniques in presenting the children’s material, and the visually effective choreography in the musical numbers.

Vintage 70s Zoom TV show clips (3)

Fatherhood helps with deciding the direction for Zoom

Sarson’s own British touch may have helped, too. Two areas in which the English have always excelled are serious drama, like the British imports Sarson often uses on “Masterpiece Theatre,” and in children’s programming.

Being a father helps, too. The Sarson progeny, now 6 and 8, are of course, enthusiastic viewers.

In fact,” says the Zoom papa, “my daughter keeps wanting me to take in a play of hers to the show. I told her she could send it in if she wanted over the transom with all the others, so we’ll see.”

Audience identification is even more important with children than adults, and Sarson feels this is the key to the show.

“The cast of seven regulars on the series,” he says, “truly represents the audience. The kids are real kids, not showbiz. They have never acted or performed before, except maybe in l school play. They are natural, and they make the kids who watch feel that they could be on Zoom.

The seven Zoomers — Kenny, Joe, Nina, Tracy, Tommy, Jon and Nancy — will be rotated and replaced with new Zoomers at he end of 13 weeks.

“We don’t want to turn these kids into performers,” says Sarson. “They’ll be replaced with new kids, different kinds of kids, to keep up the spontaneity.”

Vintage 70s Zoom TV show clips (2)

Keeping Zoom fresh

Unlike adult shows, which usually take a solid week of all-day shooting to do one segment, Zoom is completed in just two afternoons a week.

“A lot of rehearsing and reshooting would kill the freshness,” miles the producer. “Besides, we didn’t want the kids to spend all their time in the studio. as much fun as they have there. They have to go out and play and do the things the other kids do.”

Done in magazine format, the entire show is written and performed by children. The seven Zoomers perform plays, games, Merrymacs, show movies, cartoons or sketches sent in by audience children.

There is a Play of the Week, surprisingly creative episodes written by the audience, and the “Zoom” rap, where the seven youngsters sit around and rap about the things kids talk about when the grown-ups are absent: going to the hospital, or how they get scared when they have to perform at school, or what it is like to have a very sick relative.

Throughout the show, the Zoomers invite the audience to send in their own plays, games or ideas. Everyone who writes in will get a Zoom Card.

The card will include a “how-to” do something that a “Zoom” guest has made or built pictures of the Zoomers, Merrymacs, jokes, riddles, and of course, the key to the Ubbi-Dubbi language, a secret version of pig latin used on the show.

Mister Rogers' Neighborhood theme song & lyrics (1966-2001)

Zoom cast members - 1972 (2)

Zoom: Opening theme and closing credits from season 2

YouTube video

Zoom: Opening theme and closing credits from season 3

YouTube video

Swinging Sesame Street debuts (1969)

Zoom – theme song lyric excerpts

We’re gonna zoom zoom zoom-a-zoom
Come on and zoom-a-zoom-a-zoom-a-zoom
Come on give it a try
We’re gonna show you why
We’re gonna teach you to fly high
Come on and zoom! Come on and zoom zoom!

Write Zoom
Box 3-5-0
Boston, Mass 0-2-1-3-4
Send it to Zoom!

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Comments on this story

One Response

  1. If you’re a late Boomer or early Gen-Xer, that Zoom theme song is permanently burned into your brain. Everyone watched it because there weren’t a lot of TV shows made specifically for kids at the time; most of what we watched were old sitcom reruns or Looney Tunes, Three Stooges, etc. Recently, a group of us at work were on a Zoom call, and someone randomly started singing “We’re gonna zoom, zoom, zoom-a-zoom…” Since were are all roughly the same age, we all got the reference and had a good laugh…

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