January 2, 2008 1:52 PM   Subscribe

Write ZOOM, Z-double-oh-M, Box three-five-oh, Boston, Mass, OH-two-ONE-three-FOURRRR!

C'mon and Zooma Zooma Zooma ZOOM!

ZOOM was produced for PBS by WGBH in Boston, and originally aired from 1972 through 1978. It literally was television for kids, by kids -- the show's various segments were culled from thousands of ideas submitted by viewers (by mail to the address above). Sometimes these kids were featured in the clips themselves.

From a 1972 Time Magazine article:
"Virtually all the material is by children and is selected by the seven-member cast (ages nine through 13). The kids sing, dance. play games, talk in 'Ubbi-Dubbi'--a catchy code language reminiscent of past generations' pig Latin-show home movies and give laconic instructions in all manner of skills. The first show featured a filmed demonstration of how to build a raft from tree limbs, leaves and an old tarpaulin. A 4-minute karate exhibition aimed at defeating bicycle thieves was on the second. The third will include a thoroughly befuddling lesson in the game of "cat's cradle," with a perplexed young instructress tangling her string and admitting, 'I got it wrong.'"

Ubbi-Dubbi? Well, let Wikipedia break it down for you.
Wait, that was no fun... better yet, has a Flash-based Ubbi-Dubbi Translator. I had it translate its own instructions into Ubbi-Dubbi:
"Uball yubou hubave tubo dubo ubis subay UBUB bubefubore ubevuberuby vubowubel subound. Uband thubis Ububbubi Dububbubi mubachubine hubas bubeen prubogrubammubed wubith thube ubabubilubituby tubo rubecubognubize whubich vubowubels ubare suboundubed, uband whubich ubare subilubent!"
You can hear Ubbi-Dubbi spubokuben fubulubentluby by nubatubives at the beginning of thubis clubip of the ZOOMers' production of the Mad Tea Party scene from Alice in Wonderland.

Wikipedia also comes close to de-funnifying Fannee Doolee: "Fannee Doolee is a fictitious girl acted in the playhouse by the ZOOMers on ZOOM. During the play, Fannee Doolee does not face the audience and she does not speak; instead, Fannee Doolee's unheard dialog is exposed when the person she was seen talking to turns to talk with others. The play is a comedy and the repeating gag is that Fannee Doolee likes and dislikes things that are similar and the people around her are perplexed by this inconsistency. For example, she likes stools but not chairs; she likes coffee but not drinks; she likes rolls but not bread; she likes cheese but not dairy.
(I bet she loves LOLLing but hates MetaFilter.) Here's a clip of the cool Fannee Doolee song'n'dance.

Here are some segments:
- Roll out the ZOOMBarrel: a game called "Cracker Whistle" - this clip made me laugh when I was young, and again now. Play "Cracker Whistle" responsibly. It's fun.
- ...doo-wah-zoom-doo, Do A ZOOMDo! These girls show (not tell) you how to make Stained Glass Cookies!
- Bernadette shows us how she does that thing with her arms.
Bernadette has her own ZOOMstalgia web page, too.
This guy gets all mushy, shooting an eight-minute Youtube about how Bernadette answered his email.

- ZOOM's Play of the Week: A melodrama about two lost fishermen. Written by someone just like you were back before the web sucked all the imagination out of you.
- A nice piece of music:
"I am a City Child
I live on the tip-top floor
Of an old apartment building
With a very creaky door"

And, as a bonus, here's the first episode of ZOOM, before the rugby shirts were de rigeur:
Part 1 - Intro to the Merrymac, Intro to Ubbi-Dubbi, the ZOOM Play of the Week (an absurdist classic)
Part 2 - ZOOMovie (Rated R, "Ristricted"), ZOOM Guest (Roy West, wordlessly showing you how to build a cool raft), The Ubbi-Dubbi Weather Report
Part 3 - ZOOMgame (A Merrymac), ZOOMrap (a really nice piece that has the kids talkin' about their experiences with doctors and hospitals), a song ("The Cat Came Back")
Part 4 - The address rap (Joe's and Nancy's lines are the best), and Closing Credits.

Rugby shirts, jeans, and bare feet. The second season won a daytime Emmy. C'mon and ZOOM!

(ZOOM was revived by PBS in 1999, but we'll save that for an FPP in 2035.)
posted by not_on_display (57 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
My own recollections:
- The kid across the street from me wanted to be on the show SO badly. He had the blue-and-red rugby shirt. He knew all the songs.
- I had a short burst of recurring nightmares about the show, particularly Tracy, whom I called "Mina". This was before I ever saw the show--I was very very young. My parents urged me to watch the show so I could see there was nothing to be afraid of. The nightmares went away.
- I had the book and the cassette. I wish I still had them, but, oh well.

Hope I fired up some good-tastin' classic neurons for y'all!
posted by not_on_display at 1:58 PM on January 2, 2008 [1 favorite]

There was a guy in my Sunday School class who was fluent in Ubbi Dubbi, but I could never speak it, after sending away for the pamphlet. Oh, how I envied him!
posted by Horace Rumpole at 1:59 PM on January 2, 2008

That should be "even after sending away for the pamphlet"
posted by Horace Rumpole at 2:01 PM on January 2, 2008

Huh-bye frub-ends!
posted by Turtles all the way down at 2:04 PM on January 2, 2008

Oh, and I totally freaked out my daughter one time when I did the arm thing for her.
posted by Turtles all the way down at 2:06 PM on January 2, 2008

I had a short burst of recurring nightmares about the show

I did too, about the one play that they did that ended with a burning building. I think it may have been a burning building on top of a promontory viewed from a raft, but I can't remember all the details, since it's been some 30 years.....
posted by ten pounds of inedita at 2:08 PM on January 2, 2008

My dad banned Zoom in our house; "I work too damned hard every day to have to come home to this goddam ubby-dubby horseshit!" was the way he put it, if memory serves.

BTW, does anyone remember a segment where a boy catches a fish, buries it in wet riverbank clay, and bakes it by keeping a small fire burning on top of it? The moment when he digs up the hardened clay shell and cracks it open to reveal this perfect, flaky perch flesh has stuck with me for years. If only he'd brought a lemon wedge along!
posted by maryh at 2:13 PM on January 2, 2008 [3 favorites]

Nina never returned my letters. Still getting over that.
posted by Kinbote at 2:17 PM on January 2, 2008

I have an internet crush on maryh's dad, despite the fact that I watched Zoom religiously.
posted by FelliniBlank at 2:31 PM on January 2, 2008

Might I add that kids are people too.

Wackadoo wackadoo.
posted by miss lynnster at 2:37 PM on January 2, 2008

I watched Zoom as a kid but kept it to myself. It was my experience that they kids that flaunted Ubbi-Dubbi and did that arm thing tended to be douchebags.
posted by Slack-a-gogo at 2:37 PM on January 2, 2008

I wish this was still on when i was a kid...

This is really cool.
posted by schyler523 at 2:39 PM on January 2, 2008

I lived in Boston during the fist broadcast year, and couldn't get over the idea that kids like me, from the very same city, were on TEEVEE. I still have the book somewhere deep in the archives.

The cat came back the very next day.
posted by mwhybark at 3:07 PM on January 2, 2008 [1 favorite]

FIRST broadcast year. Heh.
posted by mwhybark at 3:07 PM on January 2, 2008

"Zoom" was something that left me in a slackjawed state of rapt hypnosis when I was a kid ..... couldn't tell you exactly why, but there it is.

Nonetheless, I can't think of a single kid in my neighborhood or school life who'd ever heard of "Zoom," let alone who ran around speaking in Ubbi-Dubbi. I felt like I was carrying around in my head some weird forbidden guilty pleasure, but that was nothing unusual for me.

Maybe it was an East Coast thing.
posted by blucevalo at 3:09 PM on January 2, 2008 [1 favorite]

I still use 02134 as my ZIP whenever web sites ask for it during registration.

Of course, I am also a 97-year-old woman.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 3:20 PM on January 2, 2008 [3 favorites]


Dan Gediman tells the story of how he was cast in the public TV show Zoom. Then he was cut from the cast, before the show ever went on the air. So for years, he lied about it. He let friends believe he was on Zoom.
posted by tkchrist at 3:27 PM on January 2, 2008

I went to CCD with a girl who was on it, and I was just in solid AWE. God, I loved ZOOM.

And that thing about the fish baking in the mud is just about the only segment I remember now! So, so awesome.

Thibbis ibbis abban awebuhsuhbuhm pobost!
posted by tristeza at 3:28 PM on January 2, 2008

haha, i could never figure out how to do that secret pig-latin type language thing they do when i was little.
posted by cazoo at 3:43 PM on January 2, 2008

posted by Smart Dalek at 3:54 PM on January 2, 2008 [1 favorite]

Was Zoom the show that had a Spiderman segment? We used to watch this at school, probably in 2nd grade, during down/quiet time. Cool post!
posted by snsranch at 3:57 PM on January 2, 2008 [1 favorite]

snsranch: You're thinking of the Spidey Super Stories from The Electric Company.
posted by Smart Dalek at 4:05 PM on January 2, 2008 [1 favorite]

I loved that game, Smart Dalek, because it seemed so obvious and easy, but you could fool your friends like crazy. Or at least my friends.

I can't say "oh two one three FOOOOURRR" without singing it, either, to this day.
posted by misha at 4:09 PM on January 2, 2008

My wife went to school with several of the original ZOOMers and says that they were assholes. But, then again, they lived in Newton, where EVERYBODY is an asshole, so maybe they were just normal.
posted by briank at 4:20 PM on January 2, 2008 [1 favorite]

I remember one kid who had, like, a six story tree house. I still envy that kid. I don't think I'm the only one.

Somehow I figured out that Bernadette arm thing. Oddly, nobody seems to be impressed that I can do it.

When I met The Woman Who Would One Day Become My Wife, she told me she sang in a chorus with Bernadette. I'm pretty sure that's why I ended up marrying her. It's like my brush with a brush with greatness.

Zoom was awesome. Anyone who thinks otherwise can go pound sand.
posted by bondcliff at 4:24 PM on January 2, 2008 [1 favorite]

BTW, does anyone remember a segment where a boy catches a fish . . .

Maryh I *totally* remember that one and not sure why, but it's also stuck with me through the years. I used to love that show.
posted by donovan at 4:33 PM on January 2, 2008

My ZIP code really was 02134 for a while. It was surprising how many people would sing it back to me when I gave them my address.
posted by The corpse in the library at 4:48 PM on January 2, 2008 [2 favorites]

Ah! That's it. Thanks Smart Dalek!
posted by snsranch at 4:52 PM on January 2, 2008

Yes, I remember the fish segment, too -- loved it!! And count me in as another one who can never see the Boston zip code without singing the "OH two ONE three FOUR!" song in my head.
posted by scody at 4:55 PM on January 2, 2008

I sent away for two of the instructional pamphlets, but I never did make the walking-on-water shoes. My life seems so empty.
posted by waraw at 4:59 PM on January 2, 2008 [1 favorite]

I was only 6 when Zoom ended, but I remember watching it and wishing I was a cool big kid. When I was 9, we got Nickelodeon, and You Can't Do That on Television was like Zoom on crack.
posted by Biblio at 5:10 PM on January 2, 2008

Zoom was awesome. Anyone who thinks otherwise can go pound sand.

*pounds sand*

I hated Zoom. I still hate Zoom. Where is the episode in which they take their bikes off of awesome jumps and then light a model battleship on fire? Bumped for the show in which they sit around on crates and talk about their feelings, that's where!
posted by Camofrog at 5:16 PM on January 2, 2008

I wrote away for the instructions to build the crystal radio, but the show was already over and living only in reruns, so my postcard went unanswered.
posted by zippy at 8:16 PM on January 2, 2008

wube ubused tubo tubalk ububbubidububbubi uball thube tubime. : >

- Bernadette shows us how she does that thing with her arms.

i'm still envious of that -- and i still can't do it.

thanks for this!
posted by amberglow at 8:21 PM on January 2, 2008

also, what was really cool about it all was that they so often couldn't all do stuff, and that it was ok--they weren't overrehearsed, or always smiling and "on". When they brought back the Mickey Mouse Club around then (with Blair from Facts of Life!), you could see a giant difference and how fake it was.
posted by amberglow at 8:24 PM on January 2, 2008

Where are the ZOOM kids? At one point I remember I went to school with Nancy and (I think) Neil... he had curly blonde hair and I had a crush on him, but I think as I remember, "fame and fortune" made him kind of a stuck-up ass. He started out being a cute little pudge and turned into a tall, lanky guy.

Edith C. Baker School and Brookline High School.
posted by WaterSprite at 8:29 PM on January 2, 2008

YoungAmerican: "As memorably parodied in Hard n Phirm's wonderful video for 'Pi'."

The string 02134 occurs at position 18,640 counting from the first digit after the decimal point. The 3. is not counted.
posted by ZachsMind at 9:04 PM on January 2, 2008

^Camofrog: Where is the episode in which they take their bikes off of awesome jumps and then light a model battleship on fire?

Those kids grew up and then got their own shows, such as "Jackass." Which is awesome in a different area of the chart. Or the Jerky Boys. How many hours did I spend making prank calls when I was 9 to 12?

...and because of this recent FPP, I'm thinking of making a few more crank calls...
posted by not_on_display at 9:19 PM on January 2, 2008

ZOOM spoke to me. But it also made me envious of kids in "Boston, Mass," because they were all bright and talented and they had these things called "interracial friendships" that somebody like me, growing up in the midst of stultifying racial hatred in Hammond, Indiana, could only dream of.

I never got how Jon spelled his name "Jon," being a "John" myself, but I thought that was cool, too. Mind you, I was seven.
posted by ethnomethodologist at 9:24 PM on January 2, 2008

watersprite: I went to, um, Edward (?) Dawes Elementary (for that one year, like, um, 1972 maybe?) in Brookline. We lived about three or four blocks east. Seems likely the zip code thing must have applied. Man, that was my favorite year of kidness.
posted by mwhybark at 9:55 PM on January 2, 2008

ZOOM spoke to me. But it also made me envious of kids in "Boston, Mass," because they were all bright and talented and they had these things called "interracial friendships" that somebody like me, growing up in the midst of stultifying racial hatred in Hammond, Indiana, could only dream of.

Not so much in real life tho, ethno--at the very same time ZOOM was airing, Boston was torn apart by terrible and violent riots over busing and integrated schools (white people didn't want blacks bused to their schools). I remember it vividly--you'd see on the news white moms throwing rocks at school buses full of terrified black kids and she'd be screaming curses at them. More here from PBS-- School Desegregation in Boston 1974
posted by amberglow at 10:08 PM on January 2, 2008 [1 favorite]

from the PRESS section there: ...Violence Mars Busing in Boston
Mayor Restricts Gatherings to Prevent Recurrence of Stonings in South Area --

Rock-throwing, jeering crowds in South Boston marred the start today of a busing program designed to integrate Boston's public schools, and tonight Mayor Kevin H. White banned any gatherings in the streets of the troubled section...

...Buses carrying the handful of black students into the white section were stoned as they left schools this afternoon. As blacks arrived at South Boston High School this morning, they were greeted with curses and racial epithets...

...As the first yellow bus -- No. 218 -- pulled up just at 8, a rock bounced off its side and a cheer arose from the youths on the sidewalks and the stoops. "Go home, nigger," they cried. "Turn the bus over..."

..."Any white kid that goes to school out of his neighborhood should be shot, and any black kid that comes out of his neighborhood to school here should be shot," said a pudgy man in a pork-pie hat... ...

posted by amberglow at 10:13 PM on January 2, 2008

...And then there was this famous photograph from a 1976 anti-busing demonstration at City Hall. I wasn't old enough to remember this, and when I saw this picture in a school textbook, later, I thought, "This happened here?"

Here's an article from the same site (NEU's Center for Urban and Regional Policy, Catholics, Ethnics, and Busing: Why Boston Riots - "Boston Riots: Three Centuries of Social Violence"

So on the one hand we have ZOOM, promoting multiculturalism. At the same time, in the same city, a white man is using an American flag and staff as a lance against a black man.
posted by not_on_display at 10:50 PM on January 2, 2008 [1 favorite]

Zippy, I wrote for the crystal radio instructions, too! I did receive the appropriate Zoom card in reply, but the directions were way too complicated for my sixth-grade self. I still have my Zoom cards packed away somewhere (I must've gotten on some mailing list, because I received several unsolicited cards explaining how to speak Ubbi-Dubbi). Some further Zoom trivia: Bernadette appeared in an MTV commercial for the John Mellencamp "Little Pink House" contest promotion. And several years ago I saw a rerun of The Newlywed Game that featured Zoom-er Lori and her husband. (No, I didn't recognize her; her husband mentioned in answer to a question that his wife had been on that show and never let him forget it.)
posted by Oriole Adams at 11:41 PM on January 2, 2008

All right, a little belatedly, let me talk about ZOOM for a moment. I would describe it as one of the defining shows in my life, and so I've been obsessed with it for years.

It was based on an English program. I remember the program being titled Turn Off Your Telly and Go Outside, but I've never been able to track down the original show. I wrote to the producers of the show several years ago, and they got back to me to say that they themselves had been wracking their brains and nobody could remember the original show.

Nonetheless, both shows were based on the radical supposition that television could encourage active participation rather than passive viewing. While some children's television experimented with this, it really was a radical experiment in television, and a surprisingly successful. A vast majority of the show's content was suggested by children in their audience, and that's why you wind up with things such as Ubbi-Dubbi, which originated in the unique culture of children. The reason we remember the melody to the show's zip code was because they were constantly soliciting suggestions, as well as offering mailings that would further explain how to do the activities described in the show.

They turned over their cast constantly, as well as writing into the cast's contracts that they could not pursue work as a child actor for a time after the show aired. They also steered clear of child actors, preferring real children who had no interest in pursuing a career as a child celebrity. Of course, some of these kids became minor celebrities anyway, but, again, they weren't on the show long enough for it to really stick.

What appealed to me most about the show was its inclusion of short documentaries about real kids doing really amazing things, just out of pure curiosity. There were all sorts of collectors, hobbyists, and creative amateurs that were profiles, all with a very deadpan, non-"gee whiz" approach that made it seem like it just wasn't that odd to see a kid who had a collection of spiders from around the world, or whatever. I don't remember the precise details of any single documentary, but I remember being impressed and jealous of these kid's accomplishments, but also filled with a sense that children's interests are valid, worth pursuing with passion, and, well, interesting. As a young fellow who always felt a little bit like an oddball, this show gave me great comfort in pursuing my own interests.

More than that, when I got to be an adult and entered the world of journalism and, later, blogging, I always tended toward stories that included this activist quality. By this, I mean I preferred writing stories that might encourage someone to put down their newspaper and go out and participate in what I am describing, and I tried to include information about how one might go about doing such a thing. I've written stories about getting into theater, about unusual and interesting hobbies, about nonmainstream religious and political movements, about making digital films and distributing them online, and a variety of other subjects, and I've always thought of these as my ZOOM stories. Many of the blogs I have started have been based around specific projects that I have developed interests in, and have documented how I, and anybody, can participate in those projects.

To this day, I continue to be a ZOOM kid, I guess. Now, I consider Mr. Rogers to be a secular saint, and adore both Sesame Street and The Electric Company. But ZOOM is the show I can look back on and say, there's something that had direct, fundamental impact on who am I am to this day. And that's a very rare thing to be able to say about a television show.
posted by Astro Zombie at 3:53 AM on January 3, 2008 [4 favorites]

I think there was a general and explicit intention that us kids should explore and do and be and take risks and be independent overall during the 70s--and there was far less attention paid to negative or fearful things that may happen -- or even to what we were doing with our time after school or on weekends.

Free to Be... Go outside and play and just be home for dinner. ...
posted by amberglow at 5:08 AM on January 3, 2008

A similar programme in the UK from 1973 to 1995 had possibly the longest kids show title ever.

'Why don't you turn off your television set and go and do something less boring instead?'

Radio Times originally billed it as Wdyjsoytsagadslbi?

I prefer ZooM.
posted by surfdad at 7:32 AM on January 3, 2008

Sorry Astro, hadn't read your comment fully. (Almost) well remembered on the title.

Another fine piece of transatlantic cross-pollination then.
posted by surfdad at 8:03 AM on January 3, 2008

Finally, the original title. Thank you.
posted by Astro Zombie at 9:42 AM on January 3, 2008

Edith C. Baker School and Brookline High School.
posted by WaterSprite at 8:29 PM on January 2 [+] [!]

Hey, Pierce School and Brookline High here - holla!

posted by tristeza at 10:01 AM on January 3, 2008

I sent USPS mail to Box 350, Boston Mass., ohh too wunnnn threee forrrrrr... a few years ago and got a response from someone in a production company IIRC.
posted by lothar at 10:14 AM on January 3, 2008

When I was at college, I wanted to create a department of Ub-ubb-bi Dub-ubb-bubbi Stubb-a-dubbies.
posted by jonp72 at 10:15 AM on January 3, 2008 [1 favorite]

The current jingle is just as catchy, by the way. E-mail, e-mail, e-mail...
posted by The corpse in the library at 12:03 PM on January 3, 2008

But AZ, you come from beyond life, beyond the stars! Does this mean there is ZOOM in hebbin?
posted by mwhybark at 1:06 PM on January 3, 2008

Astro Zombies are undead spaceship pilots. We get WGBH-TV in space.
posted by Astro Zombie at 5:17 PM on January 3, 2008 [2 favorites]

I always wanted to slide down the Z...or was it the M?

I worked at WGBH when they had a 'yard sale' of old Zoom items. I was able to snag a pair of slightly used Chuck Taylors for $3 and some Fiesta Ware plates used on the show. Score!
posted by Constant Reader at 7:57 AM on January 4, 2008 [1 favorite]

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