Weekly Wire
Weekly Alibi Idiot Box

By Devin D. O'Leary

MARCH 8, 1999:  Everything was cooler when I was a kid. Candy was cooler. Video games were cooler. TV was cooler. Yeah, yeah--we've got holographic lollipops, 3-D fighting simulators and 300-some channels of cable nowadays. But that doesn't mask the fact that the lollipops taste like crud, the games are boring and CNN, CNBC, MSNBC, C-SPAN, C-SPAN2 and the FOX News Channel make for mighty dull viewing unless our country is bombing the hell out of somebody else.

Heck, even kids' shows were cooler when I was a kid. Do you honestly think a hundred hours of "Barney & Friends" make up for even a single episode of "Electric Company"? Not on your life, Charlie!

It was with great interest, then, that I noted PBS would be bringing back the classic '70s kids' show "Zoom." Since late January, good old WGBH Boston has been back producing the show that shaped the creative minds of young Generation Xers. Aside from a few minor alterations (there are more computer segments, the old rugby shirts have been sidelined, the theme song's got a bit of a hip hop beat to it now), the show "produced by kids for kids" is little changed. "Zoom" is still fueled by letters from viewers offering up jokes, issuing challenges, suggesting games. There are still plenty of science and art projects involving straws, popsicle sticks, balloons and other kid accouterments. And, best of all, the Ubbi Dubbi language remains intact. Thubank Gubod fubor smuball fubavubors.

It never really struck me when I watched "Zoom" as a kid just why it was so cool. Sure, it was more "hands on" than most kids' programming, encouraging dancing, singing, standing on your head, making papier mâché. The show's ethic was (and still is) turn off the TV and "do it." Most kids' shows seem to promote little more than slack-jawed viewing, but "Zoom" engendered a primitive form of interactive television, with viewers encouraged to send in videos, art and letters. The show's address--given out before the closing credits--became a memorable mantra which stamped the zipcode of Boston, Mass., into the minds of half the twentysomethings in America. (Sing it with me: "Oh-two-one-three-four!")

Watching today's "Zoom," with its newly recruited crew of enthusiastic, multi-ethnic kids (Zoe, Keiko, Jared, Pablo and Alisa among them), I realized just what made "Zoom" so cool. It was the only show that did not feature an adult role model. Mr. Rogers was probably the pioneer of the educational kids' show. As child-like as he was, he still functioned as a father figure, guiding the kids in their learning and paving the way for future educational tyrants like Bill Nye, Barney and all the adults who lived on Sesame Street. "Zoom" is the only show I can think of without an adult in sight. It still feels like the kind of show real kids would make if they were let loose in a television studio without parental supervision. It's almost enough to make me wanna break out my crayons and mail in a fresh batch of droodles.

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