Attention creative tots and Gen-X nostalgists: “Zoom” is back. The groundbreaking ’70s kids show that burned Boston?s musical zip code (02134) into the synapses of a generation has reincarnated itself with a ’90s flair.
Aimed at kids from 6 to 12, the original “Zoom” used jokes, sketches, poems and other content supplied by its young viewers. Hailed by critics and parents as the first truly interactive program on children’s television, the show went off the air in 1981 after a nine-season run. Last year, parent station WGBH decided to give the concept another whirl by producing a pilot episode. “We realized there is nothing on children?s television that does what “Zoom” did,” says Executive Producer Kate Taylor, “and we sort of felt like, well, why not?”
The pilot, which airs nationally this month on PBS affiliates, has tested through the roof with New York focus groups, according to Taylor. “Zoom” staffers attribute this success to their decision to stick with the show’s original formula: Use material submitted by, and performed by, kids.
This time around, though, more than the bell-bottoms and Farrah-friendly feathered hair have changed. The show’s producers are taking advantage of ’90s technology to pump up viewer participation. Kids are invited to take part via voice mail, e-mail, video and the World Wide Web. Watching the half-hour pilot, old-schoolers will probably feel a disorienting twinge when impish newbie Hayley hollers “You go, girl!” or when she hawks the “Zoom” website (http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/zoom).
The show’s producers have high hopes that the pilot will lead to a return of the series on a weekly basis. But before this happens, corporate sponsors are needed to bankroll future shows. Should they appear, a newly recruited gaggle of multi-cultural Boston-area kids will be “Zoom-zoom-zoom-a-zooming” to a new generation in January of 1999. “I’m optimistic that the show will work,” says Tim Pruce, an original cast member. “It was a great idea then, and it’s a great idea now.”