Saturday, August 4, 2012

Zooma-Zooma-Zoom: Seven Moments Still Stuck in the Back of Your Mind

Zoom was PBS trying to be hip, which is rarely a good idea. Yet the series that shared the schedule at the home of the pledge drive with Sesame Street, The Electric Company and Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood did seem more cutting-edge to little baby boomers back in the day.
Just having a show hosted only by kids, with no adult supervision in sight, made it seem like Zoom was something created especially for us, with a cast that was just like us. Most children on TV, like most adults on TV, tend to be better looking and more talented than you and me. That wasn’t the case here. The Zoom kids were not what you’d call child prodigies. Their singing, dancing and acting was no better than what you'd find in any elementary school. But in those moments when they’d try out games suggested by a viewer, or “rap” about the challenges of growing up, it felt like the same stuff you did with your friends.
I picked up the Zoom: Back to the 70s DVD a few years ago, and was surprised at what I remembered and what I didn’t. 
I forgot that the show introduced a new cast every year, like a Boston version of Menudo. After watching the intros from every season, I also realized that after year 3 I had no idea who any of these people were – Hector? Tishy? Levell? Guess by then I had moved on to Happy Days.
But within those first three years were songs and skits that came back as clearly as if I had first watched them yesterday. And I’ll bet that, whether you are conscious of it or not, there’s still a corner of your memory that is home to bunch of barefoot kids in rugby shirts. I offer the following as evidence:
1. The Zip Code
Thanks to television we know two zip codes, the one for Beverly Hills and the one for the post office in Boston where Zoom got its mail: “Send it to Zoom! Box 350, Boston Mass….”
2. Fannee Doolees
Fannee Doolees were a code that seemed baffling at first, but once you figured it out you felt smart. Believe it or not, I know someone who just cracked the code about a year ago. And he went to a good college. 
3. Bernadette and her elbow twirl
I could never do this. Even when she explained the technique in one episode, all I did was bang my arms together. I still think there was camera trickery involved, because I have never seen anyone else master the optical illusion of this move with the same fluid motion. If there wasn’t, then Bernadette was clearly a sorceress. 
4. “The Cat Came Back”
Of all the songs on Zoom, this was the one that never left my head. According to Wikipedia, it was actually written in 1893, and the original version had a very racist title. 
5. Mary Macks
Like “The Cat Came Back,” Mary Macks predate Zoom but achieved a new level of popularity after the kids played this clapping game on several episodes. This one is probably fresher in your mind if you were a girl at the time.
6. Your first crush
If you were a kid when the Zoom kids were on, you may have felt drawn to one of the cast members more than the rest. For guys it was probably Nina, who seemed older and so sophisticated. For the girls it was probably Tommy, who had the thickest Boston accent, but hair like Bobby Sherman – as opposed to Joe, who had hair like Roseanne Roseannadanna.  

7. Ubbi-Dubbi
As languages go, Ubbi-Dubbi was slightly more complex than pig latin, but remains more commonly spoken than verlan. Its primary function was to frustrate your parents and teachers. Dubo Yubou stubill knubow hubow tubo spubeak ubit? 



  1. Fannee Doollee likes a good college.

  2. Oh no. I was googling for the ZOOM version of "the cat came back" and am so disappointed to find your link "private". :(

  3. Hmmm - that is strange. It wasn't private when I added it to this piece, though that was awhile ago now. If I can find another version online I'll definitely make the switch.

  4. 0...21...34! Once when I was watching ZOOM at my grandparents' house N of Boston on WGBH-TV, I saw a notice for ZOOM auditions in the near future. I didn't live in that area though, and I don't know how I would've fit in w/ the rest of the cast.

    I think I can do Bernadette's arm motion as long as 1 arm subtly goes in front of the other, but I'm sure I can't make it look as good.

    Nina looked older because she was. I've read she was 14 while the other kids around her were about 12.