Original Opening title of 3-2-1 Contact
|Created by||Samuel Y. Gibbon Jr.|
|Starring||Varied, see article|
|Theme music composer||Tom Anthony|
|Country of origin||United States|
|No. of episodes||225 and 8 Specials|
|Running time||30 minutes|
|Audio format||Mono (1980–1984)
|Original release||January 14, 1980– November 18, 1988|
3-2-1 Contact is an American science educational television show that aired on PBS from 1980 to 1988, and an adjoining children's magazine. The show, a production of the Children's Television Workshop, teaches scientific principles and their applications. Dr. Edward G. Atkins, who was responsible for much of the scientific content of the show, felt that the TV program wouldn't replace a classroom but would open the viewers to ask questions about the scientific purpose of things.
3-2-1 Contact was the brainchild of Samuel Y. Gibbon Jr., who had been the executive producer of The Electric Company for CTW from 1971 to 1977. (Gibbon had left CTW before Contact's production officially began, though he was still credited as "Senior Consultant."). The show was based on the original concept of The Curiosity Show, an Australian science-based children's educational TV show that had been running since 1972. That program was hosted by Australian scientists Rob Morrison and Deane Hutton, who were consultants to The Children's Television Workshop in the early planning stages of what became 3-2-1 Contact. CTW wanted to make a version using American scientists as presenters, but PBS didn't think that middle-aged scientists would engage a young audience (despite the popularity of the format in Australia) and insisted that any science show be hosted/presented by young people. CTW eventually reworked the concept into 3-2-1 Contact.
The first season of 65 programs began airing January 14, 1980 on select PBS member stations; it featured a cast of three college students who socialized and discussed science in an on-campus room known as "the workshop." This season came to an end on April 11, 1980 and continued in reruns for the following three years, as funding for additional episodes was not yet sufficient.
When production finally resumed for the second season, which premiered on October 17, 1983, the show presented a more realistic appearance, as the new cast convened in a suburban basement (these segments were shot at Reeves Teletape, which also housed Sesame Street at the time). This cast continued until October 18, 1985. Ozzie Alfonso was Contact's new director and Al Hyslop its executive producer.
When the fifth season began on September 22, 1986, a third cast was introduced. However, unlike the previous casts, they did not meet in any specific setting; instead, they appeared in various taped and filmed segments. Episodes continued to be produced through November 1988.
For a time in the mid-1980s, the program was co-produced with the French television network FR3 and featured several new French cast members in addition to the American cast. From 1982 to 1983 the program was aired in Spain with dubbed-over versions of the American original broadcasts, and some local add-ons with four Spanish cast members: Sonia Martínez, Luis Bollain, Fernando Rueda and Marifé Rodríguez. Another Spanish version of the broadcast was aired from 1990 to 1992.
From September 1, 1991 until May 1, 1992, an edited version titled 3-2-1 Classroom Contact was produced, specifically for in-school viewing. It was hosted by Stephanie Yu (the only former cast member) and used previously aired segments from the past series.
It was reported in 1984 that 3-2-1 Contact had an audience of over 7 million viewers and was broadcast in 26 countries including West Germany, France, Italy and Spain making their own dubbed-over versions.3-2-1 Contact had a loyal audience even from South Asian nations such as Sri Lanka in the early eighties, who broadcast most of the PBS programs in the Sri Lankan channel Independent Television Network [ITN].
Broadcasters wanted children and schools to record and replay the episodes without being afraid of infringement of copyright violations.
And as themselves:
The Bloodhound Gang
A frequent segment of the show was The Bloodhound Gang, a series about a group of young detectives who used science to solve crimes. Episodes of the series needed to be run in regular sequence for understandable viewing, as many Bloodhound Gang mysteries were cut among two or three Contact episodes.
Three months before the show premiered, a print magazine of the same name that also focused on science was released. In 1985, the magazine absorbed some of the content of sibling publication Enter (which went out of print that same year), including reader submissions of computer programs written in the BASIC computer language as well as reviews of popular computer programs. A new feature called "The Slipped Disk Show" appeared in mid-1985, starring a fictional disc jockey who answered computer-related questions submitted by readers.
Beginning in 1987, the magazine also featured content from another CTW production, Square One Television. Such content frequently took the form of a two-page comic strip, often parodying a popular show or movie of the time, with a math-related question at the end.
The Bloodhound Gang mysteries also made the leap to the magazine, but they were subsequently replaced with a series entitled The Time Team in September 1990. These stories found teenage characters Sean Nolan and Jenny Lopez traveling to different time periods in the past and future. Their surroundings and personal encounters were described with great detail, educating readers as to the customs of various cultures throughout history, and – on trips to the future – often pushing present day hot-button issues. For example, a 1993 story saw the duo traveling to what appeared to be a prehistoric forest, but near the end, they found a Brazil flag, a newspaper clipping from 1995, and a bulldozer at work: this was in fact a Brazilian rainforest being levelled.
In 1996, The Time Team was replaced by a comic serial, Cosmic Crew, which focused on the adventures of a group of teenagers and their robot butler in space. Their first story arc (which ran for more than a year) had them trying to figure out a series of riddles relating to places in the solar system in order to claim a treasure (which turned out to be a scholarship fund). Another story arc had a delinquent (who had been a villain in the first arc) join them in order to chase down a gang of other delinquents. Despite being effectively replaced, a few Time Team stories were run whenever there were gaps between installments of Cosmic Crew.
Many of the magazine's cover stories involved current events, such as 1990s oil fires in the Middle East. In addition, the magazine offered a games section in which most of the games were related to the stories in the issue.
In 1996, CTW presumably concluded that faithful readers from the late 1980s and early 1990s had long since moved on, and the magazine began to reprint non-time-sensitive stories from years past. For example, a 1991 article on the geography of the Galápagos Islands – a subject relatively unchanging due to the islands' well-enforced ecologically protected status – could very well re-appear in an identical format a half a decade later.
Under Sesame Workshop the magazine later became Contact Kids, removing the original reference to the television show. Production of the magazine was suspended indefinitely in 2001.
Though the show went off the air in 1988, it appeared in reruns from 1999 to 2003 on the cable television network Noggin, then a joint venture of Sesame Workshop and Viacom. Occasionally, shows were also rerun on Nickelodeon's Cable in the Classroom time period. For all these Nickelodeon and Noggin airings, the series was rated TV-Y7 (possibly due to the target audience). It also still aired on some PBS stations as reruns from 1989 to 1998 before it was switched to Noggin in 1999. In 2003, Sesame Workshop sold its half of Noggin to Viacom. The shows were modified for the shorter running time on these networks to allow for their interstitials.
Sources of funding
Funding for 3-2-1 Contact was provided by the following:
- National Science Foundation (January 14, 1980 – November 18, 1988)
- United States Department of Education (January 14, 1980 – November 18, 1988)
- Corporation for Public Broadcasting (January 14, 1980 – November 18, 1988)
- Andrew W. Mellon Foundation (January 14, 1980 – November 18, 1988)
- IBM Corporation (January 14, 1980 – November 18, 1988)
- Carnegie Corporation of New York (October 31, 1983 – November 18, 1988)
Five sponsors funded the show for its entire run. They were originally supposed to fund for 20 new episodes until 1989.
- Hechinger, Fred M. (October 2, 1984). "About Education; Forgotten TV Audience: Children". The New York Times. p. C.9.
- La Vanguardia, February 12, 1982, April 4, 1983.
- SERIES 6: 3-2-1 CONTACT at the Wayback Machine (archived July 19, 2008)