Wonderama

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For the 1991 Randy Stonehill album, see Wonderama (album).
Wonderama
Genre Game show
Country of origin United States
No. of seasons 22
Production
Running time 3 hours (2 hours in 1977)
Distributor Metromedia
Release
Original release January 1, 1955 – December 25, 1977

Wonderama was a children's television program that appeared on the Metromedia-owned stations from 1955 to 1986, with WNEW-TV in New York City as its originating station.

Wonderama also ran in five other markets in which Metromedia owned television stations: WTTG in Washington D.C., KMBC-TV in Kansas City, KTTV in Los Angeles, WXIX-TV in Cincinnati, and WTCN-TV in Minneapolis – Saint Paul. The show ran three hours, and later two hours, on Sunday mornings.

In the 1960s, Wonderama aired in a one-hour weekday version in addition to the three-hour Sunday show. The one-hour program lasted until 1970.

In 1977, the show scaled back to two hours before WNEW canceled it in December of that year. The last produced show was taped December 21 before airing on December 25. Host Bob McAllister was upset when an advertisement for the 1972 Charles Bronson movie The Mechanic aired during the show.[where?] McAllister bought an ad in The New York Times that told viewers to stop watching Wonderama.[citation needed] In a 1990s interview with the Southern California interview show Remember When,[where?] McAllister said that might have led to the cancellation of Wonderama. However, in an interview on WNEW's local talk show Midday with Bill Boggs on the day of Wonderama's cancellation, McAllister claimed to have no idea why the show ended. After its cancellation, Wonderama continued in two-hour Sunday morning reruns from January 1978 to June 1980. McAllister reportedly was unhappy with the edits, which usually eliminated celebrity performances in order to avoid having to pay royalties.

Hosts[edit]

The Sonny Fox Years[edit]

Independent television network Metromedia (born from the former DuMont Network) hired Fox to host Wonderama on its New York flagship station, WABD (soon to become WNEW-TV), succeeding the team of Bill Britten and Doris Faye. Hiring Fox ended what some called the "musical-hosts syndrome" that Wonderama had for its first few years. The show had been created as well as originally hosted by actor-comedian Sandy Becker, who became a New York children's program star in his own right. Fox became Wonderama's sole host for eight years, until August 1967.

Suave, witty, and congenial, Fox juggled the slapstick and the serious, turning the marathon Wonderama (during Fox's tenure the show ran four hours Sunday mornings) into a weekly academy at which anything could happen and often did; whether Shakespearean dramatizations, guest celebrities, magic demonstrations (customarily by legendary magician James "The Amazing" Randi), art instruction, spelling bees, learning games, or other elements.[citation needed

Fox was deft at turning a potential haphazard hodgepodge into a seamless whole, and he was consistent in never talking down to his young guests or viewers, treating them with legitimate respect and tolerance. The result was that Wonderama was rarely if ever known to have bored either the children who appeared on the show (the segments showing the weekly 25 or 30 children waving cross-armed, leading in and out of commercial breaks, were as much a signature as Fox himself) or those who watched it.

For a few years it seemed Fox owned children's weekend television in the New York metropolitan area. In the same year he joined Wonderama, he reached back to the "color war" team competitions he knew as a child in summer camp to create and host Just For Fun, a two-and-a-half hour Saturday morning show involving two teams of kids in blue and gold jumpsuits to compete in contests ranging from the mildly athletic to the wildly bizarre. One mainstay was the Treasure Chest competition where one contestant from each team would be placed in front of a locked chest and 1,000 keys. When the winner found the key to open their chest, a siren would sound, and whatever was happening at the time (be it cartoon, commercial, skit, etc.) was interrupted. The winner would stand with arms outstretched and a towering pile of board games and toys would be placed in his or her arms.

A year later, Fox hosted ABC's first original Saturday morning show, On Your Mark, a game show in which children ages 9 through 13 answered questions about various professions. On Your Mark lasted one season, but the lively Just For Fun lasted until 1965.

Fox has since become an EMMY award winning producer of his Broadway Songwriters Series, has his own web-site: http://www.sonnyfoxtv.com/ and has a Wonderama with Sonny Fox Facebook group hosted by Randy Bucknoff who is both administrator of the group and of Fox's web-site.

Fox (at 90 years of age) recently met with President Obama in Washington D.C. at an event in the Israeli Embassy. Here is a link to Fox's telling of the event: http://www.sonnyfoxtv.com/scrapbook/the-righteous-among-us/

The Bob McAllister years[edit]

Following the frequent turnover of hosts throughout the 1950s, Wonderama experienced its greatest viewership by way of one-time Baltimore kids' show host Bob McAllister, who replaced Sonny Fox as host in 1967 and remained host until 1977. Each show's taping included (but was not necessarily limited to) education, music, audience participation, games, interviews, and cartoon shorts.

The program aired for three hours including several breaks to allow for cartoon insertions. On most of Metromedia's stations, these would be Warner Bros. cartoons from the 1940s and 1950s. On KMBC in Kansas City, an ABC affiliate, the show only ran two hours without the cartoon inserts (since this station did not own broadcast rights to cartoon shorts).

The program's closing theme song, sung by McAllister, was called “Kids Are People Too”, which was later adapted as the show's title when ABC picked it up as a Sunday morning kids show. The song was also featured on an album of music from Wonderama by McAllister called Oh, Gee, it's Great to be a Kid.

Features[edit]

Popular features of Wonderama during the McAllister years included the following:

  • "Snake Cans": the classic game in which Bob would pick kids from the audience one-by-one to open one of ten cans, nine of which were filled with spring-loaded snakes, and the tenth one containing an artificial flower bouquet which earned them the grand prize (usually a Ross Apollo bicycle) along with other prizes for answering trivia questions.[1]
  • Wonderama A Go-Go (later called "Disco City"): A dance contest similar in style to American Bandstand, in which the best dancer won a prize. After it was renamed "Disco City", the contest featured contestants each doing their own dance to the same record; the record was introduced at the beginning of the segment by "The Disco Kid", a boy dressed in a costume reminiscent of The Lone Ranger. Originally the Disco Kid's theme was a loop of the chorus from The Raspberries' "Overnight Sensation", but was later replaced with the song "Ride On, Disco Kid".
  • "Does Anybody Here Have an Aardvark?": a song which Bob sang before a segment asking members of the audience to produce unusual objects for prizes. This usually occurred at the beginning of the show.
  • "Exercise, Exercise!": Most often jumping jacks, involving all the kids in the audience. The segment had its own theme song.
  • "Good News" Selected audience members were picked to read "good" news items from around the country before McAllister sang a song:
"Have you heard any good news today, today?
I wanna hear what you have to say,
wait 'till I get to the count of three,
and tell me all the good news you have for me, one-two-three!

After singing, Bob would canvas the audience for their own good news.

  • "Guess Your Best": A game show segment in which three contestants made predictions on the outcome of audience polls and relay races. McAllister hosted the game using the pseudonym "Bert Beautiful".
  • "Whose is Whose is Whose": Contestants were introduced to four children and four adults, and had to guess which adult was which child's father. As a help, the children and parents were sometimes asked to do things like jump up in the air (ostensibly because a child and his parent might jump in a similar style). McAllister adopted a silly pseudonym for this segment, calling himself either "Chuck Chuckles" or "Chuck Roast".
  • "Head Of The House": Selected kids took part in a series of quirky competitions, including gerbil races, balloon breaking contests, and so forth. The child who won the most events or scored the most points was crowned the "Head of the House".

Parting Gifts[edit]

Each week, audience members received a package of parting gifts as detailed on the show, containing varying items including the following:

  • A Lactona toothbrush
  • An issue of Dynamite Magazine or Golden Magazine
  • A supply of Good Humor ice cream
  • A box of Hostess Twinkies
  • A 6-pack of RC Cola
  • A Goo Goo Cluster candy bar
  • A tube of Hold! cough lozenges
  • A package of Fruit Stripe Gum
  • A gift certificate for Burger King or McDonald's
  • Nandy Candy - a chocolate bar containing fruit (McAllister would stretch out the pronunciation, i.e., "Naaaandy Caaaaandy")
  • A pack of Lender's Bagelettes. Each child also got a necklace made from a real, shellacked Lenders Bagelette, which had either their name or their last initial painted on it.
  • A 45 rpm record of one of the music artists who had performed on the Wonderama episode that week.
  • Harvey Comics comic books.

Guests[edit]

Originating from New York, top stars from all genres of entertainment (music, movies, television, etc.) made appearances on Wonderama, including the following:

1980 revival[edit]

Beginning in 1980, a documentary/magazine show for children (and hosted by teens) ran on Sunday mornings on WNEW-TV. While this show retained the Wonderama title, the show bore no resemblance to the original show. This hour-long incarnation ran until 1983; reruns edited to 30 minutes aired from 1984 to 1986 on WNEW-TV/WNYW on Saturday mornings. Hosts included Pam Potillo and J.D. Roth. Guests included Rick Schroeder and the Sugarhill Gang.

External links[edit]

References[edit]