Doug and Emmy Jo on The New Zoo Revue

Posted on November 1, 2023 at 3:10 pm

Copyright 1972 Doug Momary

“New Zoo Revue” was a half-hour children’s television series with almost 200 episodes that ran in syndication from 1972-77 and then in reruns for many more years. It was colorful and tuneful and funny but most of all it was sweet and sincere, created by composer Doug Momary, who co-hosted with his wife, Emily Momary, as Emmy Jo. The human characters interacted with animals (people in costume), a frog, a hippo, and an owl, and the show used songs, skits, and games to teach children about kindness, problem-solving, manners, seasons, time, laughter, and promises. The show had a low-key, endearingly hand-made quality. In an interview, Doug and Emily talked about how they met, the lucky encounter that led to the show, and what it feels like to encounter people in their 50s and 60s who still remember the series and what they learned from it.

Where are you from and what were you doing before The New Zoo Revue?

Emily Momary: I’m originally from Texas, and I had gone to college, and lived in New York for three years. I had a theater background and graduated from the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. Then I went back to finish school at SMU and went out to California to do some summer stock, and that’s where I met Doug. I really fell in love with Doug because of his music. I was actually doing Portia in The Merchant of Venice that summer and Masha in The Three Sisters, so I had a lot to work on. I would hear music in one of the rooms, and I went in, and it was Doug. I would just sit there and listen to him playing his music and just fell in love with him.

Doug Momary: My background is also theater. I graduated from Cal State Fullerton, with a playwriting major. I had no idea how I was going to get into show business, but I just had a dream that one day I would have an opportunity. And that’s when I went up to do summer stock in Santa Maria, California and met Emily. And when we came back down to Hollywood, I had the opportunity to create a kid’s show.

“Given the opportunity?” By who? How? What were the parameters?

Doug Momary: My mom worked at a toy store, and the owner of that toy store, Barbara Atlas, had created a beanbag frog named Freddy. It was just a little frog that you could hold in your hand, a cute little beanbag frog.

Barbara was talking to my mom and saying, “I really want to do a kid’s show and base it around this frog. Do you know anyone who could help me?” My mom, being a good mom, being a good salesperson, said, “I think my son could help you.”

She arranged a meeting with Barbara, and I sat down with her, and she said, “I want to do a show, and you’ve got to use this frog. So that was the parameter.

I went home that night with my guitar. I wrote the song, sketched out the set, and developed some of the characters, and a couple days later I went in and presented it to her, and she said, “I’d really like this.”

What we wanted to do was not a show about one, two, three, or ABC, but a show about relationships. How do you get along? How do you treat people with respect and kindness and tolerance?

Your show appeared just after Sesame Street on PBS revolutionized children’s programming. Did you ever consult with experts in child development or education?

Doug Momary: I so wish we had. I don’t know how many child experts there were back then.

Emily Momary: We thought it was entertaining, you know, wholesome entertainment for kids. We just love kids, and I think we’re both, somewhere in our psyches, kids at heart. Doug had an instinct about what children would relate to. But we just had no idea of the impact the show would have. Now that our daughter has brought the show back through our Facebook page and we meet these kids that are now grown up and they’re in their 50s, some of them even in their early 60s, and we are hearing what it meant to them when they were little.

Some of them had very, very challenging childhood. Some of them were sick, and were in bed a lot, and our show was a comfort to them. And others, it just made them happy.

It’s been an amazing thing to find out the impact the show really had on the lives of those kids. I’ll tell you honestly, we were just excited to have this fun show to work on, and that’s really all we were thinking about.

Did you get letters or calls when the show was on the air to give you a sense of how it was being received?

Doug Momary: Really, no, they went to the corporate office. And we never saw them – until years later, like just six months ago, somebody found a bunch of letters in a garage sale and actually sent them to us. So, 40 years later, we were reading fan mail from six-year-olds, and it was just an eye-opener. They just wanted to say hi to the characters and tell us how much they loved the show and loved the songs.

And then we went to Comic-Con in San Diego in July, and to meet these people has been incredible.

Emily Momary: People just kept coming up, and there were lots of hugs and tears. We had grown men say, I wanted you as my parent. One man came up, and he said, “I’m so sorry, I’m crying.” And I said, “That’s okay. You go ahead and cry. I’ll probably cry too.” And he said, “My mother passed away recently, and I just remember always watching your show sitting on her lap.” So, you know, it had touched something deep inside him, and we heard that over and over and over again.

Doug Momary: We had grown men say, “I wanted you as my parent”

Emily Momary: Or just, “I had a pair of white boots because you had white boots.” I don’t like to use the word fan base, because I think of them more as family. They call themselves our “New Zoo Kids” now. And we feel that we have, it’s just wonderful, a relationship with all of these kids who are grown up now and have their own children, some have grandchildren.

I’m immensely proud of them. One of the wonderful things about going out there to San Diego was to find out what they’ve done with their lives and the careers that they’re in.

My goodness, we have educators and attorneys and musicians and people who are in the Internet field. It’s really wonderful to think of these little, tiny children that have grown up to do so well and make such wonderful contributions.

Copyright Doug and Emily Momary 2023

Are there any characters or songs or episodes that you hear about that they remember especially fondly?

Doug Momary: We did a show on telling the truth, and this guy came up and said, “I knew Freddie should tell the truth. I knew he should have come clean about his grave.” After all these years, this little song I wrote called “Tell the Truth,” and he remembered it.

You had some remarkable guest stars. Did you have any favorites among the guest stars who appeared on the show?

Doug Momary: We started having the guests stars because Emily was about to have our first child. We had to find some creative way to tell everybody that she was on a trip somewhere. And so they ushered in these guest stars.

I especially enjoyed having Henry Mancini as a guest star on our show. It was amazing because here I was, a young composer, sitting in a rowboat on Freddie’s pond with Henry Mancini.

I said, “Can I ask you a question, sir?” And he said, Sure.” “What recommendation do you have for a young composer like myself?” And he just said, “Keep on writing. That’s all I can say.” That was so inspiring and that’s really true as I found out all these years, that you just keep going, you just keep writing.

What kinds of productions are you doing now?

Doug Momary: For years, we’ve had our own production company in Las Vegas. I’m still doing production and directing and producing. I’m currently developing some new kids shows.

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61 Years After the Legendary Vast Wasteland Speech

Posted on May 9, 2022 at 8:09 am

Copyright 2016 TWH
Sixty-one years ago today, on May 9, 1961, my dad, the 35-year-old Chairman of the FCC, Newton Minow, made three significant appearances. In Washington, he gave his famous “vast wasteland” speech to the National Association of Broadcasters, telling them that while “when television is good, nothing is better,” he expected them to do more to uphold their statutory obligation to serve “the public interest, convenience, and necessity.” Then he went back to the FCC office, where he met with Elizabeth Campbell to sign the original license for WETA, the first educational television station in the nation’s capital, now the producer of the Ken Burns documentaries and the nightly Newshour. And then he flew to Chicago to attend the father-daughter dinner for my Brownie troop.

I often thought about how those three events defined his character: inspiring those around him to do better, supporting the visions of people making enriching cultural content and reliable news sources widely available, and always putting his family first. Over the next decades this was reflected in his efforts as a founder and board chair of PBS, a director of CBS, helping to create the Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD), where he served as vice chair until this year, working to require the V-chip and closed captioning, helping to get the start-up funding for “Sesame Street,” and arguing for the rescission of the radio license of a station that broadcast virulently racist and anti-Semitic programming. His countless awards include more than a dozen honorary doctorates, a Peabody, and the highest honor for American civilians, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, awarded by President Barack Obama (who met Michelle when they were both working in my father’s law office). Our family’s favorite “honor” might be the sinking ship on “Gilligan’s Island,” named as an insult to my father for his criticism of television by producer Sherwood Schwartz. They later had a very cordial correspondence.

He appeared on Chicago’s PBS station last month to talk about the RNC’s announcement that they would not participate in the Presidential Debates.

Today Cornell law professor Robert Hockett recognizes the anniversary of the speech with a proposal my sister endorsed in her book, Saving the News (with an introduction by my father titled “From Guttenberg to Zuckerberg”), a “public option” for social media.

Mike Leonard’s documentary about my dad has some wonderful stories.

I talked to my dad about some of his formative experiences, including the words from Bobby Kennedy that inspired him to focus on telecommunications, what he will advise the new FCC Chair, and why he told President Kennedy the first telecommunications satellite was more important than putting a man on the moon.

He is the world’s best dad and grandpa. We are so lucky.

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Television Understanding Media and Pop Culture

Nell Scovell Talks About The Groundbreaking Sabrina, The Teenage Witch

Posted on October 4, 2021 at 12:13 pm

Copyright 1996 Viacom
It was 25 years ago that “Sabrina the Teenage Witch” premiered as a part of ABC’s “TGIF” line-up of family-friendly shows. The character was based on the Archie comic book series, but it was showrunner Nell Scovell who gave her a last name and a subtly but unabashedly feminist spin. In a 25th anniversary interview, Scovell told Elle that what made it fun for her was a twist on the magical female stories like “Bewitched” and “I Dream of Jeannie.” Those characters had to hide their powers. Sabrina, who only discovers her powers when she turns 16 and is thus still learning how to use them, is encouraged to make the most of her gifts. She had some of Scovell in her as well. “The revolutionary idea of Sabrina is she’s a good kid. She doesn’t want to be a cheerleader popular. She, like me, wanted to be good in school, and a good person.”

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Posted on July 15, 2021 at 4:06 pm

Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
Profanity: Strong language and explicit references to anatomy
Alcohol/ Drugs: Alcohol
Violence/ Scariness: Mild comic peril, gun
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: July 16, 2021

Copyright AppleTV+ 2021
“Schmigadoon!” is a loving parody and an even more loving tribute to classic Broadway and Hollywood musicals, from “Oklahoma” to “The Music Man,” “The Sound of Music,” and the musical that inspired this title, “Brigadoon.” Each of the six episodes of around 30 minutes has Broadway-level singing and dancing, with tuneful, clever songs performed by some of the biggest stars from the Great White Way. The more you love musicals, the more you will love “Schmigadoon!”

Cecily Strong (“Saturday Night Live”) and Keegan-Michael Key (“Key and Peele,” “Keanu,” “Prom”) play surgeons who meet by a hospital candy machine and fall for each other. A few years later, their relationship is under some strain when they go on a couples hiking retreat. Lost in the rain, they happen on a cheerful 19th-century town where the citizens burst into song and elaborately choreographed dance numbers. They’re told by a magical leprechaun (Martin Short) that they cannot leave until they find true love.

The people they meet include Mayor Menlove (Alan Cummings), whose name could be a clue to his clear discomfort in a heteronormative community. Further discomfort could be the result of his dominating, judgmental wife Mildred (Kristin Chenoweth). (Compare them to Mayor Shinn and his wife Eulalie Mackecknie Shinn in “The Music Man.”) There’s the rapscallion carny Danny Bailey (Aaron Tveit). (Think Billy in “Carousel.”) and the teacher in the one-room schoolhouse, who lives with her lisping little brother (similar to Marion and Winthrop Paroo in “The Music Man”). Later on, they meet a beautiful blonde countess (Jane Krakowski) (compare to the Baroness in “The Sound of Music”) and a handsome, widowed doctor (Jaime Camil, a bit of Captain von Trapp). And there’s a pappy with a shotgun that he uses to protect his nubile young (how young?) daughters, including Dove Cameron as Betsy (maybe Daisy Mae in “Li’l Abner”).

Writers Ken Daurio and Cinco Paul are clearly the nerdiest of theater kids at heart and every bit of the series is imaginative, tuneful, thoughtful and detailed. Look behind the schoolteacher at the schedule of parent-teacher conferences on the blackboard. All the names are famous musical-creators. Some of the musical numbers are in direct conversation with classics, like Mildred’s solo, a witty riff on “Music Man’s” “Trouble.” Others are romantic or just pure fun.

Whether you are a theater nerd who can trace the history of the first act “I Want” song from “Show Boat” to “The Little Mermaid” or are just looking for a clever, warm-hearted, romantic adventure filled with supremely talented people giving their all, “Schmigadoon!” is one of 2021’s most delicious delights.

Parents should know that this movie has sexual references including out-of-wedlock pregancy and explicit language about reproduction and body parts, as well as relationship stress, strong language, and some alcohol.

Family discussion: What’s your favorite musical and why? What did Josh and Melissa learn about love?

If you like this, try: the musicals that inspired it as well as others like “My Fair Lady,” “Once Upon a Mattress,” “Bells are Ringing,” “West Side Story,” and “The Pajama Game”

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Comedy movie review Movies -- format Movies -- Reviews Musical Television
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