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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Television

Tribute: Betty White

Posted on January 1, 2022 at 12:37 am

It was a privilege to write a tribute to the wonderful Betty White for rogerebert.com. An excerpt:

White’s utter fearlessness as a performer was grounded in the delight she took in delighting others, especially if she could shock them just enough to make them laugh. She had unbounded enthusiasm, she loved a challenge, and she never worried about whether the character she was playing was likeable. Whether appearing as herself or in character, she always enjoyed the unexpected twist, especially if it was insulting or raunchy. When more than half a million members of a 2012 Facebook group successfully petitioned to have her host “Saturday Night Live,” her opening monologue let them know she did not take herself – or them – seriously. “When I first heard about the campaign to get me to host ‘Saturday Night Live,’ I didn’t know what Facebook was, and now that I do know what it is, I have to say it sounds like a huge waste of time.” That appearance won her an Emmy, one of five, with 21 nominations going back to 1951.

From CBS Sunday Morning:

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Actors Tribute

New Book About Hallmark Christmas Movies!

Posted on November 1, 2021 at 8:00 am

Copyright Running Press 2021
If Halloween is over, it’s time for Hallmark Christmas movies! And a new book gives you something to look at while the many, many commercials are interrupting them. It is a delightful guide to the best produced so far, from how the Deck the Hallmark podcast hosts and best friends Brandon Gray, Daniel “Panda” Pandolph, and Dan Thompson. They unabashedly love these movies while fully aware of their formulas and other issues. Also, they are very funny.

In I’ll be Home for Christmas Movies, they share reviews that make you feel like you’re watching these holiday favorites with your best buds, discussing warm Christmas feelings and absolutely bonkers plot twists with equal enthusiasm. And thanks to original interviews with the movies’ stars and creators, fans will find out insider information on the making of the movies and learn answers to pressing questions: Why do the lead characters keep coming down with amnesia? Why do so many female stock brokers and lawyers find themselves forced to plan parties? And do all of the stories take place within something called the “Kennyverse”?

To complete the perfect Christmas package, the book is also chock-full of ideas for hosting your own holiday movie-watching party, complete with delicious recipes and it features dozens of full-color photos.

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Books Understanding Media and Pop Culture

Newton Minow’s “Vast Wasteland” Speech: 60 Years Ago Today

Posted on May 9, 2021 at 10:17 am

On May 9, 1961, my father, Newton Minow, delivered a speech that continues to inspire the conversation about media and has even been an answer on Jeopardy!

I interviewed him about the speech for Emmy Magazine. LA Times columnist Michael Hiltzik interviewed him about media and the news.

He appeared on his favorite news program, the PBS Newshour, to talk to Judy Woodruff about television then and now.

NPR celebrates its 50th anniversary this week, and its official history gives my dad some of the credit. He also helped launch the first telecommunications satellite, helped get the original funding for “Sesame Street” and helped create the Presidential Debates, involved in every one going back to the original, Kennedy-Nixon, and designed the current bi-partisan commission, where he still serves as Vice Chair.

Today Dad was the Power Player of the Week on FOX with Chris Wallace.

In 1961, Dad was President Kennedy’s new Chairman of the FCC, just 35 years old, and in his first major address he told the National Association of Broadcasters that while there was much to admire on television, too much of it was a “vast wasteland.”

He told the audience about the day before the speech, when President Kennedy brought Commander Alan Shepherd, who had just become the first American in space, and his wife, to the National Association of Broadcasters event Dad would be speaking to the following day. President Kennedy invited Dad to come upstairs while he changed his shirt, to give him some ideas about what to tell the broadcasters. Dad suggested that he talk about the difference between the way Americans and the Soviet Union conducted their space program. In the US, we had all the television cameras there to show the American people, good or bad, what was happening.

At the time Dad called on the broadcasters to do better, there were just three national television networks. There was no PBS, just a National Educational Television which was not even available in most of the country, including Washington DC itself. My father told the broadcasters that as long as the airwaves were a scarce resource, they would have to do better to live up to their statutory obligation to serve the public interest, convenience, and necessity, especially with regard to coverage of news and programming for children.

Copyright Newsweek 1961

Dad worked over the next half-century to make more choices available, including cable and satellite as well as the creation of a robust public television station. He served as chairman of PBS and of the Chicago affiliate WTTW, served on the board of CBS, pushed for closed captioning to make television programming available to hearing-impaired viewers and those learning to read or speak English, and argued one of the only cases in history to have a broadcast license rescinded - a station that spewed hatred across the airwaves. In protest of his critique of television, the sinking ship on “Gilligan’s Island” was named after him, the S.S. Minnow! He is so proud he has a lifesaver from the SS Minnow on his office wall, a gift from his law partners for his 90th birthday. He was presented with the nation’s highest civilian honor, the Medal of Freedom, by President Barack Obama, in 2016.

PBS has a great documentary about him which is free to watch online. He is also the world’s best dad and we are all so proud of him.

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Understanding Media and Pop Culture

Interview with My Dad, Newton Minow, about the FCC, the SS Minnow, Saying No to JFK, and Media Today

Posted on April 22, 2021 at 11:22 am

One of the great pleasures and honors of my life was the chance to interview my wonderful dad for Emmy Magazine in honor of the upcoming 60th anniversary of his famous speech to the National Association of Broadcasters, calling television “a vast wasteland.”

An excerpt:

Sixty years ago, on May 9, 1961, 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.

Copyright Emmy Magazine 2021

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, helped create the Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD), where he served as vice chair until this year, worked to require the V-chip and closed captioning, helped get the start-up funding for “Sesame Street,” and argued for the rescission of the radio license of a station that broadcast virulently racist and anti-Semitic programming.  And he and my mom will celebrate their 72nd wedding anniversary this spring.

 

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