Thursday, May 24, 2012

Sunday Funnies: Wonderama (1956)

It is perhaps the longest running weekend children's show produced for a specific market. It's also a pity that it was cancelled before it's time.

Wonderama, which at one time aired 6 days a week, was the center of WNEW (now WNYW)'s Sunday morning programming block from its launch in 1956 until it was cancelled in 1977. There was a brief revival in the early 80's, but it was in the form of a magazine show not quite unlike, say, for example, Big Blue Marble, and not the variety extravaganza most people remember.

Al Hodge (Captain Video) was the show's first host, and among his successors was local favorite Sandy Becker, who had his own show, also on channel 5, and went on to do some voice acting in cartoons. Sonny Fox succeeded Becker, and after leaving channel 5, hosted the Saturday morning show, Way Out Games, which was a dud for CBS in 1976. Bob McAllister was the last host, at the helm for the final 10 years.

According to a Wikipedia entry on the show, McAllister was upset that the station saw fit to run an ad for a violent Charles Bronson movie ("The Mechanic") one day, and supposedly started asking people to stop watching the show. However, appearing on another channel 5 show after Wonderama's demise, McAllister said he didn't know why the show was dropped. Perhaps in his case ignorance was meant to be bliss--ABC hired him to host Kids Are People, Too, which debuted in the fall of '77, but didn't last anywhere near as long as Wonderama.

There was a time when the show also aired on Saturdays, which was my first exposure. I did see some Sunday episodes near the end of the run, but not the following clip, in which McAllister sings one of the show's signature songs, "Good News", while special guest star Paul Lynde (Hollywood Squares, Bewitched) sat in the audience. This clip comes from 1973..........

Rating: A-.


Anonymous said...

Ah Wonderama. I remember that it changed formats to a kids news show with stuff like trips to the zoo and stuff before it got cancelled. It was definitely a favorite of mine when I was a kid before that format change.

magicdog said...

I remember the Bob McAllister years fondly! I wanted to be in the studio audience in the worst way!

It was fun to watch back then. There were guest stars like Paul Lynde, Rin Tin Tin and the cast from "The Wiz" (which was on Broadway at the time). I also vividly remember contests like kids racing big wheels or scooters. There was also the challenge of finding a bouquet of flowers in a can. Several "joke cans" were set up in a row on a counter. All but one had a spring snake in it that would pop out when you opened it. If you were the lucky kid who found the bouquet, you won a new bike! A big deal to anyone under 10.

I also remember a segment that was used for dancing to popular music (sort of an AB for younger kids). It always began with some guy dressed like The Lone Ranger but with a fake horse costume around the waist. He was called "The Disco Kid" ("Ride on, ride on Disco Kid!"). He'd be "riding" his horse down the streets of Manhattan and pop out of the subway entrance to deliver the latest tune to dance to!

The "Good News" segment was also great, since kids always had something great to shout about! McAllister knew how to bring out the positive!

On the old "Jump The Shark" page, the Wonderama page was loaded with happy recollections from others who had watched or been part of the show. One of McAllister's daughters even posted there, thanking everyone for their kind words, and how wonderful it was to know her dad was fondly remembered by so many fans.

hobbyfan said...

They even had Muhammad Ali vs. Joe Frazier----in marbles! It's just too bad that upstate NY never had anything like that.