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That '70s kids' show ZOOMs back to TV

If you're a younger boomer, you may also be a ZOOMer, with children of your own. You had your own TV ZIP code. Now you're looking for one for your kids. Search no more. The Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) is bringing back one of its most popular programs from the 1970s, "ZOOM," known for its zip code ("oh-two-one-three-four") theme song. During that decade, Mobil Masterpiece Theatre was the only PBS show with a larger audience.

"ZOOM" is produced by children and for children. Its format has been labeled "edu-tainment," a mix of fun and substance, with equal emphasis on both. Produced by WGBH Boston, "ZOOM" is now updated for the higher-tech '90s.

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Executive producer Kate Taylor says achieving just the right balance between serious, educational content and the snappy visual style today's preteens expect was the biggest challenge in relaunching "ZOOM."

"We have changed the graphics, and we are changing the music," she explains. Because today's children are used to a more sophisticated level of TV production, the show will have a faster pace. But, she adds, it won't be that much faster.

"It's still important to us to have enough process in the shows so that you as the viewer can actually follow along and take something and be able to do what you saw," Ms. Taylor says.

Many of the familiar elements of the old show, including the use of ideas from viewers, will return, along with some new ones. In "ZOOMa cum laude," viewers nominate a child who's done a good deed. Also new: "ZOOMalong," a segment that is flagged at the top of the show by telling viewers what tools they'll need, such as a cup, which they can fetch and use later in the show. Each half-hour (Mon.-Fri.) will feature a variety of segments: arts and crafts, brain-teasers, hands-on science and math activities, jokes, skits, and guests from around the country.

Interaction with young viewers was a big part of the old show and will be again. Two decades ago, PBS regularly received more than 10,000 letters a week from viewers, who offered comments and ideas for future programs. The new show expands those opportunities with a Web site ( and an e-mail address, as well as "ZOOMzones" in local museums.

PBS executive vice president Kathy Quattrone says local-station educational activities will play a major role in ZOOM. "The goal," she explains, "is to enable a community of idea-sharing kids to create their own media experiences."

Engaging the audience is the most important part of "ZOOM," agrees Bernadette Yao, who was a child host on the 1972 show. The first decision, and a hallmark of the earlier show, was the choice of performers. The hosts are not trained actors but a mix of "real people," both preteens and teens, who deliver educational content in the language and at the interest level of 6-to-12 year-olds.

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"It's important that the kids on the show seem like real kids," Ms. Yao says.

The new Zoom will use interactive technologies not available in the 1970s, such as the Internet. And "it will be more science-oriented," she adds, because that's a greater interest for kids today.

Gloria Goodale's e-mail address is

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