Schoolhouse Rock came out 50 years ago – and shaped a new generation


“Schoolhouse Rock” helped teach an entire generation of children civics by “I’m just Bill“and rules with”conjugation junctionAmong many other classics.

But Saturday’s series of cartoon shorts, which debuted in 50 years this month, began with more modest goals: A parent, frustrated that his kids knew rock song lines but couldn’t reproduce, asked a coworker in his ad. Agency if can help by setting the multiplication tables for music.

The agency happened to be an ABC client, and when I came up with “Three is a magic numberThe timing couldn’t have been better to pitch the idea to television. Recently, under pressure from the Federal Communications Commission and parents upset with violent cartoons and constant ads for sugary cereal, the network has begun leaning toward more educational programming.

The head of children’s programming at ABC was a young executive named Michael Eisner. Green-lit “Schoolhouse Rock” after hearing “Three Is a Magic Number” by jazz musician Bob Dorow, and seeing storyboards for the accompanying educational animation. That episode will start in January 1973.

At the time, an advocacy group called Action for Children’s Television was pressing the television industry to clean up children’s programming, Eisner recalled in a recent phone interview.

“It was a real problem for the three networks, which were doing massive marketing of children’s programming, violent programming, and Saturday morning programming,” said Eisner, who would become chairman and CEO of The Walt Disney Company. In this situation I actually had to go to Washington to testify before the FCC.”

In an era when cereal ads and “wall-to-wall monster cartoons” were on Saturday morning television, in the words of the founder of Action for Children Television, the three-minute educational “Schoolhouse Rock” cartoon provided a welcome respite for parents.

Half a century later, it’s their children – now middle-aged Generation Xers – who cherish memories of such classics as “Lolly, lolly, lolly, get your conditions here! “

Eisner said people in their 40s and 50s talk more about “Schoolhouse Rock” in conversation with him than any other show or movie, including Paramount Pictures blockbusters like “Saturday Night Fever” and “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” which were produced when he was studio head.

“That’s what they can still sing—which I can, but I won’t,” he quipped.

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The series, which ran through the mid-1980s and was revived in the 1990s, won four Emmy Awards.

People magazine wrote in a Profile 2016 Dorow, who would become Schoolhouse Rock’s music director, said, “Bob Dorow has probably had more influence on grammar mastery than any other individual in the 20th century.”

Disney, the parent company of ABC, announced this month that ABC will air the 50th Anniversary “Schoolhouse Rock” on Feb. 1, hosted by Ryan Seacrest and featuring the Black Eyed Peas, Kal Penn, and Shaquille O’Neal.

One day at the advertising agency McCaffrey & McCall, the head of the company, David McCall – a person whose children could not reproduce – was talking with creative director George Newell. According to Newell’s obituary In the New York Times last year, McCall told him that while his boys struggle with math, “they can sing along with Jimi Hendrix and the Rolling Stones.” Newell hooks his boss up to Doro, who creates “Three Is a Magic Number”. The agency’s artistic director, Tom Yohey, supplied the animation.

Eisner said the network has already begun rolling out other educational programming, but he didn’t have any expectations when he agreed to interview the people who would become the creators of “Schoolhouse Rock.”

He said, “I was doing it as a favor.” “And it was just a matter of putting two and two together, which is to hear something hip, like ‘Sesame Street.'”

Another participant in that meeting was Chuck Jones, the animator who directed “Looney Tunes” and “Merry Melodies”. According to the 2000 Los Angeles Times obituary Of Yohe, who will partner with Newell to produce more than 40 episodes of Schoolhouse Rock, Jones told Eisner, “Buy it!”

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And he came out of that meeting strategically to delete some of the commercials and run the series between cartoons on Saturday mornings.

In “Three Is a Magic Number,” Dorough sings a series of eavesdropping lines to help kids with their multiplication tables—along with examples of what makes the number “3” so special, such as:

Past, present and future

Heart, brain and body

It takes three wheels to make a vehicle called a tricycle

Doro, who grew up in rural Arkansas and Texas, bowed to his accent when he uttered “vee-HICK-ul” and “try-SICK-ul.”

“I kept looking for an idea that was way beyond the multiplication table and I came across the idea that three is the magic number,” Dorow told the Los Angeles Times in 1997.

Schoolhouse Rock started with math but branched out into other subjects, such as civics, grammar, and science. One of the most famous loops, “I’m Just a Bill”, was written by jazz songwriter Dave Frischberg and sung by trumpeter and vocalist Jack Sheldon. It begins with a Congressional bill in human form sitting sullenly on the Capitol steps, lamenting:

And I’m sitting here on Capitol Hill.

In the end, he learned that the House and Senate had passed it and the President had signed it into law.

“Yes sure!” The bill creaks, as the confetti falls.

The song “I’m Just a Bill” has been plagiarized many times, including on “The Simpsons, with the original vocalist, Sheldon, singing part of the constitutional amendment that would ban flag burning. (The anthropomorphic amendment, less diplomatic than the original bill, angrily declares that “these liberal freaks are going too far”).

Countless children from that era learned the Preamble to the United States Constitution from School of Rock episode Written and sung by Tony Award-winning lyricist Lynn Ahrens. Written by Carol Rinzler 1976 New York Times article Saturday morning shows for kids.

And, of course, there were memorable grammatical notes, including “conjugation junction“,”Lolly, lolly, lolly, get your conditions here! ” And “Decipher your traits. “

Half a century of staying power

Pete Braungardt, executive producer and director of “Looney Tunes Cartoons” at Warner Bros. Animation, he recently checked out some “Schoolhouse Rock” comics. “They absolutely sell the idea,” he told The Washington Post. “You could say that was an instant sell. It had the art style. It had a great concept. And the songs were great.”

The series has had remarkable staying power in popular culture over the past half century. Atlantic Records released a 1996 album of artists who covered “Schoolhouse Rock” songs, including Blind Mellon’s “Three Is a Magic Number” and Moby’s “Verb: That’s What Happening”.

Doro told the newspaper In 2013, he continued to play “Schoolhouse Rock” songs in his jazz concerts.

“I was playing very trendy songs,” Doro said, “but then one of the waiters—who was about 25 or 30—would say to me, ‘You sound familiar.’” After explaining why, the waiter said, “Oh! Can we get one please? “

In the late 1980s, Yohe, the “Schoolhouse Rock” animator, played a video compilation of the show at an educational seminar at Dartmouth College, whose students had reached the age of majority when the show first aired. he he told the New York Times In 1994, “I went up there and the movies were shown, and the largest auditorium on campus was packed on a Saturday night. There were 900 kids packed in to sing along to all the songs.”

Eisner said it’s hard to know when something is going to take off the way that “Schoolhouse Rock” did.

“Things become part of culture, usually by accident; you can never predict it,” he said. “Anything you think is going to become part of culture is probably going to fail. So I think it’s the message, I think it’s the music, it’s the melody. Why are the Beatles still so popular? Or Neil Diamond? Or Elton John? Or Frank Sinatra? It’s the magic of the creative moment.”

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