Going behind the scenes at a TV show is like the final scene of The Wizard of Oz, where Toto pulls back the curtain and exposes the great and mighty Oz is a sham. We give an inordinate amount of deference to the people we welcome into our living rooms through the big, magic box. When it happened to me at age 7, it was so fast that it took me decades to process exactly what I experienced.
As a tow-headed, glasses-wearing elementary school student in 1971, I never envisioned myself on television. Let alone sitting in close-up for an interview by Bob McAllister on the popular children’s television show Wonderama. The show was originally conceived as an hour-long live telecast that included fitness, guests, and conversations with kids in the studio audience with host Sonny Fox.
Fox departed in 1967 and Wonderama hosting duties transferred to a popular kids’ entertainer/magician named Bob McAllister, who kept the three-hour weekly show moving until its cancellation in 1977. Interspersed with cartoons, McAllister interviewed children who were brought in for the tapings, played games, and generally amused kids on their level.
Wonderama was a juggernaut and an obsession to children in my neighborhood. If you went to Hebrew or church school or were traveling on Sunday morning and missed a telecast, you’d get a full recap on the way to school on Monday. There were no videotapes to rewind or YouTube replays to watch. TV Guide didn’t specify the contents of any rerun over the summer, just one line that read “8–11 AM WONDERAMA.”
One industrious child in our school positioned his microphone and pushed ‘record’ on his cassette player before running for a little league game. He grabbed 45 minutes of audio before the tape ran out.
Regular segments included “Exercise,” which was necessary when you packed 200 children into a TV studio under hot lights for close to two hours. You couldn’t hold kids longer than that, due to child labor laws.
In “Good News,” kids chosen by McAllister shared their day-to-day lives (one boy had his appendix removed, a girl traveled with her family to Australia). Every episode also had “Snake Cans,” for kids to unscrew the tops to find either springing snakes (you get a consolation price) or a plastic flower (you win the grand prize). With the…