DefunctTV: The History of Zoboomafoo


Funding for DefunctTV is provided by… Thousands of online courses that make learning easy and fun, and viewers like you. In the fall of 1970, the Public Broadcasting Service made its debut. Created by the government-funded, privately-owned, nonprofit: The Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the network began providing programming to 199 channels throughout the United States. PBS had absorbed the majority of the programming and operations of the former leader in public broadcasting, National Educational Television. NET debuted in 1954 as the first major network for educational programming. It would eventually find mainstream success and critical acclaim by airing the first national season of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood in 1967 and the premiere of Sesame Street in 1969. PBS would acquire these properties and many of the network’s other shows, and the network continued to produce new content for younger audiences. It wouldn’t be until 1994 that the network would take these shows and organize them into a dedicated children’s programming block named PTV. This was in part due to the increased competition in children’s television. Since its inception, PBS had been unconcerned with matching the ratings of the major American television networks, but it had long held a monopoly on children’s educational programming. By 1996, the once-dedicated demographic was tuning into other channels. Nickelodeon was finally finding its stride in the industry, and the Disney Channel was finishing its transition to basic cable and was preparing to air its new children’s programming block, Playhouse Disney. Despite PBS having been around for the longest, it was now the underdog in children’s television. It was a non-profit heavily reliant on donations, so it didn’t have near the budget that the Disney Channel or Nickelodeon did. However, PBS knew how to create a lot more with a lot less, and they began to produce new TV shows in response to the competition. One of these new programs would air on June 3, 1996, and it would introduce children to two very entertaining and engaging hosts. Kratts’ Creatures was hosted by Chris and Martin Kratt, commonly referred to as the Kratt Brothers. The show followed the two exploring the world and its wildlife. The episodes would typically focus on either many species in a specific region or a species in particular throughout the world. The Kratt Brothers and their crew were not afraid to get close to the animals and they would do so often, even with some of the more dangerous ones. [Chris] This guy is a perfect example of why creatures go solo. [Martin] Just looking at him, you can tell that this cat is capable of defending himself. [Narrator] During the filming of an episode in Peru, the brothers’ river raft sank into crocodile-infested waters. Luckily, they were able to make it to shore unharmed. The brothers were aware that many children had misconceptions about certain animals, and one of their main goals was to set the record straight on all species. [Announcer] On this episode, we’re chasing down the answers to some unanswerable questions. [Allison] But the big question is, do creatures enjoy playing like we do? [Announcer] That’s another good question, and we’ll do anything to find out the answer. [Narrator] The show also had a few side characters such as a young girl named Allison Baldwin played by Shannon Duff. Allison was Martin and Chris’s assistant and was typically seen monitoring their progress from the team’s headquarters, the Creature Club. She was also a master at fake typing. [Allison] Let’s see. We’ve got the Walliburg seagull, the red-billed hornbill, the pin tailled whydah, Bingo. [Narrator] There was also a blue creature named Tark (voiced by Ron Reuben) that would appear in animated form on the Creature Club’s monitors. He was often used for concepts that were explained easier with graphics. [Tark] Pretty handsome guy, huh? So he goes his way, and I go mine. A few million years passed and next time you meet, Gazowie! Have you changed? And I mean more than putting on a little weight, ha! Kratts’ Creatures would end its run on August 9, 1996, after one season consisting of 50 episodes. The concept of Kratts’ Creatures was nothing new. Wildlife shows had been produced for decades, but the brothers noticed that many of them had begun to rely more on stock footage and less on exploration. Martin and Chris’s hands-on approach and passion for the animals was ultimately what made the show so successful. With one hit PBS show down, and an infinite amount of enthusiasm, the brothers began developing a new children’s nature series. During the early development stages, they had the wild idea to travel to Duke University to visit its popular lemur center. Martin had graduated from the university and had spent time studying the habitat. There, one of the employees would introduce them to a three-year-old Cockerel’s sifaka lemur. His name was Jovian, and he was a star. ♪ While walking in the woods one day, ♪ ♪ Chris and Martin saw something strange. ♪ ♪ A little leaping lemur who liked to bounce and play. ♪ ♪ Me and you and Zaboomafoo. ♪ ♪ Come along and see what’s new. ♪ ♪ We’re doing the things that animals do. ♪ The Kratts’ new show, Zoboomafoo, premiered on January 25, 1999. The title character, often referred to as simply Zoboo or Zob, was portrayed by both Jovian and a puppet voiced by Gord Robertson. The brothers auditioned many of the lemurs at the Duke Lemur Center, but Jovian stood out among all of them. After doing test runs with Jovian and his parents, all of which went flawlessly, Martin and Chris decided to focus the show around the lemur. The production crew shot all of the scenes with the live Zoboomafoo at the lemur center in a little over two months. Part of the show’s set was constructed in Jovian’s cage so that Martin and Chris could interact with him. Jovian’s parents, Nigel and Flavia, were also used in a few of the shots in place of Jovian. The show would combine these scenes with puppets, other live animals, 2D animation, and claymation to create the colorful Animal Junction, the main setting of the show. Unlike Kratts’ Creatures, where Martin and Chris would travel the globe to search for interesting animals, Zoboomafoo saw the creatures coming to them. The brothers would often explain in the show that certain animals don’t play with each other in real life, but they would remind the viewer that anything is possible in Animal Junction. This clip was also used to expedite various parts of the show, such as showing a tadpole metamorphosize into a frog in under a minute. Each episode of the show followed generally the same structure. After the intro sequence, the Kratts headed into Animal Junction, discussing an activity relating to the topic of that particular episode. After entering, they would go to the window and call for Zoboomafoo. Zoboo would then jump into Animal Junction. After a bit of leaping, Martin or Chris would give him a snack by pressing the lemur button on the food dispenser. It is only after Zoboo eats his treat that he is able to speak. After being fed, he burps exclaiming, “Excuse me,” before spinning around and yelling, Zaboomafoo! After this, he appears almost exclusively in puppet form, with the episode only cutting back to Jovian for full body shots of him jumping around. After being fed, Zoboo greets the Kratt Brothers and begins to describe an animal that he recently encountered, usually describing them with the word, mangatsika. Mangatsika is a Malagasy word that literally translates to “cold.” However, Zoboo uses it to mean “cool” or “amazing.” Despite being able to describe the animal, Zoboo never knows its name. This leads into the song, “Who could it be?” accompanied by a cartoon segment that shows a blob of color that slowly starts to evolve features such as legs, eyes, ears, and overall shape in order to visually describe to the viewer what animal Zoboo saw. [Zoboo] Who could they be? ♪ Who could it be? ♪ ♪ This animal who I have seen. ♪ ♪ Can you help me guess this mystery? ♪ [Narrator] After the video, the animal in question enters Animal Junction, with the Kratt Brothers revealing the animal’s name as well as a few fun facts about it. After performing several activities with the animal, Zoboo then recollects a memory related to the topic by travelling to an imaginary place called Zobooland. This happens at least once and sometimes twice per episode. Zobooland was a fever dream and a half. This segment was presented through claymation, and it would often recycle the exact same footage from previous episodes, most likely to save money. Zobooland had an entirely separate cast of characters with the exception of Zoboo. Most of which were fictional creatures that possessed features of real-life animals. These characters included Narchi; an anteater-elephant hybrid voiced by Bear in the Big Blue House puppeteer Peter Linz, Gooble; a purple bear-like creature, Fibby; an octopus with an alien-like head, one tentacle, and one crab arm, and Cy; a one-eyed two-tentacled squid creature that had the power of flight. [Zoboo] Hey, Snow Lemur! Do you have a growberry? [Snow Lemur] Uh, sure, Zoboo. Uh, one growberry, uh, coming up. I mean, uh, down. Yeah, down. Here it comes. Oh, watch out. [Zoboo] You can dig your own hole, Noggendrill. Just use your head. [Noggendrill] Use my head? Okay. [Narchi] Hello, Zoboo. [Gooble] Hi Zoboo. [Narchi] Gooble found a big patch of… goobleberries. [Gooble] Yeah, they’re over here. Yummy. Oh, [Narchi] Well, I’ll help you eat them. Stand over there, and I’ll blow them to you. [Gooble] Oh, okay. [Fibby] I want to help you eat them, too. [Zoboo] Fibby? Oh, hi. And Gooble’s belly filled up and got big and round. [Narchi] Way to go! Gooble’s belly is getting full. [Gooble] Yep, that’s my favorite kinda belly. [Narrator] After this nightmare is over, Chris and Martin received a letter from a group called the animal helpers, who show the children how to, spoiler alert, help animals. After reading the letter, Chris and Martin venture outside of Animal Junction and visit more animals related in some way to the episode’s topic. This segment was prefaced by a song called “Going to the Closet,” sung by Zoboo. When the brothers opened the door to their equipment closet, the contents would always come crashing down on them. [Martin] Are you thinking what I’m thinking? [Zoboo] What are they thinking? [Chris] We have to get this baby alligator back to his mom. [Martin] To the swamp! ♪ They’re going to the closet. They’re going on a trip. ♪ [Martin] Are you ready? Let’s go. ♪ They’re going to the closet to grab their stuff and split. ♪ A leash for a myrtle! Great. Martin. Oh, yeah. Well, we got to do what we got to do. Yikes! Augh! [Narrator] After returning from their short trip outside, the brothers and Zoboo end the episode by singing “Animal Friends,” a song about how each animal is unique and special in their own way, with the song closing on the remark, “One more thing we have to say, go make an animal friend today.” The episode would end with Zoboo jumping out of the window to return to his home. ♪ These animals are friends of mind. ♪ ♪ They jump and swim, crawl, fly, and climb. ♪ ♪ One more thing we have to say, ♪ ♪ go make an animal friend today! ♪ Yeah! Zoboomafoo was an immediate success for PBS and the PTV programming block, which was transitioning into PBS KIDS around the time the show premiered. The first season, consisting of 40 episodes, would air from January 25, 1999 to April 27, 2000. A second season of 25 episodes would quickly be produced, and would air from October 3, 2000 to November 21, 2001. The show would also inspire toys and video games. Despite its popularity, the series would not receive a third season. This was most likely due to PBS having plenty of episodes to rerun, a common reasoning for cancellation in children’s programming. Zoboomafoo would continue to air during the PBS KIDS block until January 16, 2004, when the majority of the PBS stations pulled it from their schedules. The premium children’s channel, Sprout, which began operations on September 26, 2005, would begin syndicating Zoboomafoo and other PTV and PBS KIDS productions. This would last until 2011, when Sprout would pull Zoboomafoo from its lineup. Soon after the end of Zoboomafoo, the Kratt Brothers would return to television with a new series called Be the Creature. Another wildlife show, the series would debut on National Geographic in 2003. The show saw the Kratt Brothers returning to the wild for an up-close look at animals, and its advertising highly emphasized the dangerous aspects of their adventures in an attempt to appeal to older audiences. The show would run for three seasons ending in 2007, with a total of 30 40-minute episodes being produced. In 2011, Martin and Chris would return to PBS to debut yet another wildlife series. However, this show, titled Wild Kratts, is completely animated. It is once again hosted by Chris Kratt and Ronstoppable – I mean Martin Kratt. The show contains much more action to take advantage of the new medium including super villains and stylized gadgets. The show is currently on its fifth season and a sixth season has been confirmed. On November 10, 2014, the Duke University Lemur Center reported some terrible news. Jovian had died of kidney failure at the age of 20 despite lemurs of his species typically living between 25 and 30 years. The university, the Kratt Brothers, and the show’s many fans mourned to the loss of the kind animal. From the outside, Zoboomafoo appears to be a short-lived PBS hit, but to those that grew up watching the show, it was so much more. Martin and Chris’s passion for creatures and learning motivated many kids’ interest in animals in nature, and the wildlife, animation, and Zoboo himself made Animal Junction a destination worth returning to. The eyes of a former viewer will light up at the mere mention of the show’s title character as a lasting impression was made by that little leaping lemur that liked to dance and play. (sad music) DefunctTV is made possible by Skillshare. Skillshare is an online learning community with thousands of classes to learn anything and everything. You can even get an animal psychology certificate so you can better understand your pet, whether it be a dog, cat, or leaping lemur. With a premium annual subscription of less than $10 a month, you can get unlimited access to Skillshare’s entire library of classes. Plus, the first 500 people to sign up with the link in the description will get their first two months for free. So definitely check it out, and get learning today.

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