Lights . . . camera . . . zoom
If you and your friends could create a fun television show, would it be like "ZOOM," the popular program for kids on public TV?Skip to next paragraph
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"ZOOM" looks like seven ordinary kids just walked onto the set and started having a good time in front of the camera. They play games, tell stories, perform plays, do science experiments, make crafts and recipes, tell jokes, and just lounge around and talk.
They really do have fun, as a visit to the studios of WGBH-TV in Boston proves. But they also work hard. And sometimes the hard work is to make it look like fun when it's the 10th time they've had to do something for the cameras.
You can see the results of their hard work and fun starting today, when ZOOM begins its second season. (Check local TV listings for channel and time.)
Work began at 8 a.m. every morning last summer. That's right: The show is taped mostly when school's out, so the cast has to work fast to make 40 half-hour shows.
On one particular morning, the cast was working on a numbers game. On cue, the members of two teams stuck out however many fingers they chose. The "even" team got a point if the total number of fingers showing was an even number. The same went for the "odd" team.
After Alisa, a second-year ZOOMer, explained the rules, a voice from the control booth interrupted: "Guys, you not only have to look at Alisa, you have to look interested. This is a new game you're learning about, and you can't seem bored. It's a very wide shot, and we can see all of you."
There's not much that three TV cameras miss. Two cameras are at floor level, and one is on a small crane-like contraption overhead.
One important member of ZOOM is a person you're not likely to see at all. Bob Comiskey is the show's director. He mostly runs things from the control booth. If he isn't getting the results he wants, he may tell everyone over a loudspeaker. Sometimes he'll talk directly to one of the crew members, all of whom wear headphones.
On this occasion, Mr. Comiskey came out of the control room to show the cast how to tilt their hands so the overhead camera could see all their fingers.
Comiskey isn't the only "invisible" member of ZOOM. Altogether, 55 adults work behind the scenes. They are acting coaches and makeup personnel. They gather props or double-check the math on the ZOOMsci science segments. Others read the mountains of letters and e-mails sent in by viewers.
Some weeks, 17,000 messages pour in. Many of them are filled with ideas for activities. A lot of those ideas are used on the show. And "Everything you see on the show has a kid credit," says executive producer Kate Taylor.
Zoe, the other holdover from last year's cast, says doing the show's opening, with its fast-paced dancing, is especially challenging. "It's lots of work, and you have to stay 'up' and be energized and perky," she says. "That's hard to do when you're tired."
The producers wait until mid-summer to tape the opening. By then the ZOOMers are broken in.