Hundreds of young people try out to be ZOOMers each year. Only 20 or 30 seem to have the right stuff. And of those, only seven will be chosen.
The selection process takes several months. It begins with an open audition at WGBH-TV in Boston. (An "open" audition means anyone can come.)
For the first season of the show last year, 850 children showed up to audition. They had seen advertisements or the notices WGBH had sent to Boston-area schools. The next time WGBH asked for auditioners, another 850 children showed up.
In the first go-round, each youngster has about a minute to tell a funny story, show their dramatic flair, or perform in some way.
Kate Taylor, ZOOM's executive producer, makes the final decision, but she says it's a team process. TV and education experts help her decide.
"We're not looking for actors," she says. "We're looking for regular kids, kids who are able to come in and be themselves."
It sounds easy, but it isn't simple. A child's naturalness has to come through on TV. Ms. Taylor watches the auditioners on a TV monitor, not in person, to judge the impression they make.
The selection team looks for kids who are:
*Capable of thinking on their feet.
*Comfortable voicing their ideas as they think them. (This is very important in the ZOOM science experiment segments.)
"Listening is very important," Taylor says. "In a lot of show segments, the kids are working together, and not everybody can be a leader. You have to be a follower sometimes."
The producers also want a diverse group that "clicks" - works well together. Producers look for a mix of girls and boys, ages, and backgrounds. Getting the proper mix is the key factor in winnowing down 20 or 30 finalists to a seven-kid cast.
Find out more about ZOOM at: www.pbs.org/wgbh/zoom/
(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society