Schoolhouse Rock ushered in an age of the most fun interstitial programs for children in the US. The series premiered in January 1973 on ABC with the pilot episode ‘Multiplication Rock,’ and had a straight run till 1984, with a total of 5 seasons, comprising 45 episodes. The show was revived a decade later in 1994 with the sixth season, which featured a mix of old and new episodes and lasted till 1996. Later, in 2009, the seventh season was made for direct to video release.
The idea behind Schoolhouse Rock was the clever brainchild of advertising executive David McCall, who noticed something everyone knew but couldn’t innovate on – the fact that children are quick to pick up songs but take ages in learning multiplication tables. It was a short story after the idea came to McCall – he hired Bob Dorough to write a catchy song that would help kids learn tables, and the illustrator Tom Yohe at the agency McCaffrey and McCall created visuals.
That’s how the pilot episode ‘Three Is A Magic Number’ was conceived and designed, and the rest, as they say, is history. McCall decided to make it into a TV series, and ABC’s then vice president, Michael Eisner, and cartoon direction Chuck Jones decided to bring on Schoolhouse Rock on the channel. An interesting fact is the pilot episode was initially aired in 1971, but the series debuted almost a year and a half later in 1973.
Let’s go over some fun facts about Schoolhouse Rock, which makes it abundantly clear that not all children’s shows are all that they seem.
The Naked Lady in The Shot Heard Round the World
In the last decade or two, technology has allowed users to pause and go over scenes repeatedly, which has raised a lot of questions about unseemly figures, dialogues, and lyrics in animations and other children’s content, which had earlier gone unnoticed among audiences. Such is the case with Schoolhouse Rock as well.
At the end of ‘The Shot Heard Round the World,’ we see a diverse group of people huddle together to form the US map. While the scene seems innocent enough, a closer look will have you reeling. It seems someone decided the lady to the west, at the southern edge of California, would look best in her birthday suit.
To be entirely fair, the naked woman does blend in and is hardly noticeable unless you know where to look, but it makes you wonder why someone would want to have a naked lady in a children’s animated show in the first place.
Let’s go over some other interesting facts about Schoolhouse Rock that you may not know of. One particularly interesting fact is about an episode that ABC kept delaying out of fear that it may anger the wrong people and eventually threaten the renewal of their broadcasting license. Continue watching to know what the episode was about and why ABC was worried.
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Golden Book Video’s Taped Version of Schoolhouse Rock was Hideous
When it comes to creative content, it’s common for artists and creators to get upset when unapproved changes are added to the final cut. The case with the new and modified version of Schoolhouse Rock available on tape was something along these lines.
Golden Book Video altered the format to make it more suitable for a taped version, hiring actor Cloris Leachman to sing in some parts. But the show’s creators did not think the new version was an improvement. On the contrary, they slammed it hard by saying some of the new content was inappropriate and of poor quality, and by saying Leachman, who introduces each segment by singing, “hideous.” Ouch.
How the Idea for Schoolhouse Rock Was Conceived
McCall, who was president of McCaffrey and McCall Advertising at the time, was on vacation in Wyoming when he observed his son struggled with multiplication tables, much like many other children. But he also realized his son had no difficulty remembering lyrics to a Rolling Stones track. That’s when McCall came up with the idea for Schoolhouse Rock. Once he was back in the office, he got the ball rolling by hiring Bob Dorough and roping in Tom Yohe from the agency’s in-house team.
Schoolhouse Rock Made Lynn Ahrens’ Career
Lynn Ahrens is an acclaimed writer for theatre, TV, and film, with several awards to her name for famous productions, such as Ragtime, Anastasia, Little Dancer, and A Christmas Carol. While Ahrens is successful today, her story is one of the humble beginnings.
Ahrens was hired as a copywriter and secretary at McCaffrey and McCall after college, and she would bring her guitar to the office to practice during breaks. During one of these practice sessions, producer George Newall noticed her and suggested she try writing a song for Schoolhouse Rock. The Preamble, one of the show’s most famous tunes that may recollect even today, was written by Ahrens.
Creators Decided to Turn to Family for Minor Voice Over Parts
Several Schoolhouse Rock episodes featurethe creators’ children as voice over artists for a line or two here and there. The episode ‘Interjections!’ features Yohe’s son as Reginald and daughter as the cute girl in the end, while Yohe himself has done a couple of parts in another episode.
Dorough Voiced Three Generations in One Episode
In the episode ‘Lolly, Lolly, Lolly, Get Your Adverbs Here,’ Dorough voiced all three generations himself. If you’re wondering how he managed to pull that off, the answer is simple. The speed of his vocals was altered to create a difference in pitch for the desired effect.
The Music for ‘Figure Eight’ Was So Good It Almost Didn’t Make the Cut
When Dorough created the music for the episode ‘Figure Eight,’ his wife felt it was too good to be on the show. So Dorough created a few other tunes, but as luck may have it, none of the new tunes were well received. As a result, Dorough decided to go ahead with the original tune. If you’ve heard the music, you will probably agree that it was good, but contrary to what Dorough’s wife felt, we think it sounded great on Schoolhouse Rock.
Many Episodes Featured the Creators’ Names
Many episodes on Schoolhouse Rock feature the creators’ names. For instance, in the episode ‘Lucky Seven Sampson,’ the graffiti on the wall features a few creators’ names with atwist. For example, Phil Kimmelman was Phunky Phil.
In another instance, in the episode ‘The Preamble,’ the entire crew who worked got a mention on the polling booth. Animator Sal Faillace decided to give it a funny twist and made sure the cartoons voted for him and Newall. The show creators also had a more visual representation in another episode. The episode ‘Good Eleven’ features several of the show’s creators’ cartoon versions, including Newall and Yohe.
Dorough Played a Big Part in Schoolhouse Rock’s Success
Right from the pilot episode to Schoolhouse Rock’s many seasons, Dorough was an integral part of the production process. Not only did he create the music for many episodes, but he also wrote the lyrics and performed the songs. Dorough even received a Grammy nomination for the evergreen music of ‘Multiplication Rock.’
Schoolhouse Rock launched Dorough as an acclaimed composer, songwriter, and producer. Once Schoolhouse Rock ended, Dorough continued working as a songwriter, producer, and vocalist with multiple artists over the years. In his later life, Dorough toured Europe and did occasional work for children’s content, such as Custard and Mustard and Christmas Feet.
Schoolhouse Rock Was a Success Right Off the Bat
Schoolhouse Rock was a hit with audiences from day one. Over the course of 7 seasons, the show won four Emmys in recognition for excellent work. Schoolhouse Rock’s successwas exceptionally great because what they created was not only entertaining but useful. Creators Yohe and Newall even claimed that government groups requested copies of ‘I’m Just a Bill’ for training programs. In addition, a couple of medical schools even asked for copies of ‘Telegraph Line’ for use in training first-year medical students. If that doesn’t count as success, we don’t know what does.
Bank Street School of Education Vetted Schoolhouse Rock’s Songs
One usually assumes creating children’s content is a cakewalk, but the reality is far from it. One of the main challenges creators faced was correctly estimating whether a concept was actually easy for kids to grasp. To solve this problem, a consultant from the Bank Street School of Education was roped in for an opinion.
The official process for content creation on Schoolhouse Rock included songwriters pitching an idea to the creative team. Once the idea was approved, the lyrics were sent to a consultant at the Bank Street School of Education. Once the constant gave the nod, ABC would have a look at it, after which the animation part began.
Schoolhouse Rock Was Originally Meant to Be Scholastic Rock
Now that you come to think of it, Scholastic Rock does sound better than Schoolhouse Rock, but the creators had no option in the matter. The publication house Scholastic, Inc. was not happy about its name being borrowed and got its lawyer to take action. Thus, show creators decided on Schoolhouse Rock instead, but the publishing company retained its original name, Scholastic Rock, Inc.
Timing Was Crucial for ‘Three Ring Government’
As anyone would agree, the best way to capture children’s interests and ensure they understand you when explaining complex topics is to break them down into small, easy to understand parts. And that’s what Schoolhouse Rock did best, but this created problems in the case of the ‘Three Ring Government’ episode. The creators compared the government to a circus with three rings, with a number of other references to keep it exciting and entertaining; for instance, they called the president the ringmaster.
ABC was worried authorities would not take kindly to being compared to a circus, and thus, they delayed the episode’s release for a long time. After all, any offense would directly impact their broadcast license renewal.
Schoolhouse Rock was such a great idea. Its brilliance is evidenced by how many of us still remember the Preamble to the US Constitution -something that most of those who haven’t watched the show can’t claim. In fact, even though the show’s been off-air for a long time, many parents have been smart in showing their kids the videos to help them grasp several concepts easily. The catchy jingles, the entertaining animation, and smart thinking behind breaking down complex concepts into easy ideas all make Schoolhouse Rock a spectacular show for children even today. If you haven’t watched a single jingle yet, we suggest you fix that right away? If you’re looking for recommendations for your kids, try Preamble or Conjunction Junction.
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