Q & A: Wonderama; Shenanigans

I get a lot of e-mails from people asking me about television shows, made-for-TV movies or miniseries they remember from years or decades past. I try to answer each question as best I can. Every now and then I like to dig through my inbox and pull out a few choice e-mails to answer here at Television Obscurities for everyone to read. Keep reading for today’s questions and answers.

Just curious, have you ever heard of Wonderama, with Sunny Fox or the game show, Shenanigans?
Rina

There’s no easy way to summarize Wonderama. The children’s variety show premiered on Sunday, September 25th, 1955 over WABD in New York City. Each episode was made up of a several different segments that included games, songs and the occasional cartoon. It originally ran from 12-6PM for an incredible six hours, although it was soon cut back to four hours. The first host was Sandy Becker. The second was Herb Shelton.

Sonny Fox took over as host in December 1959 and stayed with the show until August 1967 when he was left to host his own show. Replacing him was Bob McCallister, who would stick with the series until the final new episode was broadcast on Sunday, December 31st, 1977. By then, it was only running for an hour.

According to an October 28th, 1962 article in The New York Times, episodes were taped on Thursdays over the course of five and a half hours with an audience of 75 to 95 children between the ages of 7 and 13 [1]. By then, WABD had become WNEW-TV, owned by Metromedia. In September 1969, an hour-long weekday version of Wonderama premiered in addition to the Sunday morning edition, which was now three hours long [2]. The daily version ended in 1970.

Sometime in the late 1960s the series began airing on other stations owned by Metromedia, including WTTG in Washington, D.C. and KTTV in Los Angeles [3]. By 1972, the waiting list to attend a taping was reportedly three years long. For McAllister, parents were the worst part of the job, telling their children to lie about their age so they can get on the show, immediately asking if their child won something, or worst yet, calling McAllister a babysitter [4].

In early December 1977, Metromedia informed McAllister that the show was being cancelled. The final episode was taped on Thursday, December 15th. In the audience was a 21-year-old who spent eight years waiting to get a ticket. According to Metromedia, ratings for Wonderama had fallen from a 50 share to a 36 share in the past two years [5]. At the end of the taping, McAllister told the audience to “choose what you watch on television carefully and be sure and read books” before singing the show’s closing theme (“Kids are People, Too”) one last time [6]. Repeats were shown through September 1987.

As for game show Shenanigans, it has to be one of the stranger children’s shows to air on one of the networks. During each episode two contestants (one boy and one girl) would compete on a life-size board game. Stubby Kaye served as host and Milton Bradley as sponsor. It premiered on Saturday, September 26th, 1964 on ABC and ended in December 1965 during its second season. An actual board game based on the series was released.

Works Cited:

1 Shepard, Richard F. “Youngsters’ Hero: Sonny Fox Wins Favor From Children Who See WNEW-TV’s ‘Wonderama’.” New York Times. 28 Oct. 1962: 135.
2 “‘Wonderama’ on Channel 5 To Become Daily Feature.” New York Times. 7 Aug. 1969: 29.
3 MacMinn, Aleene. “Bob McAllister proves that kids are people, too.” Los Angeles Times. 28 May 1972: R4.
4 Ibid.
5 “‘Wonderama’ Going Off Air After 25 Years.” New York Times. 18 Dec. 1977: 81.
6 Ibid.

16 Replies to “Q & A: Wonderama; Shenanigans”

  1. “SHENANIGANS” was a sequel to producer Heatter-Quigley’s earlier “life-size board game” show for CBS, “VIDEO VILLAGE” (1960-’62), hosted by Monty Hall (there was also a “VIDEO VILLAGE JUNIOR” on Saturday mornings in the 1961-’62 season, and THAT was the forerunner of “SHENANIGANS”). The difference was, all the “spaces” on the “Shenanigans” board served as “plugs” for various Milton Bradley games {“Operation”, “Where’s Willie?”, etc.}. The series was produced on videotape, and virtually all of the shows were “wiped”. One kinescope from early 1965, though, is floating in “collector’s circles”, and is the only example [I know] of the show existing today.

  2. Another gameshow that I remember was ANYTHING GOES which was on ABC in the mid 70s, I remember there were two version adult and children and the interesting thing about it was that it pitted cities and towns in the U.S. against each other in stunts (kind of like Beat The Clock)

    The thing is I can’t remember if the Adult version or Kids wersion was first…The host I believe was Soupy Sales, and I think the adult version was on Saturday nights.

  3. The prime-time version was on first, ‘Cee Jay’, in the summer of 1975 [originally as “ANYTHING GOES”, quickly retitled “ALMOST ANYTHING GOES”]. The Saturday morning version signed on (as “JUNIOR ALMOST ANYTHING GOES”) in 1976, with Soupy Sales as host.

  4. I was on this show in the 60s – and was one of the ones he called out of the audience to answer the question.

    I would LOVE to find an archive of that show – my kids would get a kick out of it!. I blushed royally and he called me “freckle-face strawberry” – I even remember the dress I wore, and the question that DID stump him!

    Fun times… does anyone know how one could get a copy of a show?

  5. I remember watching Wonderama when I was a kid on KTTV in LA. What I find fascinating about its cancellation is that it was cancelled with a 36 share! I think American Idol last year was #1 with an 18 share! How times have changed.

    1. You’re correct, Steve. But, always remember-an 18 nationally will ALWAYS outweigh a 36 locally, even in LA (my own Neilsen misgivings aside)

  6. I worked in the video tape room (2nd floor) at WNEW and the show was taped on Wed, on two 90 min reels. Sadly I dont believe any tapes exists due to the fact that tapes were expensive, The best part about tape v. film, was that tape can be re-used (bulk erased and used again). The tapes were used until they had too many recordings on them, then they were cut up and used for spots for on air playback. No one thought to preserve American television history like that. Although one of the tape operators manged to take the Soupy Sales shows home when they came up for bulk erase, Even though he did not have a 2″ quad machine at home. I hope he reads this and returns them so they can be re-enjoyed.

  7. Sonny Fox was a most gracious man. He had invited many staff members from WNEW to his home in CT. for a huge BBQ. He also did his famous “Simon Says” in his backyard with the staff’s children.
    As far a Bob McAllister, he was a very decent and fine person. He always greeted people with his warm smile, and cared for everyone that worked with him.

  8. The actual name of “Wonderama’s”second mc was Herb Sheldon..he hosted the show sunday mornings on WABD TV Ch.5 from September 16,1956 to August,1958.Bill Britten hosted”Wonderama”sunday mornings on WABD and later on WNEW TV Ch.5 in NYC from August to December 28,1958. Sonny Fox hosted the program on WNEW TV Ch.5 from January 3,1959 to August,1967.Bob McAllister hosted the show from August,1967 to December 25,1977. A group of kids hosted the last version of”Wonderama”Sunday and on saturday mornings from October,1980 to October,1987.

  9. Before he hosted”Junior Almost Anything Goes”Saturday afternoons on ABC TV during the 1976 tv season. Soupy Sales co-hosted the pilot for”Way Out Games!”with Joanna Daverona(Kerns)on CBS TV on Saturday afternoon January 11,1976. The show was picked up by The CBS TV Brass for it’s saturday afternoon timeslot..but when Soupy wanted to be paid more monies to mc the program..the show’s producers said no.He left the series and Sonny Fox became the host of”Way Out Games!”.

  10. I saw one episode on youtube of Wonderama and was wondering: did Bob McAllister ever pick a black child? Because in the episode I watched it seemed like he ignored the black children, I just wondered. I am white btw.

  11. I was on WONDERAMA & JUST FOR FUN for 8 years always on the show airing Sundays & Saturdays .I had the pleasure of meeting both Sonny Fox & Bob McAllister both great . I was very lucky to be on camera alot each time I was on. I sang opera with the great Roberta Peters & did jokes with actor Carl Betz from the Donna Reed show, just a few of many great memories

  12. I, too, was on the show as a kid, and I recall that it was the 1969 New Year’s Eve show. I don’t believe I was there in the studio on New Year’s Eve, but it was going to showing on that day or thereabouts. I remember that I was disappointed that the long rows of seats that were typically on that show for the kids to sit in was not the set up that day, but rather it was set up like a wedding hall, where there were several people around each table, very big round tables. I was nearly at the last table in the back, but somehow managed to get on the show. During show, it was either a song or a skit or something, but they were panning through the crowds with the cameras and when I was home that Saturday watching the show to see if I got on the camera, the pictures of kids were fading in and out during this activity/song, and my entire face was shown on my television with my head/chin meeting on the top of my hand that was on top of the back of my chair. I remember this so clearly because when I saw that, my family freaked out, and I was so taken by it that I covered my face with my hands and put my arms over my face, as if I couldn’t believe I was on television that way. Back then, people didn’t really get on television at all, not like they do today on the news, etc. how I wish I would have looked at the television the entire time, although I’m sure it was only a few more seconds that I missed of me just laughing at whatever they were doing. What a shame that people back then reused tape, but I guess when things like that are happening, no one is thinking that they are copying over American history. I think they were so excited that film was invented that was able to be taped over that they were more concerned about the cost then perhaps thinking children and others may want to one day see archives of this. These days, kids can TiVo and videotape anything that’s on television, but back then in the 60s, we had no such luxury. Like most things back then, the enjoyment of what was in the past exists only in Our memories, and perhaps that is why they are more precious and sweeter than any memories that video cameras and selfies could ever give in the modern world. When you have thousands of pictures and videos of your family, I think after a while it becomes A time waster to even watch them on a plate back, because everyone is so busy making new videos and taking new selfies that it’s just too much of a good thing.

  13. Did the ABC Saturday morning show KIDS ARE PEOPLE TOO have any connection to WONDERAMA other than just the same theme song title?

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