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Did You Know These Facts About The Original Wonderama?

Wonderama is one of the longest-running children’s shows ever. It aired from 1955 to 1987, and was even brought back in December of 2016. For a show so popular, it was certainly canceled a whole lot (even if it was always, always revived). The hosts may have changed, the networks definitely changed, but the audience always remained fiercely loyal. Keep reading to find out why this beloved children’s show kept getting booted off the air. How did it manage to survive all of its many changes?

It Started Local

It Started Local

The Bob McAllister Estate

Wonderama may have had mainstream success but it actually started as a local New York City program on WNEW-TV.

It was syndicated in five other markets including Washington, D.C.; Kansas City, Kansas; Cincinnati, Ohio; Los Angeles, California; and Minneapolis, Minnesota.

It Was a Whopping Three Hours Long

It Was a Whopping Three Hours Long

The Bob McAllister Estate

A three hour TV show is unheard of in 2017 (unless you account for hours of commercial breaks on a cut-for-cable blockbuster), but Wonderama was the real deal. The show originally aired on Sunday mornings for a whopping three hours. In fact, people loved it so much that three hours wasn’t enough.

By the 1960s, Wonderama had one-hour weekday episodes and a massively long three-hour Sunday block. This popularity was in no way sustainable. The show was scaled back to just two hours, and aired for seven more years in this format before it was canceled in 1977.

The Wonderama Gift Bags Were Amazing (And Weird)

The Wonderama Gift Bags Were Amazing (And Weird)

What would a children’s game show/variety show extravaganza be without awesome prizes? At Wonderama, every audience member was a winner. Even an adult could enjoy the sweetness inside a Wonderama prize pack. Though the parting gift varied, it usually included some of the following things: Good Humor ice cream, a box (yes a whole box) of Hostess Twinkies, a six-pack of RC Cola, a Goo Goo Cluster candy bar, Fruit Stripe Gum, Nandy Candy, a 45 rpm record with the musical guests who performed on the show, Harvey Comics comic books, and a gift certificate for Burger King or McDonalds. Because all those sweets are bound to make you unhealthy and rot your teeth, Wonderama also gave guests a Lacton toothbrush and Hold! cough lozenges.

The weirdest gift was an actual mini bagel (by Lender’s Bagelettes) that was shellacked, painted with the audience member’s name, and put on a necklace. Yes, kids got an actual bagel necklace.

The Show’s Host Told People Not To Watch Wonderama – Which Lead To Its Cancelation

The Show’s Host Told People Not To Watch Wonderama – Which Lead To Its Cancelation

The Bob McAllister Estate

In 1977, times of TV were changing and Wonderama was hurting. With scaled-down episodes it was hanging on by just a thread. It definitely didn’t help that host Bob McAllister actually purchased an ad in The New York Times urging people to stop watching the show. Yes. He actually did that.

In a 1990s interview, McAllister admits he was just lashing out. He was angry over an ad for the Charles Bronson movie The Mechanic, which aired during the show. Now, no one can be certain if McAllister’s ad was the root of the problem, but it definitely didn’t please the network.

Bob McAllister Was Very Unhappy with the Show’s Reruns

Bob McAllister Was Very Unhappy with the Show’s Reruns

Bob McAllister wasn’t happy when the show was on the air, and he certainly wasn’t happy when it was canceled. In fact, it’s almost like the Wonderama host couldn’t be pleased at all.

When the show was canceled, the networks continued to air two-hour Sunday morning reruns until 1980 (a whopping three years after they stopped filming new episodes). McAllister hated the reruns. To avoid paying royalties to performers, the show eliminated nearly every celebrity performance – a major draw during the show’s heyday. McAllister was livid, but there wasn’t much he could do.

Wonderama Had Awesome Celebrity Guests

Wonderama Had Awesome Celebrity Guests

The Bob McAllister Estate

Wonderama wasn’t just for children. It entertained parents with the leagues of celebrities who came on to perform and hang out. Major, super cool celebs like Abba, Van Halen, David Cassidy and even the Jackson 5 all had guest spots.

One of the most notable (and frankly sort of strange) celebrity pairings was when Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier appeared on Wonderama and played a game of marbles. They filmed this right before their big fight, and it served almost as a mini-fight for kids (but you know, no one threw any punches). Jim Henson also came on and performed with a brand new Muppet.

Bob McAllister Was First Discovered by The Today Show

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Bob McAllister may have been a major celeb because of Wonderama, but he had pretty humble beginnings in Norfolk, Virginia. While he was in Virginia he managed to make a small name for himself as a magician and ventriloquist – odd but useful talents if you want to host a TV show.

His talent was undeniable and eventually lead to his first ever TV appearance. McAllister’s was first discovered by The Today Show with Dave Garroway. Garroway was so impressed that he helped McAllister get an audition for Ted Mack’s CBS show Original Amateur Hour. Bob won second place.

You Won’t Believe How Much Bob McAllister Made on His First TV Job

You Won’t Believe How Much Bob McAllister Made on His First TV Job

The Bob McAllister Estate

The world of TV isn’t always glamorous, and Bob McAllister wasn’t always a celebrity and arguably the most popular host of Wonderama. He worked his butt off and barely made ends meet. In 1954 after dropping out of college, McAllister began working at a local Norfolk, Virginia TV station called WVEC. He had a number of jobs, including program director.

The network decided they needed a children’s TV show in their weekday morning slot and created Ranch House Tales. Bob was hired as the host and made just $50.00 a week. Now, by today’s standards that’s about $440 per week, which equates to a salary of less than $25,000 a year. For reference, the median income for a household in America is about $51,000.

Sandy Becker, Wonderama’s Original Host, Was One Of The Busiest People on TV

Sandy Becker, Wonderama’s Original Host, Was One Of The Busiest People on TV

Sandy Becker was Wonderama’s original host in 1955, but he already had a pretty solid career. Becker was a radio announcer for a decade at the time he started working for Channel 5 and hosting The Looney Tunes Show. Becker hosted this show from 1955 to 1958, which were arguably the busiest years of his life. It’s actually a miracle Becker had enough time for all the TV projects he was involved in.

After the success of The Looney Tunes Show, Becker also started hosting a Friday night program called Bugs Bunny Theater from 1956 to 1957. Throughout this time he was moonlighting as a TV announcer, announcing advertisements and radio ads for brands like Wildroot Cream-Oil and Crisco. Becker was a workhouse and definitely burned himself out – because he signed on for Wonderama in the midst of everything else.

Becker Got in Way Too Deep and Quit Wonderama after a Year

Becker Got in Way Too Deep and Quit Wonderama after a Year

Becker was already working on The Looney Tunes Show and as a TV and radio announcer when he started filming his own noontime program called Sandy Becker’s Funhouse in 1955. This same year he also began hosting Wonderama. Was this sustainable? Not in the slightest.

He nixed Wonderama and Sandy Becker’s Funhouse from his long list of obligations just a year after he signed on, and focused purely on The Looney Tunes Show and Bugs Bunny Theater. In 1961, three years after Bugs Bunny Theater ended, Becker started hosting The Sandy Becker Show and Only The Sandy Becker Show. We can hardly breathe thinking of how busy he must’ve been.

The Show’s Next Host, Herb Sheldon, Lasted Two Years before He Was Fired

The Show’s Next Host, Herb Sheldon, Lasted Two Years before He Was Fired

After Sandy Becker quit Wonderama, he was replaced by fellow Bugs Bunny Theater and Looney Tunes Show personality Herb Sheldon. Sheldon lasted longer than Becker, but not by a whole lot. Much like the former host, Sheldon was immersed in a number of TV projects.

He hosted Studio Party, a teen rock and roll dance program and a late night movie show called Rickey Tickey Playhouse, and was an MC for nightclub acts. This was in addition to his work on Bugs Bunny Theater, The Looney Tunes Show and Speaking Of Animals. WABD, the network that aired Wonderama was less than thrilled with his busy schedule and involvement in other stations, so they fired him on August 8, 1958.

Bill Britten and Doris Faye Were the Reason Wonderama Stopped Being a Live Show

Bill Britten and Doris Faye Were the Reason Wonderama Stopped Being a Live Show

Part of Wonderama’s initial pull was that it was completely live. Nothing was pre-taped – the games, puppetry, skits and even home-cooking lessons were all happening as we saw them. When Sandy Becker quit the show after just a year, he was replaced with Bill Britten and Doris Faye.

They ended up keeping the show pretty similar (all the skits, songs, stories and games) but stopped filming live. The show was pre-taped in front of a live audience. Much like Becker and Sheldon, Britten and Faye were chewed up and spit out by the morning show. In 1958, the pair filmed their last episodes as hosts, but that doesn’t mean they weren’t destined for greatness elsewhere.

Bill Britten Went on to Become Bozo the Clown

Bill Britten Went on to Become Bozo the Clown

Bill Britten was already well-versed in the world of clowning when he signed on to host Wonderama. He actually studied clown makeup at Temple University and performed as a clown for a gas station franchise and two puppet theaters.

In 1954, he even performed with the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus! It’s no wonder that Wonderama was a just a blip in his long line of successes. After he left the show in 1959 he began to portray his famous character Bozo the Clown for The Bozo Show.

If Sonny Fox Never Got Fired, He’d Never Have Been a Successful TV Host

If Sonny Fox Never Got Fired, He’d Never Have Been a Successful TV Host

Sonny Fox took over Wonderama from Bill Britten and Doris Faye and was the second most successful host, lasting a whopping eight years all on his own. The truth is that if Fox didn’t get fired from his other TV job, he’d never have landed a job at Wonderama. Fox was the first host of The $64,000 Challenge. Problems arose immediately when the network credited him as “Bill Fox” because “Sonny” didn’t seem professional enough. Unfortunately, “Bill Fox” was already a trade mark, but it didn’t really matter because the network fired him a few weeks later for being generally unfunny (how dare they).

This was a blessing in disguise because The $64,000 show was part of a major quiz show scandal that ended up landing in the U.S. Supreme Court. At the time, the industry was lacking regulations prohibiting these games from being rigged, but being fired absolved Fox from any bad look.

Sonny Fox Admitted That Modern TV Is Missing Something Major

Sonny Fox Admitted That Modern TV Is Missing Something Major

When Sonny Fox hosted Wonderama between 1958 and 1967, he paid attention to one thing – timing. It wasn’t like today where you have to fight to keep viewers’ attention because to change the channel, you had to literally get up from the sofa and change it. According to Fox, this allowed for TV magic to happen because he could actually listen to children rather than constantly fight for them to react.

“I had four hours, so I could watch the kid after he said his first sentence, stop talking, and keep on watching him or her, and then pause, and then the kid would start up again, and that’s when the gold would come out. You had to have time for that. Remember, when I was doing it, to change the channel you had to get off the sofa, go over to the television set, and change the bloody channel. Now the kids have the wands in their hands, and everyone is afraid that if we take a breath, click, they’re on to something else. So it has made silence, such as we had on my show, or time, such as we had on Wonderama, precious and almost non-existent,” he told Observer.

Wonderama Once Had a Nine-Hour Episode

Wonderama Once Had a Nine-Hour Episode

Nine hours! What TV show ever lasts nine whole hours? Wonderama is an enigma. On Christmas Day in 1956, the kids’ show aired a nine hour Christmas special. So what filled up nine whole hours of TV?

While most of us were watching the Yule Log burn, Sandy Becker and co. were performing an all-puppet version of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. There’s probably not a thing that could be more fitting. This was so successful that it started a tradition of insanely long Wonderama Christmas specials which occurred in 1957, 1959 and 2016 (yes, 2016!).

Wonderama Was Revived in the 1980s, But It Confused Viewers

Wonderama Was Revived in the 1980s, But It Confused Viewers

The Bob McAllister Estate

Wonderama was canceled in 1977 because of poor ratings; however, it was revived in the ’80s in the absolute strangest way. In 1980, a show called Wonderama started airing on WNEW-TV. Though it bore the beloved Wonderama name, it was completely – and we mean completely – different.

The show was hosted by teens (not a lovable uncle-like TV host), and it was a newsmagazine-type documentary (not a game show/variety show). This iteration of Wonderama ran until 1983. Reruns were edited down to just 30 minutes and aired for two years on Saturday mornings following the show’s cancellation.

Wonderama Came Back on Christmas in 2016

Wonderama Came Back on Christmas in 2016

40 years after it originally aired, Wonderama came back to TV in one of their famous Christmas specials. On December 25 2016, WPIX-TV in New York debuted the brand spanking new Wonderama starring none other than David Osmond as the host.

You’re probably wondering if anyone could possibly be more fitting to host a show with such a rich history, and the answer is no. David Osmond is the nephew of show business superstars Donny and Marie Osmond. Being a TV host runs in his blood. He was absolutely made for this.

Wonderama Took 2017 by Storm with the Same Approach It Did in 1955

Wonderama Took 2017 by Storm with the Same Approach It Did in 1955

Wonderama’s Christmas special led to a full-on Wonderama season starring David Osmond. Just like its origins (and forgetting that weird-as-anything ‘8- reboot), the show kept a local approach. It debuted on New York’s PIX11 and continued on to air a full season in 13 different U.S. markets starting in January 2017. The show also kept its original inspiring message, which was to teach kids skills they could use in real life.

Producer Chuck Armstrong said in a press release, “Our goal is to inspire our audience with content that speaks ‘to’ them in order to convey the message: ‘Hey, I can do that too!’” The show airs on PIX11 at 7 PM on Saturdays.

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