Wednesday, January 16, 2008

hey, this place is a zoo!


Today, another ad burned in the brain of anyone who watched Detroit television in the 1980s. To the strains of the theme from It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, the residents of the Detroit Zoo gear up for another day of curious onlookers.

I usually encountered this ad while watching cartoons on Detroit's independent stations. Even as a kid I could sense which non-network channels were better than others. For the uninitiated, here are quick sketches of the three main indies during the 1980s:

Channel 50 (WKBD): The classiest of the bunch. Had a sister station in Chicago. Usually ran the better syndicated shows, movies and cartoon packages. Produced its own newscast, anchored for years by Amyre Makupson. Ran the odd editorial in between sitcom reruns. Carried Red Wings and Pistons games. Endless Star Trek reruns. Later an affiliate for Fox, UPN and CW.

Channel 20 (WXON): Production values were a step down from Channel 50 (weaker graphics, grainier station IDs, etc). Endless reruns of Leave it to Beaver, The Addams Family, Adam-12 and Blondie movies. Ran Hammer horror flicks on Saturday afternoons. Use a cheap cake to list kids' birthdays. Turned over part of its schedule to a pay TV service (ON-TV). Later an affiliate for WB and MYTV.

Channel 62 (WGPR): Very low budget, akin to public access cable on the open airwaves. Mostly in-house productions or the cheapest syndicated programming available. Auctioned items during movie commercial breaks. Home of The New Dance Show. Not much in the way of children's programming. Later an affiliate for CBS after their affiliate switched to Fox.

The only visit I recall was a field trip in Kindergarten, though there may have been some family outings. All I remember are the ride over and eating a rare sno-cone. I suspect that my soon-to-develop uneasy relationship with the animal kingdom didn't place any zoo on my list of must-visit childhood destinations...or I was content to stare at the exotic birds and go for quick horse rides at Colasanti's Tropical Gardens.

Considering that school trip was over a quarter of a century ago, I may be overdue for a visit. The only danger would be the temptation to recite lines from the ad near certain animals or show Melvin the right direction to run in. - JB

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