I’m a “fifty-something” year old woman. I can barely remember what I had for breakfast this morning, yet I can easily recall song lyrics from the 80’s, and television show episodes I watched in the 70’s. Why is that? That is so peculiar.
The 1970’s were all about television for me. Saturday morning cartoons were especially my favorite. I think that is the only time I willingly got up early in the morning (I am NOT a “morning person”).
I had so many favorite television shows back then… Captain Kangaroo, HR Puff N’ Stuff, Land of the Lost, Electric Company and Sigmund the Sea Monster come to mind. Another favorite of mine was New Zoo Revue. If you are around my age, chances are you remember this fun show featuring life size animal characters and people. The show featured Freddy Frog, Henrietta Hippo and Charlie the Owl. Even some big names in Hollywood appeared on the show including Jim Backus, Chuck Woolery, Henry Mancini and Jo Ann Worley.
New Zoo Revue was the brainchild of “Doug” Momary who, along with his wife Emmy Jo, created an answer to Sesame Street, focusing on relationships and feelings.
Recently, Doug and Emmy Jo ,who are married in real life, did a Facebook live. It was the first time in 50 years their fans saw them live. The result was a huge success with over 50,000 fans tuning in.
Because of this success, they were offered a booth at the San Diego Comic Con where fans literally cried at their booth. The response has been overwhelming.
I was fortunate to have the opportunity to interview Doug and Emmy Jo, who are both in their 70’s. I hope you’ll enjoy this trip down memory lane.
How did you produce the idea of New Zoo Review and the characters?
Doug: Hi, this is Doug. My mother introduced me to her boss, Barbara Atlas, an owner of a toy store. She asked me to develop a show around a little toy beanbag frog called Freddie. Overnight, I created the show’s name, wrote the theme song for The New Zoo Revue, and created the characters: Freddie the Frog, Henrietta Hippo, and Charlie the Giraffe. Yes, he was initially a giraffe, not an owl. Because me and Emmy Jo were virtually zookeepers in the show, I considered calling it Xenophanes Zoo (but we eventually went with our real names: Emmy Jo, (Emily Jo) and Doug (Douglas). I created The New Zoo Revue for myself & Emmy Jo. During live auditions to showcase the idea for the show, we played all the parts. She played Charlie the Owl and herself, Emmy Jo. I played Freddie the Frog, Henrietta Hippo, and myself, Doug… hence New Zoo Revue… R-E-V-U-E! The show was green lit by Mattel Toys and we were on the air! At the top of my list: The show must not talk down to kids, whether it was in the dialogue or the songwriting. Kids needed to relate to it on their level. I wanted to help kids with their behavior, so they would treat one another with respect & kindness, whether it was toward their parents, friends, teachers, or anyone else.
Emmy Jo: Doug’s mother worked in a toy store and the owner had a small bean bag frog named Freddie. She asked Doug if he could create a show around that little bean bag. Within 24 hours, Doug had sketched out a show named The New Zoo Revue! The cast included Freddie the Frog and two other characters: Charlie the Giraffe, whom he later changed to Charlie the Owl and Henrietta Hippo. The two humans on the show were Xenophanes Zoo who became Doug and me, Emmy Jo. When we got married in 1970, we postponed our honeymoon to tape the pilot episode. On the plane back to LA, Doug sketched out his ideas for the set including Charlie’s wonderful elevator. One of my treasures is the scrapbook which contains his sketches of the set on American Airlines stationary.
What does New Zoo Revue mean?
Doug: It was originally patterned after a vaudeville REVUE and we kept the name.
Emmy Jo: That’ s really a question for Doug, but I think it has to do with the fact that each episode is a mini musical with three of his songs, as well as the famous theme song in each episode. Of course, there are lots of comedic moments and dancing, too.
What was it like working with life size animal characters?
Doug: It was challenging because they WERE life-size and the stage and their interiors were a living room a kitchen, and all… everyone and all the action had to fit inside of those environments and so, camera blocking and choreography was a real challenge. It was super fun to be acting with life-size characters and, to be honest, they were real to me, and they were real to Emmy Jo, and we treated them as such.
Emmy Jo: The gifted dancers on the show, Larri Thomas, Sharon Baird and Yanco Inone gave life to the wonderful costumes created by Sid and Marty Krofft. Our voice actors, Joni Robbins, Hazel Shermet, Bob Holt and, later, Bill Calloway were completely believable in their roles. It made it very easy for me to almost believe they were real! Like many of the little girls who enjoyed our show, I sometimes wished that I could live in Henrietta’s house for a while.
Do you have a favorite episode? Why is it your favorite?
Doug: My favorite was the show entitled Telling the Truth, where Freddie got into the habit of lying, and we taught him that even a little lie is not acceptable. I think, given today’s culture, that it is still a real behavior we all have to work on…don’t lie, even in the little things. Even today, I believe that the timeless messages in our shows remain relevant.
Emmy Jo: One of my favorite episodes is the one on “Hope” in which Henrietta has very little hope that her annual party for the Ladies’ Outdoor Garden and Camping Club will be a success. She feels overwhelmed at the number of hippos who will be attending and sings a song, “What A Hopeless Situation.” Emmy Jo and Doug sing “Make Her Dreams Come True” and persuade a very reluctant Charlie the Owl to join the rest of the team to create a beautiful Hawaiian luau party for Henrietta and her club, It is very easy for children to become discouraged…and adults, too, I love this episode because it reinforces the idea that, no matter how hopeless a situation seems, there is always an opportunity for things to get better. Never give up!
Are you still in touch with the people who played the animal characters?
Doug: Most of all have passed away, except for the dancer who played Charlie, Sharon Baird. It’s very sad and we miss them a lot!
Emmy Jo: We are in touch with Sharon Baird, the dancer inside Charlie the Owl and we are looking forward to seeing her in Philadelphia on December 2. Sadly, several of our beloved cast members have passed away: Hazel Shermet and Larri Thomas, who brought Henrietta Hippo to life; Joni Robbins, the voice of Freddie the Frog and Bob Holt, who voiced Charlie the Owl in season one.
What did it feel like having a popular television show?
Doug: I enjoyed every moment! Even today, I am thrilled when people recognize us or tell us how much the show meant to them. It has been very rewarding, and it makes me extremely humble and thankful.
Emmy Jo: We were thrilled when Doug’s creation that taught children the importance of kindness, respect, perseverance, good manners, and so many other important concepts, became
We even got to perform at the White House on two different occasions. Now, 50 years later, it is humbling and gratifying to see the impact that The New Zoo Revue had on the lives of so many children.
We are extremely proud of our “New Zoo Kids” and are loving the opportunities we now have to visit with them.
Why did the show end?
Doug: As with any television series, there was a lot of political intrigue behind the scenes and everyone couldn’t agree on how the show should continue so the funding was eventually cut off and we stopped production.
Emmy Jo: I’m not sure. That’s a better question for Doug.
What have you been doing since New Zoo Revue ended?
Doug: For over 40 years I’ve had my own production company in Las Vegas, Nevada…Laguna Productions. Over the years, Laguna Productions has been the go-to for high-end, creative television production and media services for a wide range of ad agencies and companies. I’ve directed and produced for The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry. Hilton Hotels, Blue Cross Blue Shield, MGM Resorts International and many others. I have worked with stars and politicians such as Blue Man Group, Frank Sinatra, Jay Leno, Burt Bacharach, Dionne Warwick, Smokey Robinson, Rita Rudner, Don Rickles, Paul Anka, The Pointer Sisters, Barbara Mandrell, and President George Bush, Sr., just to name a few.
Emmy Jo: For many years, I have been working with Doug in Laguna Productions and doing the day-to-day bookkeeping. In addition, the joy of my life has been parenting our three children and now, being an enthusiastic grandparent to 11 grandchildren. Along the way, I earned a master’s degree in Marriage and Family Counseling and have spent many volunteer hours working with the children in our church…. teaching Sunday School, taking kids to summer camp, so much fun! I’m also on the board of our local museum and am passionate about preserving history for future generations. For the last 20 years or so, we have lived on a small farm, and I enjoy the four-footed critters who share it with us…a pony, a rescue donkey who is blind in one eye, our neighbor’s cows and our sweet doggie!
Would you ever consider a revival of the series? Do you think something like New Zoo Revue would resonate with today’s youth?
Doug: I think it would be more popular now than ever, especially if brought back as an animated series because the messages that our show taught are needed now more than ever. I believe parents today want positive messages for their kids.
Emmy Jo: I absolutely believe New Zoo Revue will be a huge hit when it is revived for this generation of children. We constantly hear from parents and grandparents who want to see it back on the air. I think it would be great to have an animated series with the same story lines and the same songs that Doug created 50 years ago. The values Doug wrote about in New Zoo Revue are timeless and are needed now more than ever before.
What do you see for yourself in the future?
Doug: I continue to write and direct all forms of media. And I still actively pursue my first love, composing songs. We are hopeful that New Zoo Revue will eventually get back on the air and be more effective.
Emmy Jo: I am loving this new season of my life! Since our daughter created our Facebook page last January, it has exploded with enthusiasm. I so enjoy meeting children who are now grown-up and, often, have children and grandchildren of their own. Their stories fill me with respect and admiration. Many of them have shown great courage and perseverance in their lives. I hope that, in the future, there will be lots of opportunities to share what we have experienced and what we have learned over the last 50 years! Every day is a blessing, and I am excited to see what God has planned for us in the years to come.
You can keep up with Doug, Emmy Jo and all things New Zoo Revue by following them on social media.
Twitter/X – https://twitter.com/thenewzoorevue
Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/thenewzoorevue
Instagram – https://www.instagram.com/thenewzoorevue/
Were you a fan of the show? Did you have a favorite character or episode? Feel free to comment and share your thoughts. As always, it’s great to hear from readers.
*I was not compensated for this post. I posted this for the enjoyment of site readers.