Why ‘Schoolhouse Rock’ Was More Than Just a Children’s Show

Published July 2, 2020 175,372 Views

Rumble As if Disney+ didn’t already have everyone’s favorites, “Schoolhouse Rock” will now officially make its big debut on the popular family-friendly streaming service on June 19. Have you ever realized how much information you’ve actually retained just by remembering songs like “I’m Just a Bill,” “Three is a Magic Number,” and “Conjunction Junction?”

But how did “Schoolhouse Rock” start? This interstitial programming series had its viewers learning their multiplication tables within three to five minutes between the typical Saturday morning cartoon shows. Back in the early 1970s, David McCall, co-owner of New York ad agency McCaffrey & McCall, realized something as he was taking his family to a dude ranch in Wyoming. His son was having a difficult time with his multiplication tables but knew every word to the Rolling Stones’ songs. That sparked the idea to combine the sounds that defined the 70s with school concepts of all kinds.

When McCall returned to his office, he hit up George Newall, a co-creative director at the agency, to see if they could get one of their jingle writers to whip up something. It didn’t really hit the mark, so Newall reached out to Bob Dorough.

What came next from Bob Dorough blew the entire ad agency away. Dorough had taken a few weeks to study his daughter’s textbooks and had come up with “Three is a Magic Number,” associating symbolism of threes with the math of threes. The bop was incredibly simple, catchy, but informative.

Together, David McCall, George Newall, Bob Dorough, and Tom Yohe collaborated with Radford Stone, the agency’s senior V.P. account supervisor for ABC, to pitch the idea to Michael Eisner, the vice president for children’s programming at ABC. Eisner brought in animator Chuck Jones, creator of iconic cartoon characters Road Runner, Wile E. Coyote, and Pepe le Pew, and history was made.

On Saturday morning, January 6, 1973, “Schoolhouse Rock!” debuted on ABC. The first four songs that aired were “Three Is a Magic Number,” “The Four-Legged Zoo,” “Elementary, My Dear,” “My Hero, Zero,” all written and performed by Dorough. Bob Dorough then became Schoolhouse Rock’s show director, writing all the songs on the “Multiplication Rock” season, earning him a Grammy nomination in 1974.

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