|Created by||Samuel Y. Gibbon Jr.|
|Starring||Varied, see article|
|Theme music composer||Tom Anthony|
|Country of origin||United States|
|No. of seasons||7|
|No. of episodes||225 (and 10 specials)|
|Running time||30 minutes|
|Production company||Children's Television Workshop|
|Original release||January 14, 1980 –|
November 18, 1988
3-2-1 Contact is an American science educational television show produced by the Children's Television Workshop (CTW, now known as Sesame Workshop). It aired on PBS from 1980 to 1988 and later ran on Noggin (a joint venture between the CTW and Nickelodeon) from 1999 to 2002. The show teaches scientific principles and their applications. Dr. Edward G. Atkins, who was responsible for much of the scientific content of the show, felt that the TV program would not replace a classroom but would encourage viewers to ask questions about the scientific purpose of things.
3-2-1 Contact was the brainchild of Samuel Y. Gibbon Jr., who had been the executive producer of the original The Electric Company for the CTW from 1971 to 1977. (Gibbon had left the CTW before Contact's production officially began, though he was still credited as "Senior Consultant".) The show was based on the original concept of The Curiosity Show, an Australian science-based children's educational TV show that had been running since 1972. That program was hosted by Australian scientists Rob Morrison and Deane Hutton, who were consultants to The Children's Television Workshop in the early planning stages of what became 3-2-1 Contact. CTW wanted to make a version using American scientists as presenters, but PBS did not think that middle-aged scientists would engage a young audience (despite the popularity of the format in Australia) and insisted that any science show be hosted/presented by young people. CTW eventually reworked the concept into 3-2-1 Contact.
The first season of 65 programs began airing January 14, 1980, on select PBS member stations; it featured a cast of three college students who socialized and discussed science in an on-campus room known as "the workshop". The show also used brief segments at the beginning of the show featuring a celebrity and/or famous character making a brief scientific statement. Some of the celebrities and/or characters that appeared included Robert Guillaume for "Food/Fuel" week; Sarah Jessica Parker, then performing in the Broadway musical Annie for "Hot/Cold" week; cast members of Eight is Enough for "Crowded/Uncrowded" week; Donny Most and Ron Palillo for "Fast/Slow" week; Billy Barty and Carl Weathers for "Big/Small" week; Tim O'Connor and Felix Silla (and the voice of by Mel Blanc) from Buck Rogers in the 25th Century for "Near/Far" week; Gene Wilder for "Communication" week, Arte Johnson, reprising a character fom Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In for "Growth/Decay" week; Sha Na Na members Jon 'Bowzer' Bauman and Screamin' Scott Simon for "Noisy/Quiet" week; Rita Moreno (who was part of The Electric Company cast for its entire run) for "Forces" week; the Harlem Globetrotters' Meadowlark Lemon and the cast of The White Shadow for "Order/Disorder" week; and Larry Wilcox of CHiPs for "Surfaces" week. The segment ended with a brief visual film similar to the Scanimate animations used on The Electric Company showcasing the big words of the week and their role in science. This season came to an end on April 11, 1980, and continued in reruns (or removed entirely from scheduling on some stations) for the following three years, as funding for additional episodes was not yet sufficient.
When production finally resumed for the second season, which premiered on October 17, 1983, the show presented a more realistic appearance, as the new cast convened in a suburban basement (these segments were shot at Reeves Teletape, which also housed Sesame Street at the time). The celebrity segments were discontinued and the science topic was introduced by a computer cursor which typed out the week's topic and subtopic of the day, replacing the visual films used in the first season. This cast continued until October 18, 1985. Ozzie Alfonso was Contact's new director and Al Hyslop its executive producer.
When the fifth season began on September 22, 1986, a third cast was introduced. However, unlike the previous casts, they did not meet in any specific setting; instead, they appeared in various taped and filmed segments. The show ended after seven seasons and 225 episodes on November 18, 1988, with reruns airing until September 27, 1992. Reruns resumed the next year on commercial television, with All American Television handling syndication.
A frequent segment of the show was The Bloodhound Gang, a series about a group of young detectives who used science to solve crimes. Episodes of the series needed to be run in regular sequence for understandable viewing, as many Bloodhound Gang mysteries were cut among two or three Contact episodes.
For a time in the mid-1980s, the program was co-produced with the French television network FR3 and featured several new French cast members in addition to the American cast. From 1982 to 1983 the program was aired in Spain with dubbed-over versions of the American original broadcasts, and some local add-ons with four Spanish cast members: Sonia Martínez, Luis Bollain, Fernando Rueda, and Marifé Rodríguez. Another Spanish version of the broadcast was aired from 1990 to 1992.
It was reported in 1984 that 3-2-1 Contact had an audience of over 7 million viewers and was broadcast in 26 countries including West Germany, France, Italy, and Spain making their own dubbed-over versions.
From September 1, 1991, to May 1, 1992, an edited version titled 3-2-1 Classroom Contact was produced, specifically for in-school viewing. It was hosted by either Stephanie Yu, Z. Wright, or both and used previously aired segments from the past series.
Broadcasters wanted children and schools to record and replay the episodes without being afraid of infringement of copyright violations.
And as themselves:
Three months before the show premiered, a print magazine of the same name that also focused on science was released. In 1985, the magazine absorbed some of the content of sibling publication Enter (which went out of print that same year), including reader submissions of computer programs written in the BASIC computer language as well as reviews of popular computer programs. The Enter section also contained a new feature called "The Slipped Disk Show", in which a fictional disc jockey answered computer-related questions submitted by readers.
In 1987, the magazine began featuring content from another CTW production, Square One Television. Such content frequently took the form of a two-page comic strip, often parodying a popular show or movie of the time, with a math-related question at the end.
The Bloodhound Gang mysteries also made the leap to the magazine, but they were subsequently replaced with a series entitled The Time Team in September 1990. These stories found teenage characters Sean Nolan and Jenny Lopez traveling to different time periods in the past and future. Their surroundings and personal encounters were described with great detail, educating readers as to the customs of various cultures throughout history, and – on trips to the future – often pushing present day hot-button issues. For example, a 1993 story saw the duo traveling to what appeared to be a prehistoric forest, but near the end, they found a Brazil flag, a newspaper clipping from 1995, and a bulldozer at work: this was in fact a Brazilian rainforest being levelled.
In 1996, The Time Team was replaced by a comic serial, Cosmic Crew, which focused on the adventures of a group of teenagers and their robot butler in space. Their first story arc (which ran for more than a year) had them trying to figure out a series of riddles relating to places in the solar system in order to claim a treasure (which turned out to be a scholarship fund). Another story arc had a delinquent (who had been a villain in the first arc) join them in order to chase down a gang of other delinquents. Despite being effectively replaced, a few Time Team stories were run whenever there were gaps between installments of Cosmic Crew.
Many of the magazine's cover stories involved current events, such as 1990s oil fires in the Middle East. In addition, the magazine offered a games section in which most of the games were related to the stories in the issue.
In 1996, CTW presumably concluded that faithful readers from the late 1980s and early 1990s had long since moved on, and the magazine began to reprint non-time-sensitive stories from years past. For example, a 1991 article on the geography of the Galápagos Islands – a subject relatively unchanging due to the islands' well-enforced ecologically protected status – could very well re-appear in an identical format a half a decade later.
Under Children's Television Workshop (now known as Sesame Workshop), the magazine later became Contact Kids, removing the original reference to the television show. Production of the magazine was suspended indefinitely in 2001.