George R. Newall, one of the creators of animated musical series Schoolhouse Rock!, has died in New York. He was 88 and the cause of death was cardiopulmonary arrest.
Schoolhouse Rock! ran on ABC from 1973 to 1984 and was revived in the 1990s. It used animation and peppy music to educate children on a variety of subjects, including grammar, math and government. Songs included “I’m Just a Bill,” “Three is a Magic Number” and “Conjunction Junction.”
The show won four Emmy Awards.
Newall was born in Lakewood, New Jersey in 1934. He graduated from Florida State University with a bachelor’s degree in music composition in 1960 and moved to New York, where he started in the mailroom of an ad agency, and worked his way up.
Schoolhouse Rock! came to be when David McCall, president of ad agency McCaffrey & McCall, complained to Newall, a creative director there, that his sons were better versed in pop music than mathematics. Newall was asked to put some math to music, and reached out to a musician friend, Ben Tucker, for some help. Tucker brought in another musician, Bob Dorough.
Tucker and Dorough wrote some music, and McCaffrey & McCall art director Tom Yohe sketched out some doodles. A series of three-minute films was presented to Michael Eisner, then ABC director of children’s programming, said The New York Times (opens in new tab), as ABC was client of the agency. Eisner green-lit the project.
Newall and Yohe were the executive producers and creative directors of the original episodes. Newall composed 10 of the songs.
The pair also produced animated series Drawing Power for NBC.
Yohe died in 2000.
Next year, The Walt Disney Co. will produce a primetime Schoolhouse Rock! special to mark its 50th anniversary. ■
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Michael Malone, senior content producer at B+C/Multichannel News, covers network programming, including entertainment, news and sports on broadcast, cable and streaming; and local broadcast television. He hosts the podcasts Busted Pilot, about what’s new in television, and Series Business, a chat with the creator of a new program, and writes the column “The Watchman.” He joined B+C in 2005. His journalism has also appeared in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Playboy and New York magazine.
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