Zoo TV: The 1997 Television Show

Original Story by Aaron J. Sams (2023-08-07)

U2 will open their 25 show run at the Sphere next month, with a show that is spinning out of the Achtung Baby album. The wrap around screens on the inside and outside of the venue promise to bring a whole new way to watch television. Recently though we’ve been reminded of another Zoo TV spin-off.

Episode One: Part I

On April 13, 1997, MTV aired the first of three episodes of a new half-hour television show called Zoo-TV. One episode was aired weekly, with repeats throughout the week. The show developed out of U2’s own tour from 1992 and 1993, and was co-funded by U2, PolyGram and MTV.

While on tour, U2 were working with various media outfits to produce content for the screens on tour. In August 1993, U2 released a home video for “Numb”, the first single off of Zooropa including a video remixed by the group Emergency Broadcast Network. Eventually this lead to the plans to do a January 1994 “triple cast”, which would offer up their Live from Sydney concert with multiple viewing angles, cut with content from Zoo TV screens on MTV, across three different channels. In the end, the triple cast didn’t happen, with the idea cancelled by the band themselves, but the idea continued to be developed of television content from Zoo TV.

Episode One: Part II

In June 1996, the television program Zoo-TV was announced by Roger Trilling, the creative director of the series. He shared that although U2 had loaned their name, and the concept to the program, and had provided financial backing they were hands off on the project itself. Trilling told the Los Angeles Times, “They made the point from the very beginning that it’s to be a stand-alone project, not a vehicle for U2, but if the ideas and attitudes of the ‘Zoo TV’ tour were a news magazine, this is it.”

Episode Two: Part I

Original plans saw MTV scheduling the television show in conjunction with the launch of U2’s new album Pop with plans for a second season to potentially air prior to the tour in April. Delays in the release of Pop saw the Zoo-TV project slide back as well, and eventually it would air in April as a single season.

Credits for the three episodes include Josh Greenberg as director. Roger Trilling and Larry Shapiro are listed as producer, with Andy Schatzberg listed as co-producer. Writing was by Trilling, Greenberg and Schatzberg. The Emergency Broadcast Network who worked with U2 on the original Zoo TV tour footage, and the remix of “Numb” were involved in creating some of the segments, as was a young director by the name of Todd Phillips, who went on to direct The Hangover series, and the Joker film.

Episode Two: Part II

U2’s participation was hands off, but they did make one big contribution to the program. The “Zoo-TV Theme Music” which was used multiple times in each episode, was by U2, taken from the outtakes of the album Zooropa. This music was set to images of a digital baby, which makes the Sphere baby look a little less creepy. The piece is mostly instrumental with some vocal sounds over the track. It can be heard clearest at the end of each of the three episodes.

A few other U2 nods are seen throughout with some of the EBN images used in the “Numb” (EBN Remix) appearing in part two of episode 3. An interesting quote is used as part of the advertisement for the “Zoo Chip” in part two of episode 1 “to see yourself so you can be yourself”, echoing Bono’s later lyrics for “Iris”. The “Zoo-TV Theme Music” comes in at the opening of each episode, and usually a small clip again 7-8 minutes in, and then a longer version appears at the end with the credits, sometimes with additional voices over top.

Director Roger Trilling, shared, that the shows “are all about salesmanship in a way. They’re about bad ideas that we’re being sold.”

Episode Three: Part I

The first episode looked at television, privacy, and digital surveillance. The second episode looked at technology and the body, identity, body shaping and modification, and artificial intelligence. The third episode looked at the concept of “alternative”, looking at fashion, music, and more. The shows included interview footage with Shawn Stussy, the creator of clothing brand Stussy, Lori Fena from the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and Kurt Cobain of Nirvana. Fake ads scattered throughout the series left viewers wondering if the show had returned, or if it was a real advertisement they were watching.

The show, called a “mental antacid” by Trilling, was not renewed for a second season and only three episode were produced in total. All are available via YouTube, and are embedded throughout this article.

There was also a website launched in April 1997 for the series at zoo-web.com, which you can still see at the Internet Archive.

Episode Three: Part II

April 1997 was a busy time for U2. Not only was this Zoo-TV show airing, but they had also crafted the opening music for Gun a new ABC Television show which launched in 1997. (A cover of The Beatles’ “Happiness is a Warm Gun”) The band were also kicking off their PopMart tour, and appearing in the ABC Television special “A Year in Pop”. There’s no telling what video footage the band may be considering for the Sphere performances. But the original Zoo TV video content from 1992 and 1993, went on to inspire a number of other projects, including this 1997 television program. It will be interesting how far beyond the walls of the Sphere the video content developed for the current extravaganza may travel, and if U2 will use it to push into unexpected media.

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