What you see above is the opening of the format that I remember for Disney’s weekly showcase.
Yeah, we’re once again tripping back to that mythical pre-cable time, a time when The Disney Channel would have been… well, I started to say it would have been but a gleam in Uncle Walt’s eye, but it’s tough to imagine even he could believe that there would come a time when there would be an entire television network that revolved around him and his creations (though, lets face it, very little of the shows on the so-called Disney Channel today are actually based on Mr. Disney’s creations or are even characters that he would recognize) and also, since he passed away in 1966 (actually just days after my second birthday), the memories that even I have of the show are really from a time after his death.
Nonetheless, yeah, that’s the way I remember the show opening. And, I would guess, that’s at least similar to the memory that most of you reading this blog who are old enough to have memories going back that far would remember it, too. Sunday evenings, sometime around dinner time, pretty much the entire family would gather around the television to see what was on the show that week. Sometimes it would be a part of a Disney movie (especially their live-action offerings that so often got overlooked then, just as they often do now) that would be split into multiple parts to fit the program’s hour-long format, sometimes it would be a collection of Disney animated shorts some of which would never have been seen on television before, and possibly wouldn’t have been seen since they’d been originally shown in theaters. Other times it might have been one of the Disney Studio’s nature documentaries, which were always amazingly beautiful. Or maybe it would be a behind the scenes documentary of the type that are often included on DVDs and Blu-rays today which focused on different aspects of the creation of whatever new Disney movie was in the theater or soon would be.
Really, it didn’t matter, because not only were there very few other options for viewing at that time, but it always seemed like no matter what the show was, you could count on it to at least be entertaining. At least, that’s the way it seemed back then.
However if we come in there, with the Wonderful World of Disney from my childhood, we’re really coming in about half way through the story.
The presence of a weekly Disney TV show actually began in 1954 with a show called Disneyland.
As you can see from the above show opening, it utilized a format that highlighted each of the four different “lands” which made up the different areas of the theme park. As a matter of fact, the television show actually pre-dated the opening of the park (in July 1955) by more than a year and was used to at least partially fund its construction and, of course, to draw people into the park once it did open. Thus, one week we might have a story of the old west, which would be coming to the viewer from Frontierland, while another week might see a collection of animated shorts coming from Fantasyland.
Just as an aside, it was this version of the show which famously gave us Fess Parker and his coon-skin cap as Davy Crockett, though what may come as a shock, considering the popularity of the protrayal on the one-time ubiquity of the “Ballad of Davy Crockett” theme song, is that there were only three episodes which featured the character during that 1955 run, which were followed by two more the next year. Yep, just fove episodes all together.
The show began on ABC, and remained there, though the name was eventually changed to Walt Disney Presents until 1961, when it moved to NBC. The reason for the move was simple: NBC, at that time, had the ability to broadcast in color, which ABC did not, and Disney wanted to take advantage of that.
Thus came the second retitling, as the show became Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color, the name it would retain until 1969 when it finally morphed into it’s most famous form, The Wonderful World of Disney, which it would retain until 1979 when it was retitled Disney’s Wonderful World. That was the name it would retain until 1981, when declining ratings finally compelled NBC to cancel the series.
This was not the end, however, as CBS then picked up the show for a two-year Saturday night run under the simple moniker Walt Disney. This iteration lasted until 1983, when then-company CEO E. Cardon Walker decided to cancel the show, not wanting it to compete with the just-beginning cable network known as The Disney Channel.
That’s right, folks. remember that never-in-Uncle-Walt’s-dreams network that I mentioned earlier? Yep, it had not only finally happened, but it also took away the main broadcast outlet for millions of Americans who either didn’t have cable (which, yes, at that point was not only a possibility, but a likelihood) or didn’t want to pay extra for the channel.
After that point, there were various revivals and formats for and attempts at Disney programming on the networks over the years, the first being a two-hour block on ABC entitled The Disney Sunday Movie. There were various iterations after that, most of them utilizing the Wonderful World of Disney title or some variation of it.
All of which brings us to today’s featured episode, for which I’ve chosen the first of the NBC color episodes, “An Adventure in Color”. Though, as noted above, this episode originally appeared with the series entitled Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color, this YouTube embed appears to be from a rebroadcast during the Wonderful World of Disney era. Of course, it really doesn’t matter what you call it, the show is a definitely entertaining look at how color is used in and the effect that it has on the animation process.
And also, just for the record, it also features the first appearance of Professor Ludwig von Drake, one of Donald Duck’s uncles, who also just happened to be the first Disney animated character created specifically for television.
So whether you are old enough to reminisce about the Disney Sunday night programming with me, or this is entirely new to you, I hope you’ll enjoy this little bit of Disney magic.