Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Walt Disney anthology series
Hosted by Walt Disney himself, the show presented cartoons and other material (some original, some pre-existing) from the studio library. This is significant because the series was the first one from a major movie studio. Other studios feared television would be the death of them.
The show spawned the Davy Crockett craze of 1955 with the miniseries about the historical American frontiersman, starring Fess Parker in the title role. Millions of dollars of merchandise were sold relating to the title character, and the theme song, The Ballad of Davy Crockett, was a hit record that year. Three historically-based hour-long shows aired in late 1954/early 1955, and were followed up by two dramatized installments the following year. The TV episodes were edited into two theatrical films later on.
The series moved to NBC in 1961 to take advantage of that network's ability to broadcast in color. In a marvelous display of foresight, Disney had filmed many of the earlier shows in color, so they were able to be repeated on NBC. To emphasize the new color feature, the series was re-dubbed Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color and retained that moniker until 1969. The first NBC episode even dealt with the principles of color, as explained by a comical character named Ludwig Von Drake, a bumbling professor and uncle of Donald Duck. The character's voice was supplied by Paul Frees.
When Walt Disney died in 1966, no one replaced him as host, as everyone agreed that his presence, characterized by a warm, folksy persona, was irreplaceable. The series continued to get solid ratings, often in the Top 20, until the mid-1970s. At this time, Walt Disney Productions was facing a decline in fortunes, with declining box-office revenues. It also did not help that CBS had placed 60 Minutes directly opposite it. The show continued to slip in the ratings until NBC cancelled it in 1981; an attempt to modernize the show in the fall of 1979 was purely cosmetic. Much of the decline is often attributed to the declining amount of new material. The show became increasingly dependent on airings of theatrical features and cartoons and reruns of older episodes.
CBS picked it up and moved it to Saturday night; the format remained unchanged, and ratings were marginally improved. It lasted two years there, its end coinciding with the birth of The Disney Channel on cable TV. While ratings were a factor, the final decision to end the show came from then-company CEO E. Cardon Walker who felt that having both the show and the new channel active would cannibalize each other.
After the studio underwent a change in management, the series was revived on ABC in 1986, with new CEO Michael Eisner hosting. His presence couldn't compare with Walt's (Eisner himself is said to have required 68 takes in his first introduction), and the show moved to NBC in 1988 before ending in 1990. The series was revived again on ABC in 1997 after Disney purchased ABC where it ran on Sundays until 2003 when it moved to Saturday night.
Reruns of the 1954-1983 shows were a staple of The Disney Channel for several years, when it was an outlet for vintage Disney cartoons, TV shows and movies, basically serving the same function that the anthology series served in the days before cable. When the channel purged all vintage material, this show went with it. However, a few select episodes can be found on videotape or DVD, and there is no reason to suggest that more won't come out eventually.
The original format consisted of a balance of theatrical cartoons, live-action features, and informational material. Much of the original informational material was to create awareness for Disneyland. In spite of being essentially ads for the park, entertainment value was emphasized as well to make the shows palatable. Some informational shows were made to promote upcoming studio feature films such as 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and Darby O'Gill and the Little People. Some programs focused on the art and technology of animation itself.
Later original programs consisted of dramatizations of other historical figures and legends along the lines of the Davy Crockett mini-series. These included Texas John Slaughter, Elfego Baca , and Francis Marion, the "Swamp Fox."
Also included were nature and animal programs similar to the True-Life Adventures released in theatres, as well as various dramatic installments which were either one part or two, but sometimes more.
This format remained basically unchanged through the 1980s, though new material, as discussed earlier, was scarce in later years.
When the show was revived in 1986, the format was similar to a movie-of-the-week, with family-oriented TV movies from the studio making up much of the material. Theatrical films were also shown, but with the advent of cable TV and home video, they were not as popular. The 1997 revival has followed this format as well.
- For its first four years, the series used the song When You Wish Upon a Star as its theme. The recording was the same one that was used in the movie Pinocchio
- From 1961 to 1969, an original song was used, written by Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman. This song helped to emphasize the use of color with its lyrics.
- From 1969 to 1979, various orchestral medleys of various Disney songs from movies and theme parks were used as theme songs.
- From 1979 to 1983, a disco-styled theme was written to emphasize the new visual changes, even though the format remained the same. The song was by John Debney and John Klawitter .
- There's an original theme music from 1983 to 1990, which was composed by Ferdinand J. Smith .
- Since 1997, there's an orchestral medley of When You Wish Upon a Star and A Whole New World (the latter was used in the movie Aladdin). This is the current theme music.
Dates of network affiliation, show titles, and time slots
- October 27, 1954 – September 3, 1958: Wednesday, 7:30 PM – 8:30 PM
- “Walt Disney Presents”
- September 12, 1958 – September 25, 1959: Friday, 8:00 PM – 9:00 PM
- October 2, 1959 – September 23, 1960: Friday, 7:30 PM – 8:30 PM
- September 25, 1960 – September 17, 1961: Sunday, 6:30 PM – 7:30 PM
- “Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color”
- September 24, 1961 – September 7, 1969: Sunday, 7:30 PM – 8:30 PM
- “The Wonderful World of Disney”
- September 14, 1969 – August 31, 1975: Sunday, 7:30 PM – 8:30 PM
- September 7, 1975 – September 11, 1977: Sunday, 7:00 PM – 8:00 PM
- September 18, 1977 – October 23, 1977: Sunday, 7:00 PM – 9:00 PM
- October 30, 1977 – September 2, 1979: Sunday, 7:00 PM – 8:00 PM
- “Disney's Wonderful World”
- September 9, 1979 – September 13, 1981: Sunday, 7:00 PM – 8:00 PM
- September 20, 1981: No Airing (1 week)
- “Walt Disney”
- September 26, 1981 – January 1, 1983: Saturday, 8:00 PM – 9:00 PM
- January 4, 1983 – February 15, 1983: Tuesday, 8:00 PM – 9:00 PM
- February 22, 1983 – July 2, 1983: No Airings (28 weeks = 4 months)
- July 9, 1983 – September 24, 1983: Saturday, 8:00 PM – 9:00 PM
- October 1, 1983 – January 25, 1986: No Airings (121 weeks = 2 years, 4 months)
- “The Disney Sunday Movie”
- February 2, 1986 – September 6, 1987: Sunday, 7:00 PM – 9:00 PM
- September 13, 1987 – September 11, 1988: Sunday, 7:00 PM – 8:00 PM
- September 18, 1988 – October 2, 1988: No Airings (2 weeks)
- “The Magical World of Disney”
- October 9, 1988 – July 2, 1989: Sunday, 7:00 PM – 8:00 PM
- July 9, 1989 – July 23, 1989: Sunday, 8:00 PM – 9:00 PM
- July 30, 1989: No Airing (1 week)
- August 6, 1989 – February 25, 1990: Sunday, 7:00 PM – 8:00 PM
- March 4, 1990 – April 15, 1990: Sunday, 7:00 PM – 9:00 PM
- April 22, 1990 – May 6, 1990: Sunday, 7:00 PM – 8:00 PM
- May 13, 1990 – May 20, 1990: No Airings (2 weeks)
- May 27, 1990 – July 22, 1990: Sunday, 7:00 PM – 9:00 PM
- July 29, 1990: No Airing (1 week)
- August 5, 1990 – September 9, 1990: Sunday, 7:00 PM – 8:00 PM
- September 16, 1990 – September 1995 (estimated): No Airings (260 weeks = 5 years)
- “The Wonderful World of Disney”
- September 1995 (estimated) – September 21, 1997: No Airings (104 weeks = 2 years)
- September 28, 1997 – September 2003: Sunday, 7:00 PM – 9:00 PM
- September 2003 – present: Saturday, 8:00 PM – 10:00 PM
Note: The show often had installments that were longer than usual.
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