“The Wonderful World of Disney” premiered on televisions across the nation on September 14, 1969. It was the reboot of “Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color” after Walt’s death in 1966. As we approach this iconic show’s 45th anniversary, NDM Letty recalls her fond memories of watching. Be sure to check out the video at the end of the article – very vintage 1975 footage of the Magic Kingdom in WDW & monorail resorts – The Polynesian Village, the Contemporary & Fort Wilderness. Do you remember watching “The Wonderful World of Disney”? Share with us in the comments below.
As a child I remember watching this show called The Wonderful World of Disney. It was Sunday evening. This was ritual. This was appointment television. It was a way to end the week. I have to say I don’t recall exactly what was shown. I remember cartoons. I remember Walt Disney speaking. But I can’t tell you just what was The Wonderful World of Disney without having to research it. And research is what I do best. I located the book titled “The Wonderful World of Disney Television: a complete history” by Bill Cotter. This is not light reading. This is a tome of every Disney production for television. What I found out is deciphering the answer to what is The Wonderful World of Disney is not a simple answer. Most people of my generation recall the show on NBC. This was Walt’s idea. Only NBC at that time (early 60’s) was innovating color programming. ABC and CBS didn’t think people cared to watch in color according to Cotter. Walt was determined to move his weekly show, Walt Disney Presents, to NBC which he managed to accomplish in 1961. The name was changed to Walt Disney’s World of Color (aka The Wonderful World of Color.) Not a lot of Americans owned color televisions at that time (my family didn’t.) However, because of the show, sales of RCA color televisions started to increase. The Wonderful World of Color was different from the Mickey Mouse Club which had been airing for several years. Walt created Professor Ludwig Von Drake especially for the new series. (Image source: thefullwiki.org)
What was the show? Everything. It was theatrical releases. It was animated shorts. It was documentaries. It was entertainment. It was educational. Example: Airdate 7/29/62: Magic Highway USA “the importance of America’s highways is the theme of the show which begins with a look back at the early days of motoring.”(Cotter p.131) Here’s another example: Airdate: 1/2/66 Searching for Nature’s Mysteries. “Winston Hibler explains how Disney nature photographers have developed the tools and techniques used in productions such as Secrets of Life.” (Cotter p. 155) This book lists every single episode of the series. Wikipedia lists The Wonderful World of Disney starting in 1969. The show was renamed and revised because of Walt’s death in 1966. Walt had always been the host and so now the show had to continue without him. The show was a solid top 20 hit until the mid 1970’s. Ratings were falling due to the success of CBS 60 Minutes airing in the same time slot. The show changed its name to Disney’s Wonderful World and had a disco sounding opening theme. Ratings continued to drop. NBC cancelled it in 1981. CBS picked it up and aired Walt Disney Saturdays at 8pm. The show stayed at CBS for two years before moving to ABC to settle there until 1987 when it returned to NBC. Michael Eisner became the host of the show after much persuasion from Disney executives according to Wikipedia. The show was airing whatever was in the Disney archives with Eisner introducing each episode. NBC cancelled the show in 1990. The show was revived in 1997 on ABC the year after the Disney Company bought the network. The names went back to The Wonderful World of Disney airing on Sundays on ABC until 2003. It moved to Saturday to stay there until 2008. The show from childhood memories resembles little what it became during the 80’s and 90’s. The original idea was to showcase the parks.
Here is a YouTube video starring Luci Arnaz and Tommy Tune (warning: this is the 70’s.)
The show bounced and changed. But the feelings it evokes, I believe, are the same for everyone. It was a chance to sit together as a family to experience something wonderful. It could be completely entertaining or completely educational, but it was always unique and special. And, it was created for family viewing. If I can’t come up with exact moments of what I saw as a child, I can however conjure up the feelings I had while enjoying the Wonderful World of Disney. It was wonderful.
Cotter, Bill. The wonderful world of Disney television: a complete history. New York: Hyperion. 1997. Print.