Disney an early TV show in color [UPDATED]Published 5:43am Monday, February 25, 2013 Updated 7:47am Monday, February 25, 2013
“Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color” premiered on NBC in September 1961. The name of the TV show coincided with the network’s ability to broadcast in color, following the years of black-and-white television in the 1950s.
Many of us old-timers recall the introduction to TV shows in the early 1960s: “The following program is brought to you in living color.”
NBC was at the forefront of color programming because its parent company, RCA, manufactured the most successful line of color sets in the 1950s.
By 1959 RCA was the only remaining major manufacturer of color televisions. CBS and ABC, which were not affiliated with set manufacturers, and were not eager to promote their competitor’s product, dragged their feet into color.
Looking to the future, Walt Disney filmed many of his early shows in color so they were able to be repeated on NBC. And since most of Disney’s feature-length films were also made in color, they could also be telecast in that format.
In Fergus Falls, the businesses that sold color televisions during the early 1960s opened their doors on weekend evenings so potential customers could stop by and see TV shows such as Disney and Bonanza, in living color.
At times, however, the colors would not blend properly during the infant years of color television.
Color TV, however, was here to stay in Otter Tail County and across the state and nation. Improvements in quality took place with each passing year.
In the mid 1950s, “The Wonderful World of Disney” aired the classic Davy Crockett miniseries. It became a huge television hit resulting in millions of dollars worth of merchandise being sold.
It seemed like every boy in Otter Tail County and across the nation wanted a Davy Crockett lunch box or coonskin hat. The Davy Crockett theme song titled, “The Ballad of Davy Crockett,” also became a hit.
Walt Disney died in 1966 and “The Wonderful World of Disney” went without a host until 1986 when Disney CEO Michael Eisner filled the job.
By the mid to late 1970s, earnings from Disney movies were way down. The TV show which aired Sunday evenings faced stiff competition from CBS’s hit series, “60 Minutes.”
As noted on a Disney history website, there was little production of new offerings for the Disney series. The series mostly showed Disney cartoons and repeats of previously aired episodes. In 1981, NBC finally canceled the series.
CBS aired the show from 1981 to 1983 with the title, “Walt Disney.” The new “Disney Channel” opened its doors and Disney CEO, E. Cardon Walker decided to end the TV series. He felt that both a major network TV series and an entire Disney cable channel was just too much.
“We would have been competing with each other for viewers, so we canceled the TV series,” said Walker.
In 1987, ABC brought the series back as “The Disney Sunday Movie” and it’s been shown at times. However, it never regained the popularity that Disney enjoyed in the 1950s and 1960s.
Through 2009, “The Wonderful World of Disney” aired 770 episodes of which 588 were in color and 182 were filmed in black and white.
Even though it was not a part of “The Wonderful World of Disney,” it’s important to note that the opening of Disneyland in California in 1955 was a huge television event. Hosts, in addition to Walt Disney, included actor Bob Cummings, TV host Art Linkletter and future Governor and President Ronald Reagan.
In early 1964, Disney announced plans to develop another theme park to be called Disney World a few miles southwest of Orlando, Fla.
Many people like me look back fondly on the early days of television, and the changeover from black and white TV in the 1950s to color television in the 1960s. For this, Walt Disney and others have lasting legacies.