Wide World of Sports (U.S. TV series)

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This article is about a TV show on America's ABC network. For other uses, see Wide World of Sports (disambiguation).
Wide World of Sports
Wide World of Sports logo
Genre Sports anthology series
Presented by Jim McKay
Becky Dixon
Frank Gifford
Julie Moran
Robin Roberts
Country of origin United States
Original language(s) English
Production company(s) ABC Sports
Original channel ABC
Original run April 29, 1961 (1961-04-29) – January 3, 1998 (1998-01-03)

ABC's Wide World of Sports is a sports anthology series on American television that ran from 1961 to 1998 and was hosted by Jim McKay. The title continued to be used for general sports programs until 2006. As the title suggests, it aired on the American Broadcasting Company, primarily on Saturdays.



Wide World of Sports was the creation of Edgar Scherick through his company, Sports Programs, Inc. After selling his company to the American Broadcasting Company, he hired a young Roone Arledge to produce the show.

The series' April 29, 1961 debut featured both the Penn and Drake Relays. Jim McKay and Jesse Abramson, the track and field writer for the New York Herald Tribune, broadcast from Franklin Field with Bob Richards as the field reporter. Jim Simpson called the action from Drake Stadium with Bill Flemming working the field.[1]

Successful spin-offs[edit]

In 1961, Wide World of Sports covered a bowling event in which Roy Lown beat Pat Patterson. The broadcast was so successful that in 1962, ABC Sports began covering the Professional Bowlers Tour.

In 1964, Wide World of Sports covered the Oklahoma Rattlesnake Hunt championships. The following year, The American Sportsman premiered, and it would stay on for nearly 20 years.

In 1973, the Superstars was first televised as a segment on Wide World of Sports. The following year, the Superstars debuted as a weekly winter series that lasted for 10 years.

Athlete of the Year[edit]

In 1963, the producers of ABC Sports began selecting the Athlete of the Year. Its first winner was track and field star Jim Beatty for being the first to run a sub-4-minute mile indoors. Through the years, this award was won by the likes of Muhammad Ali, Jim Ryun, Lance Armstrong, Mario Andretti, Dennis Conner, Wayne Gretzky, Carl Lewis and Tiger Woods. The award was discontinued in 2001.

The end of Wide World of Sports[edit]

In later years, with the rise of cable television offering more outlets for sports programming, Wide World of Sports lost many of the events that had been staples of the program for many years. (Many, although not all, ended up on ESPN, a sister network to ABC for most of its existence.) Ultimately, the Wide World of Sports name was used as an umbrella title for ABC's weekend sports programming. Wide World of Sports discontinued its traditional anthology series format in 1997.

On January 3, 1998, Jim McKay declared that Wide World of Sports was cancelled after 37 successful years.

In August 2006, ABC Sports was effectively displaced by the concept of ESPN on ABC. The Wide World of Sports name continues to occasionally be revived for Saturday afternoon sports programming on ABC, most recently during the 140th Belmont Stakes as a tribute to Jim McKay, who died in June 2008. Most sports programming has been displaced from ABC and moved to sister station ESPN, with the Saturday afternoon programming adopting the name ESPN Sports Saturday in 2010. ESPN Sports Saturday consists of documentaries such as E:60 and 30 for 30, and a modified version of the ESPN interactive series SportsNation, entitled Winners Bracket.


Sports featured on Wide World of Sports[edit]

Drag racer Don Nicholson during a Wide World of Sports interview in 1966

Wide World of Sports was intended to be a fill-in show for a single summer season, until the start of fall sports seasons, but became unexpectedly popular. The goal of the show was to showcase sports from around the globe seldom, if ever, broadcast on American television. It originally ran for two hours on Saturday afternoons, later cut to 90 minutes. Usually, "Wide World" featured two or three events per show. These included many types not previously seen on American television, such as hurling, rodeo, curling, jai-alai, firefighter's competitions, wrist wrestling, powerlifting, surfing, logger sports, demolition derby, slow pitch softball, barrel jumping, and badminton. NASCAR Grand National/Winston Cup racing was a Wide World of Sports staple until the late 1980s, when it became a regularly scheduled network feature. Traditional Olympic sports such as figure skating, skiing, gymnastics, and track and field competitions were also regular features of the show. Another memorable regular feature in the 1960s and 1970s was Mexican cliff diving. The lone national television broadcast of the Continental Football League was a Wide World of Sports broadcast of the 1966 championship game; ABC paid the league $500 for a rights fee, a minuscule sum by professional football standards. The broadcast was hosted for most of its history by Jim McKay.

Wide World of Sports was initially broadcast during the Summer of 1961 from 5:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. Eastern Time on Saturdays. Beginning in 1962, it aired on Saturdays from 5:00 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. Eastern Time and later 4:30 p.m. to 6:00 Eastern Time to allow ABC affiliates in the Eastern and Central time zones to carry local news at 6 Eastern time.


Wide World of Sports was the first program to air coverage of Wimbledon (1961), The Indianapolis 500 (highlights starting in 1961; a longer version in 1965), the NCAA Men's Basketball Championship (1962), the Daytona 500 (1962), the U.S. Figure Skating Championships (1962), the Monaco Grand Prix (1962), the Little League World Series (1961), The British Open Golf Tournament (1961), the X-Games (1994), the Grey Cup (1962), and many other events.


The show was introduced by a stirring, brassy musical fanfare (composed by Charles Fox) over a montage of sports clips and accompanying narration written by Stanley Ralph Ross and voiced by McKay:

"The Thrill of Victory..."[edit]

The melodramatic introduction became a national catchphrase that is often heard to this day. While "the thrill of victory" had several symbols over the decades, ski jumper Vinko Bogataj, whose dreadful misjump and crash of March 21, 1970 was featured from the early 1970s onward under the words "...and the agony of defeat", became a hard-luck hero of sorts, and an affectionate icon for stunning failure. Previously, the footage played with that phrase was of another ski jumper who made a long, almost successful jump, but whose skis lost vertical alignment shortly before landing, leading to a crash. Later in the 1990s, an additional clip was added to the "agony of defeat" sequence after Bogataj's accident. Footage of a crash by Alessandro Zampedri, Roberto Guerrero and Eliseo Salazar during the 1996 Indianapolis 500 shows a car flipping up into the catch fence. The "oh no!" commentary that accompanies it, however, is dubbed from commentary by Benny Parsons of Steve Grissom's crash in the 1997 NASCAR Winston Cup Primestar 500. Bogataj's mishap is also commemorated in Rich Hall's book Sniglets as "agonosis", which is defined as "The syndrome of tuning in on Wide World of Sports every weekend just to watch the skier rack himself."

International versions[edit]

Canadian version[edit]

During the 1970s and 1980s, a Canadian version was aired by the CTV Television Network. Licensed by ABC, the CTV broadcast included a mix of content from the American show, and segments produced by CTV and its affiliates.

Australian version[edit]

The Nine Network in Australia produced their own version from 1981–1997, Nine's Wide World of Sports; this version is also a sports anthology series, but also features professional sport competitions as well. It, along with Cricket coverage on The Nine Network also sporned a series of parodies, released as Audio Albums by Billy Birmingham, under the nom-de-plum of The Twelfth Man.

Mexican version[edit]

During the 1970s and 1980s, there was a Mexican version, aired by Imevision, at the time the Mexican government's public television network, known as DeporTV, El Ancho Mundo del Deporte (DeporTV, the Wide World of Sports). The program was later dropped by Imevision's successor, TV Azteca.



Event announcers[edit]

[5] List of Wide World of Sports announcers


  • The album version of an early-1970s Cheech and Chong hit song called "Basketball Jones" (a parody of a rhythm and blues number called "Love Jones") contained a prologue that parodied this program. It was called "White" World of Sports and featured a not-too-bright commentator named "Red Blazer".
  • An anachronistic joke early in the 1974 western film parody, Blazing Saddles, had Slim Pickens yelling at his railroad crew, "What in the Wide, Wide World of Sports is a-goin' on here?"
  • The Muppet Show had a parody segment, the "Muppet Wide World of Sports", which spoofed McKay and the opening.
  • On a 1985 episode of Wheel of Fortune, a contestant lost $62,400 on the puzzle "THE THRILL OF VICTORY AND THE AGONY OF DEFEAT" when she asked for an "S". Had she solved the puzzle and won the $62,400, that would have set a record which would have remained the single-round maingame record today.
  • In 2007, Time Magazine named ABC's Wide World of Sports as one of 100 all-time TV shows.
  • Weekend updates on ABC Sports Radio, of the ABC Radio Networks, continue to brand as ABC's World of Sports.
  • A segment on ESPNU's The Herd is called "Spanning the Globe" which also featured Jim McKay's voice saying "Spanning The Globe."
  • In 2011, ESPN's Kenny Mayne starred in his own internet show called Kenny Mayne's Wider World of Sports with Kenny's face overlapping the ABC logo.
  • In the SpongeBob SquarePants short "Clarinet Land", upon entering an area of a storage locker that was later revealed to be imaginary, Squidward asks himself, "What in the Wide World of Sports is this place?"

See also[edit]


External links[edit]