Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color (1961–1969)
The Wonderful World of Disney (first era; 1969–1979)
Disney's Wonderful World (1979–1981)
Walt Disney (1981–1983)
The Disney Sunday Movie (1986–1989; titled Disney Summer Classics during the summer months)
The Wonderful World of Disney (second era; 1997–2008)
The Magical World of Disney (1989–1990)
The Magical World of Disney Junior (2012–present)
The original version of the series premiered on ABC on Wednesday, October 27, 1954. The same basic series has since appeared on several networks, with its latest revival debuting on March 23, 2012 on Disney Junior. The show is the second longest running prime-time program on American television, behind rival film anthology, the Hallmark Hall of Fame. However, Hallmark Hall of Fame aired as a weekly program during its first five seasons before becoming a bi-monthly program, while Disney remained a weekly program for more than 40 years.
Occasionally, a more educational-based segment would be featured (such as The Story of the Animated Drawing), including nature and animal programs similar to the True-Life Adventures that were released in theatres, as well as various dramatic installments which were either structured as single-part, two-part, and sometimes, multi-part editions. . Much of the original informational excerpts were to create awareness for Disneyland. In spite of essentially serving as advertisements for the park, entertainment value was emphasized as well to make the shows palatable. Some of the program's informational content was formatted to promote upcoming feature film releases by the studio (such as 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and Darby O'Gill and the Little People), with some programs focusing on the art and technology of animation itself.
Although it was believed that Walt Disney was the very first major film producer to venture into television, there were two established independent film producers that successfully ventured into television production before Disney, Hal Roach and Jerry Fairbanks. Disney wanted to produce a television program in order to finance the development of the Disneyland amusement park. After being turned down by both CBS and NBC, Disney eventually signed a deal with ABC (which had merged with United Paramount Theaters in 1953) on March 29, 1954. The show contained teasers for Walt's park, as well as episodes representing life in one of the park's main sections: Adventureland, Tomorrowland, Fantasyland and Frontierland, with the opening titles used from its inception until the show's move to NBC in 1961, showing the entrance to Disneyland itself, as well as the four aformentioned lands, which were then identified as the main feature of that evening's program.
Consequently "Davy Crockett" and other pioneers of the Old West, and American history in general appeared in "Frontier Land". Similarly, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea might be the focus of an evening spent in "Adventure Land", although a documentary on the film could also be possibly presented as a topic for such episodes, including clips from the actual film. Topics for "Fantasy Land" would include either actual cartoons, and animated films, as well as documentaries on "The Making of ..." (such as behind-the-scenes presentation of Peggy Lee singing the duet of the wicked Siamese cats in Lady and the Tramp, or the barbershop quartet of lost dogs in the municipal Dog Pound); excerpts from a True-Life Adventure documentary may also be included (for example, one on the life and works of beavers and their dam-building) or those using stroboscopic stop-action photography (such as investigating what really happened when a rain-drop fell in a puddle, as part of a "Fantasy Land" episode), explaining the techniques of cartoon animation. The multi-plane camera used to create the three-dimensional effects of Bambi was also as a topic for a "Fantasy Land"-set telecast. In one episode, four different artists were given the task of drawing the same tree, with each artist using his own preferred ways of drawing and imagining a tree; this led to cartoon examples of differently animated trees, as in some of the early Silly Symphonies shorts, and later full-length animated films. "Tomorrow Land" was an opportunity for the Disney studio staff to present cutting-edge science and technology, and to predict possible futures, such as futuristic automobiles, and highways. This format remained basically unchanged through the 1980s, though new material was scarce in later years. Other episodes were segments from Disney films such as (Seal Island and Alice in Wonderland), or cartoons of Donald Duck and other Disney standbys.
The program spawned the Davy Crockett craze of 1955 with the airing of a three-episode series (not shown over the course of consecutive weeks) about the historical American frontiersman, starring Fess Parker in the title role. Millions of dollars of merchandise relating to the title character were sold, and the theme song, "The Ballad of Davy Crockett", became a hit record that year. Three historically based hour-long programs aired during late 1954/early 1955, and were followed up by two dramatized installments the following year. The TV episodes were later edited into two theatrical films.
On July 17, 1955, the opening of Disneyland was covered on a live television special, Dateline: Disneyland, which is not technically considered to be part of the series. It was hosted by Walt along with Bob Cummings, Art Linkletter and Ronald Reagan, and featured various other guests.
In the fall of 1958, the series was retitled Walt Disney Presents, and moved to a Friday night timeslot; but by 1960, it switched to Sunday nights, where it would remain for 21 years.
Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color (1961–1969)
Although the basic format remained the same, the series moved to NBC on September 24, 1961 to take advantage of that network's ability to broadcast programming in color. In addition, Walt Disney's relationship with ABC had soured as the network resisted selling its stake in the theme park before doing so in 1960. In a display of foresight, Disney had filmed many of the earlier shows in color, allowing them to easily be repeated on NBC; since all but three of Disney's feature-length films were also made in color (the three black-and-white exceptions were The Shaggy Dog, The Absent-Minded Professor and Son of Flubber, all family comedies starring Fred MacMurray), they could now also be telecast in that format.
To emphasize the new feature, the series was retitled Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color when NBC began airing it, retaining that moniker until 1969. The first NBC episode even dealt with the principles of color, as explained by a new character named Ludwig Von Drake (voiced by Paul Frees), a bumbling professor with a thick German accent, who was the uncle of Donald Duck. Von Drake was the first Disney character created specifically for television.
Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color title sequence
Walt Disney died on December 15, 1966, twelve years after the anthology series premiered. While the broadcast that aired three days after his death featured a memorial tribute from Huntley-Brinkley Report anchor Chet Huntley with film and television star Dick Van Dyke, the intros that Walt already filmed prior to his death continued to air for the remainder of the season. After that, the studio decided that Walt's persona as host was such a key part of the show's appeal to viewers that the host segment was dropped.
The series was retitled The Wonderful World of Disney in September 1969 and continued to gain solid ratings, often ranking in the Top 20, until the mid-1970s.
In 1976, Disney showed its hit 1961 film The Parent Trap on television for the first time, as a 2½-hour special. This marked a major step in broadcasting for the studio, which had never shown one of its more popular films on television in a time slot longer than an hour (although it had shown Now You See Him, Now You Don't and Napoleon and Samantha respectively in a two-hour format in 1975). Walt Disney Productions also began running some of its multi-episode television programs, such as 1962's Sammy The Way-Out Seal, as televised feature films on the anthology series. A slightly edited version of the 1954 Disney classic 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea made its television debut as a two-hour special on NBC in October 1976. Several other Disney films, some of them not especially successful (such as Superdad, which was an outright flop in its initial theatrical release) were also aired on the program in the form of two-hour broadcasts that year. However, the multi-episode format for feature films had not been discontinued; as late as 1981, films such as Pollyanna were still being shown on the Disney program in several installments running a week apart.
During the early 1970s, the show began to increasingly concentrate less on animated cartoons and dramatic or comedy films, and began to place an emphasis on nature-oriented programs (such as the True-Life Adventures).
The show's continued ratings success in the post-Walt era came to an end during the 1975–76 season. At this time, Walt Disney Productions was facing a decline in fortunes due to falling box-office revenues, while NBC as a whole was also slipping in the ratings. The anthology series became even more dependent on airings of live-action theatrical features, its True-Life Adventures, reruns of older episodes, and cartoon compilations. Nothing from the Disney animated features canon aired, with the exceptions of Alice in Wonderland and Dumbo. Additionally, in 1975, when CBS regained the broadcast rights to the 1939 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer film The Wizard of Oz, it was scheduled opposite Disney, as it had been between 1960 and 1968. At that time, telecasts of that film were highly rated annual events, which largely attracted the same family audience as the Disney series. From 1968 to 1975, when NBC held the television rights to Oz (which it had acquired from CBS in 1967), it usually pre-empted Disney to show it. However, the show's stiffest weekly competition came from CBS's newsmagazine 60 Minutes.
In 1975, an amendment to the Prime Time Access Rule gave the Sunday 7:00 p.m. Eastern Time slot back to the networks, allowing NBC to move Disney back by a half-hour. It also allowed CBS to schedule 60 Minutes at 7:00 p.m. Eastern Time starting on December 7; prior to this, 60 Minutes had aired at 6:00 p.m. Eastern and did not begin its seasons until after the NFL football season ended. Disney fell out of the Top 30, while 60 Minutes saw its ratings rise significantly.
In September 1979, the studio agreed to the network's request for changes to the program. The show shortened its title to Disney's Wonderful World, and updated the opening sequence with a computer-generated logo and disco-flavored theme song, but largely kept the same format. The problems for the show continued, as a result of the ratings strength of 60 Minutes; compounded by low ratings, increasingly less original material, and frequent pre-emptions (primarily due to sporting events such as NFL game telecasts), NBC cancelled Disney in 1981.
Following NBC's announcement that it would drop the anthology series, CBS picked up the program and began airing it on Saturday evenings at 8:00 p.m. Eastern in September 1981. Despite more elaborate credit sequence and another title change, to simply Walt Disney, the series' format remained unchanged. It lasted two years on CBS, its end coinciding with the launch of the studio's cable television network, The Disney Channel. While ratings were a factor, the final decision to end the show came from Walt Disney Productions' then-CEO E. Cardon Walker, who felt that having both the show and the new channel active would result in cannibalization of viewership.
After the studio – which was rechristened as The Walt Disney Company that year – underwent a change in management, Disney sought to bring back some sort of programming to broadcast television. Their efforts led to the premiere of The Disney Sunday Movie, which debuted on February 2, 1986 on ABC. Many names were considered to serve as presenter for the revived show, including Julie Andrews, Dick Van Dyke, Cary Grant, Tom Hanks,Walter Cronkite, Roy E. Disney (who closely resembled his uncle), and even Mickey Mouse. The studio finally decided to have Michael Eisner, the company's recently hired CEO, host the series. Although he was not a performer, after filming a test video with his wife Jane and a member of his executive team (which required multiple takes), studio management believed he could do the hosting job. Eisner hired Michael Kay, a director of political commercials for then-U.S. SenatorBill Bradley, to help him improve his on-camera performance.
The Disney Sunday Movie initially aired as ABC's lead-off program on Sunday nights, running from 7:00 to 9:00 p.m. Eastern Time. By this point, the format was similar to a movie-of-the-week, offering more original programming in the form of family-oriented television films from the studio that made up much of the material. A larger selection of theatrical library films than the previous Disney anthology programs had in the last few years of its original run were also shown (including another animated canon entry, 1973's Robin Hood), but with the advent of cable television and home video, these presentations were not as popular.
ABC renewed the series for a full second season, which launched in September 1986; however, the program's ratings were never strong as the established 60 Minutes and scripted mystery series Murder, She Wrote on CBS, both of which Disney was competing with for viewers, remained the leading prime time programs on Sunday nights. The Disney Sunday Movie returned for a third season in 1987, but was reduced from two hours to one. The move did not help drive ratings, and the network decided not to renew its contract with Disney, and pick up a fourth season of the second iteration of the anthology series.
In the spring of 1988, NBC decided to renew its association with the company after it cut ties to the anthology series eight years earlier; the network brought the series, now named The Magical World of Disney, to serve as the lead-in of its Sunday lineup in September 1988. As the program had done during its last season as The Disney Sunday Movie, The Magical World of Disney ran for one hour, airing at 7:00 p.m. Eastern Time; Michael Eisner also returned as its presenter.
After two seasons experiencing the same lackluster ratings as it had accrued during the tail end of its initial NBC run and its subsequent runs on CBS and ABC, Disney elected to move The Magical World of Disney off of broadcast television and began airing the anthology on The Disney Channel – in the same timeslot it had been airing for the past decade – starting in September 1990, expanding back to a two-hour format. Since The Disney Channel operated as a premium channel at the time, films presented on the series were usually presented without commercial interruption. The Magical World of Disney originally aired on the cable channel as a weekly Sunday-only program for its first 5½ years; however in September 1996, as part of the first phase of a programming revamp that culminated in its formal conversion into a commercial-free basic cable channel in April 1997, The Disney Channel expanded the Magical World brand to encompass its Monday through Saturday prime-time film block, maintaining its 7:00 p.m. Eastern time slot.
One year after The Walt Disney Company purchased ABC, the series returned to broadcast television in 1997, running for the second time on ABC. Again titled The Wonderful World of Disney, it led the network's Sunday night lineup, resulting in the displacement of Sunday mainstay America's Funniest Home Videos, which had occupied the 7:00 p.m. Eastern time slot since 1992. This incarnation also replaced The ABC Sunday Night Movie, which initially continued to air alongside Wonderful World during the 1997–98 season, before that program was cancelled. The 1997 revival of the rechristened Wonderful World followed the same format as the Disney Sunday Movie, shifting its format more similarly to the Hallmark Hall of Fame to expand focus on original made-for-TV films (such as the 2005 television adaptation of Once Upon a Mattress), which the series had began to incorporate more of during its second run on NBC, although it continued to feature periodic broadcasts of various theatrical films.
In 2001, a Spanish language version of the program premiered on Telemundo (which, incidentally, was acquired by the English version's former home, NBC, that same year) as El Maravilloso el Mundo de Disney, with more of a focus on Disney theatrical films than the English broadcasts at the time.
In September 2003, The Wonderful World of Disney moved to Saturday nights at 8:00 p.m. Eastern, with the previous Sunday time slot being ceded to AFV (which moved back to Sundays that season) and drama series in the 8:00 p.m. hour. There were rare exceptions to the program's format during this time; for example, a Little House on the Prairie miniseries ran for several weeks in 2004 under the Wonderful World of Disney banner. For most of its second run on ABC, the program aired throughout the television season, with the exception of the 2005–06 season (when it aired during the midseason only), and in 2007 and 2008 (when it was relegated to the summer months), with a broader array of films occupying the network's Saturday prime time slot at other times, when sports programming did not air.
The Magical World of Disney Junior (2012–present)
On March 23, 2012, the program was revived on the newly launched digital cable channel Disney Junior, and was retitled The Magical World of Disney Junior. The program focused more on animated and select live-action films from the Disney library, selected to appeal primarily to the channel's target audience of preschoolers ages 2- to 6-years-old.
Around the same time that the 1980s incarnations aired on ABC and NBC, reruns of older episodes of the Disney anthology series, airing under the Wonderful World of Disney banner, were syndicated to broadcast television stations throughout the United States as well as in various international markets. In Australia, the program aired on Network Seven on Saturday evenings at 6:30 p.m., before it was dropped in 1994 due to Optus Vision (later Foxtel)'s launch of a domestic version of The Disney Channel, with Saturday Disney replacing it as the channel's main block of Disney films.
Reruns of the shows were a staple of The Disney Channel for several years under the title Walt Disney Presents (which used the same title sequence as the 1980s CBS incarnation), when it was an outlet for vintage Disney cartoons, television series and films, basically serving the same function that the anthology series served in the days before cable. The original opening titles were restored to the episodes in 1997. Reruns of the anthology series were discontinued when the channel purged all vintage material with the removal of its Vault Disney late-night block on September 16, 2002. However, a few select episodes are available on VHS or DVD (some of which are exclusive to the Disney Movie Club), with the possibility of additional future releases.
Recently, live-action Disney films from the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s have aired on Turner Classic Movies, without commercial interruption, and presented uncut and with letterboxing.
All of the episodes and existing material used on the series up to 1996 are listed in the Bill Cotter book The Wonderful World of Disney Television, which was released in 1997 by Hyperion Books (which is owned by The Walt Disney Company).
The program has utilized numerous theme songs, most frequently using various arrangements of "When You Wish upon a Star" from the 1940 animated film Pinocchio; the iteration of the theme used from 1997 to 2008 during the third ABC run utilized a medley of "When You Wish upon a Star" and A Whole New World from the 1989 animated film The Little Mermaid. From 1961 to 1969, the show used an original song as its theme, "The Wonderful World of Color," written by Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman and composed by Buddy Baker, which emphasized the use of color with its lyrics. From 1969 to 1979, The Wonderful World of Disney used an orchestral medley of various Disney songs.
In Brazil, The Magical World of Disney aired on Sistema Brasileiro de Televisão (SBT), under the title Cine Disney. The ABC run of the program under The Wonderful World of Disney title originally aired in that country under the title O Maravilhoso Mundo de Disney on the Brazilian version of Disney Channel; the program moved to SBT as Mundo Disney in 2015.
From the Pirates of the Caribbean to the World of Tomorrow (first half)
In the 1980s, Walt Disney Home Video released 15 volumes of the anthology series on VHS, while many episodes have been released on DVD from either the Disney Movie Club or the Disney Generations movies-on-demand (MOD) program on Amazon.com.