The Wizard of Oz on television

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1939 theatrical release poster

MGM's 1939 musical fantasy film The Wizard of Oz was first shown in theatres that year, then re-released nationwide in 1949 and 1955. It was first telecast on television on Saturday, November 3, 1956. The film was shown as the last installment of the CBS anthology series Ford Star Jubilee. Since that telecast, it has been shown respectively by CBS, NBC, the WB Network, and several of Ted Turner's national cable channels. It has never been licensed to any local affiliate broadcast station. From 1959 to 1991 it was an annual tradition on American commercial network television. During these years, and for several afterwards, it was always shown as a television special.

After the film was shown on television for the second time, network telecasts of it became a much-anticipated family event in the United States, drawing large audiences annually for many years.[1] Between 1956 and 1980, commercial broadcast television was virtually the only means by which families were able to see it, unless they attended the MGM Children's Matinees in 1970.

Until 1999, the film had been telecast in the U.S. only on commercial broadcast television. After the film went to cable that year, TV showings of it became more frequent, and the tradition of televising it only once a year was abandoned, at least in the U.S.[2]

The Wizard of Oz has become perhaps the most famous film to be shown regularly on U.S. television, and one of the most cherished.[3] Of the many family-oriented musical fantasies telecast after the successful 1955 version of the Mary Martin Peter Pan, The Wizard of Oz is the only one which is still shown regularly as of 2013. Following the 1956 premiere there were no rebroadcasts until 1959. 1959-1962 telecasts occurred in autumn between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Beginning with the 1963-64 season, these special presentations would be seen in the first quarter of the year. The movie did not air in 1963.

The film was first issued on home video formats in 1980. [4]

First telecast[edit]

The Wizard of Oz, which had been a critical but only modest financial success during its theatrical run, was chosen to be the first Hollywood film to be shown uncut in prime time on a coast to coast television network. [5] The first telecast took place on November 3, 1956 as part of the final program in the canceled CBS anthology series Ford Star Jubilee . A rotating potpourri of highly budgeted but low rated specials including a well publicized debut hour hosted by Judy Garland. [6] The original asking price of $250,000 was negotiated by MGM attorney, later company president, Frank Rosenfelt. The network paid MGM $225,000 for the rights to televise the film twice with an option to re-broadcast it if the telecast was a success.[7]

This 1956 airing was shown as CBS's response to the successful color telecast of the Broadway musical Peter Pan with Mary Martin, which had been restaged especially for TV at NBC Studios as part of the anthology series Producers' Showcase. Peter Pan had first been shown live on TV by NBC in 1955, and been repeated (again live) by public demand in 1956. Its enormous success on television ushered in a temporary "fad" of mostly live family-oriented specials based on fantasy tales, such as Aladdin (1958, and no relation to the Disney film), Alice in Wonderland (1955) (a live-action version), Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella (1957), The Pied Piper of Hamelin (1957), and Pinocchio (1957, no relation to the Disney film). As part of this trend, CBS bought the rights from MGM to telecast The Wizard of Oz.

For the first telecast of The Wizard of Oz, the normally 90-minute Ford Star Jubilee was expanded to a full two hours to accommodate the entire film, which, in addition to having commercial breaks, was celebrity hosted. The main reason that CBS arranged for a host for the film was that a 101-minute motion picture was not considered long enough to run in the allotted 120-minute slot at that time, even with commercial breaks, without additional content to pad the telecast out to two hours.[8]

The 1956 telecast of the film marked the only time any actor who had appeared in the movie was selected to host it: Bert Lahr, who had played both the Cowardly Lion and farmhand Zeke in the film, appeared alongside then 10-year-old Liza Minnelli, and young Oz expert Justin G. Schiller. Lorna Luft, Minnelli's half-sister, did not appear on the telecast, as she was only four years old at the time, although she did have her picture taken with Minnelli in a promotional photo. Unlike several of the other Oz telecasts, no stills were taken during the hosting sequences of the 1956 telecast.[9] The practice of a show business celebrity regularly "hosting" The Wizard of Oz lasted from the film's first television showing until 1968, when the film went to NBC after being telecast on CBS nine times.

The film was always telecast uncut in a two-hour time slot between 1956 and 1968, despite having commercials and hosted segments. The Professor Marvel sequence has never been omitted (at least in American telecasts of the film),[citation needed] and the tracking shot of Munchkinland was not edited until the film went to NBC in 1968.[citation needed]

The film's telecast received positive critical notices in newspapers the following day. Variety magazine prophetically suggested that the film could be telecast annually and at an earlier time.[10]

Telecasts in the Pre-Cable Era[edit]

The film was not rebroadcast in 1957 or 1958. For telecasts from 1959 (the year of its second telecast) up until 1998, the film was always shown as a stand-alone TV special instead of as part of an anthology or movie series. Between 1959 and 1968, and again in 1990 when Angela Lansbury, star of CBS' Murder She Wrote, hosted the 50th-anniversary telecast, CBS chose its hosts from its then-current prime time lineup. In 1959, the host was Red Skelton (The Red Skelton Show); in 1960 it was Richard Boone (Have Gun, Will Travel), in 1961 and 1962 it was Dick Van Dyke (The Dick Van Dyke Show), and from 1964 through 1967, it was Danny Kaye (The Danny Kaye Show). Skelton, Boone and Van Dyke brought their then-young children along to appear with them.

Although the hosting segments for the 1956 telecast of the film had to be done live, Skelton's, Boone's, Van Dyke's and Kaye's segments were recorded on video tape in advance of the telecasts.[11] Lansbury's hosting segment was the first one recorded on film.

During these years, the hosting sequences were not staged in a run-of-the-mill manner, with the host merely standing in a studio set, but in what could be considered imaginative ways. Richard Boone was taped on the set of his television series Have Gun, Will Travel, where he was shown in a "living room" with his real son about to watch the film on a TV set. Dick Van Dyke was shown in a living room set where he was seen with his children,[11] and Danny Kaye's hosting segment featured him sitting on a prop toadstool against a painted backdrop of the Yellow Brick Road and the Emerald City.[12] The Kaye segment did not include a television set as part of its design.

Often some humor would be incorporated into these segments. Red Skelton was seen as two characters: Before the film began, he was seen in a studio set of an early 20th-century bookstore, in costume as a Victorian-era storyteller who introduced L. Frank Baum's original 1900 novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz to a young girl played by Skelton's real daughter, and at film's end, he appeared in a studio recreation of a modern living room as himself. Danny Kaye would reassure viewers not to panic when the film began in black-and-white rather than in color, and he would encourage young viewers not to be afraid of the roaring MGM lion at the beginning of the film. No directors or writers were credited for the hosting sequences, just as none are credited for hosting segments prior to films on Turner Classic Movies.

The Wizard of Oz did not become an annual television tradition immediately — only after the 1959 showing, when, because of the earlier hour at which it was shown (6:00 P.M., E.S.T.), more children tuned into the broadcast, and it gained an even larger television audience than before. The 1959 telecast was especially welcomed by media critic John Crosby, who commented in the New York Herald Tribune, "Television — any television — looks awfully ordinary after The Wizard of Oz".[13] From 1959 until 1991, the film was telecast once every year, the one exception being 1963, when it was not telecast at all.

WISN-TV in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, did not carry the network's yearly Oz telecast in 1961, the year WISN began its affiliation with CBS, running Green Bay Packers football instead. However, due to viewer outcry, WISN was able to get permission to run the film locally at 2:00 p.m. C.S.T., on Christmas Eve.[14]

In 1978, after the film had returned to CBS, a computer malfunction at the CBS owned-and-operated WBBM-TV in Chicago accidentally cut off most of the ending to that year's Oz telecast, interrupting the final minute with a commercial block that was not supposed to air until after the movie had ended.[citation needed] Because the break was only 42 seconds long, no attempt was made to override the computer, for fear of making the problem worse.[citation needed] For several hours thereafter, the WBBM received angry calls from viewers, while those unable to get through chose to voice their displeasure wrote to the Chicago Tribune and Chicago Sun-Times newspapers.[citation needed]

"Wraparound" opening and closing credits[edit]

The film, as telecast on U.S. television between 1959 and 1968, was arguably given a much more elaborate TV presentation than it would receive afterwards. During those years, it would always have videotaped wraparound opening and closing credits segments devised by CBS, accompanied by the network's own specially recorded opening and closing music based on the film's score. For the opening "wraparound" credits, the title The Wizard of Oz and the names of its five leading actors, Judy Garland, Frank Morgan, Ray Bolger, Bert Lahr, and Jack Haley, would first be shown in CBS's own format and font, while an anonymous announcer read them off and then followed this with an announcement of the film's sponsor(s): "This portion of The Wizard of Oz is brought to you by...[name of sponsor mentioned]". These specially-devised opening credits would never mention that the film was made by MGM or any other studio. From 1959 to 1964, CBS created different wraparound credits for each showing, but because the same hosting segment — the Danny Kaye one — was shown between 1964 and 1968, audiences saw the same "wraparound" credits from 1964 until the film went to NBC.

This special CBS introduction would be followed by the host speaking about the movie for about three minutes or so. His remarks would lead directly into the actual film, beginning with all of its original 1939 opening credits (which are shown against a background of moving clouds), including the MGM Leo the Lion logo, the name of the film, the cast list, and the film's principal technical staff, exactly as MGM had created them, with the film's main title music heard.

The host would reappear just before the film's second half began, to say a few more words about it, before the telecast proceeded with the rest of the film, commercials included.

However, at the end of the movie, the film's closing credits, as created by MGM, would not be shown, and the "The End" title card that directly follows Dorothy's closing line was never seen on television during these early CBS showings. Instead, immediately after Dorothy spoke her last line ("Oh, Auntie Em, there's no place like home!"), and the camera faded out on her, television viewers once again saw CBS's specially made title card The Wizard of Oz, this time accompanied by some of the film's end title music, exactly as heard on the soundtrack, and the announcer's voice saying that the host for that year would return in a moment. After a final commercial, the host would then be seen once again, bid farewell to the TV audience, and CBS would show its own version of the cast list that appears during the film's end credits. At the end, referring to both the film and the hosting segments, the same announcer would declare that "This has been a film and videotape presentation."

Shown in color[edit]

From the beginning The Wizard of Oz was telecast in color, although few people owned color television sets in 1956. An exception was in 1961, when CBS said that color telecasts had to be paid for by their sponsors. Those sponsoring The Wizard of Oz declined to do so, and the film was shown in black-and-white that year.[15][16] Between 1956 and 1965, the Wizard of Oz showings were rare exceptions to the black and white program schedule at CBS, whose competitor NBC was owned by RCA, which by 1960 manufactured 95% of the color sets sold in the U.S. By 1964, it was again being shown in color.

Later hosts[edit]

Partly because commercial time during programs increased beginning in the late 1960s, the idea of regularly having hosts to introduce the film was dropped when The Wizard of Oz went to NBC in 1968, where no "wraparound" sequence was shown. The presentation consisted only of the film itself, with its original opening and closing credits, and no special NBC-created credits or hosting segments. The famous NBC peacock would be shown immediately prior to the beginning of the film, with announcer Mel Brandt saying that "the first 22 minutes of this program [i.e. the Kansas and tornado sequences] will be shown in black-and-white", a not quite accurate statement, since the final three minutes of the film also took place in Kansas, and were at that time also shown in black-and-white, rather than in the sepia tone in which they originally had been made (the sepia was not restored to the Kansas and tornado scenes until 1989 - the film's 50th anniversary). However, one NBC telecast did feature an on-screen host: the 1970 showing, which opened with veteran actor Gregory Peck paying tribute to the recently deceased Judy Garland (a segment directed by Oz producer Mervyn LeRoy, marking his first TV work), although this segment consisted of only a few brief remarks, while the opening hosting segments on CBS had gone on for about three minutes or so. The NBC Oz telecasts began the tradition of the film's annual showings during the Easter and Passover seasons of the year as opposed to the winter showings on CBS.

The switch in networks resulted because CBS was unwilling to meet MGM's increased price — fostered by the film's ever increasing popularity — for renewal of the rights to telecast it.[17] The film stayed on NBC until 1976. When CBS, realizing its error in allowing it to go to another network, bought back the rights at MGM's asking price, their viewer ratings shot up, and one executive was heard to remark, "That picture is better [for the network] than a gushing oil well".[18]

After its 1976 return to CBS, the film was hosted on that network only once more, in a filmed segment featuring Angela Lansbury in 1990, but the CBS "wraparound" opening and closing credits were not - and have never been - revived, although, during those years, a blue card featuring a painting of a rainbow and the title The Wizard of Oz was shown on the screen while the night's pre-empted programs or programs to be shown at regular time and the sponsors were being announced, and immediately before and after commercial breaks. In the 1980s clips from the film shown on a red background with title was shown at the start, while a still of Emerald City with title was used during commercials. Angela Lansbury also narrated a documentary about the making of the film, originally entitled The Wonderful Wizard of Oz: 50 Years of Magic and years later retitled The Wonderful Wizard of Oz: The Making of a Movie Classic. It was first shown immediately after the movie's 1990 telecast, and is included as a supplement on all the DVD releases beginning with the 1999 DVD release. Jack Haley, Jr., the documentary's director, was nominated for an Emmy Award for his work.

When shown on Turner Classic Movies, The Wizard of Oz is usually hosted by TCM host Robert Osborne.

On June 3, 2007, Tom Kenny, the voice of SpongeBob SquarePants, hosted a telecast of the film on Turner Classic Movies, as part of Essentials, Jr., a special summer series of family movies.

On July 27, 2008, the film was shown twice in a row on Turner Network Television without a host, but with commercials, and with "pop-up" animated ads for other TNT programs at the bottom of the screen just before and after commercial breaks.

On March 24 and 25, 2012, the film was hosted on the Cartoon Network by television actor Robert Wu, who provides the voice of Mr. Washee Washee in the Family Guy episode, "Tiegs for Two". This telecast ran two-and-a-half hours, longer than any CBS or NBC telecasts.

On June 10, 2012, which would have been Judy Garland's 90th birthday, the film was telecast on Turner Classic Movies without commercials, and hosted by comedian Bill Hader, again as part of the Essentials, Jr. summer series of family films. Unlike the CBS hosting segments which were a part of the 1960s telecasts of the film, Hader's segment showed clips from the film before it actually began.

Television ratings[edit]

The showing in 1983 was the 25th network prime-time showing, a record then for any film or television special. In the first nine showings, all on CBS, The Wizard of Oz gained at least 49% of the television audience.[19] In 1966, it ranked No. 1 in the ratings for the week that it was shown.[20] Between 1960 and 1968, the film even beat out episodes of ABC-TV's Walt Disney Presents (in 1960) and NBC's Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color (from 1961 to 1968), which aired opposite the film.[21] When the film moved temporarily from CBS to NBC, it would always preempt the Disney program altogether, except for once, when NBC showed Oz on a Saturday in 1968. When CBS bought the film back from NBC in 1976, it again began to beat episodes of Disney in the ratings. And, on one occasion, it preempted Disney yet again, after the series moved to that network in the early 1980s.[22]

In 2006, the first year it was shown on TV in high-definition, the film placed No. 11 in the Nielsen ratings among cable television programs for the week of November 11.[23]

Changes made in running time[edit]

From 1968 to 1984, minor cuts were made to the film to make room for added commercial time and in order to have the film "clock in" at two hours. No dialogue or singing was removed, only moments such as camera pans and establishing shots, as well as MGM's written foreword to the film.[11]

On a few occasions beginning in 1985, again because of the increased time spent on commercial breaks, the film was time-compressed to fit it into a two-hour running time without cutting it.[9] However, The Wizard of Oz is now always shown complete and at its regular speed on television, both with and without commercials. When shown with ads, the film now runs about two hours and fifteen minutes, simply because of the increase in commercial time.

March 1991 showing[edit]

The March 1991 showing was the first after the film gained protected status from the Library of Congress and the National Film Preservation Board. Networks opted to no longer shorten the film by "microcutting" a few individual moments throughout the movie as had been done from the late 1960s to the early 1980s to make room for commercials and keep it in a two-hour broadcast. This extended the running time of the film from 8 P.M to 10:07 p.m. and sometimes even longer, depending on the amount of time spent on commercials. It was one of the first 50 films selected for this protection.[24]

Move to cable[edit]

In the 1980s, Ted Turner purchased the film from MGM, alongside Gone with the Wind. Because both films were still licensed to CBS, Turner and the network negotiated a deal that extended CBS' license for Oz in exchange for relinquishing its rights to Gone with the Wind.[25] In 1991, the film was shown twice during the year for the first time.[citation needed] 1991 also marked the first time since 1956 that the film was shown in November. This also happened in 1993, when the film was telecast in both February and November of that year. The film was not shown on television at all in 1992, 1995 and 1997, marking the first time since 1963 that a year was skipped in showings of the film. Turner, which owned most of the pre-May 1986 MGM film and television library at the time (later owned by Warner Bros.), began moving to make its properties exclusive to Turner-owned outlets in the late 1990s; as such, in 1998, The Wizard of Oz made its last appearance on CBS, moving exclusively to Turner-owned properties the next year.[26]

2000 marked the first time that the film was shown on U.S. television during the summer. In 2002, it was shown five times.[citation needed]

On November 6, 2011, TBS became the American television channel on which The Wizard of Oz has been shown most often, when the film had its 32nd showing on that channel, finally breaking CBS' record 31 showings. As of April 29, 2013, Turner Classic Movies has shown the film 23 times.

Differences between network and cable showings[edit]

In addition to the frequent cable showings, another difference between showings on NBC, CBS, the WB network, and cable channels is that when the film was shown on CBS and NBC, it was always presented as a special instead of just a televised film. From 1959 until it went to cable, the film was never shown on NBC Saturday Night at the Movies or any other movie anthology series, and telecasts of the film would regularly preempt two hours or more of regular television programming.[11]

Promos for the CBS and NBC showings during the 1960s would begin airing on television as far as two weeks in advance of that year's telecast and were still airing as late as 1989.[citation needed] On the major commercial networks, it was never termed a "CBS Movie Special" or an "NBC Movie Special", as movie specials shown on those networks are frequently termed, but as simply The Wizard of Oz.[citation needed]

Aspect ratio[edit]

The 1955 and 1998 theatrical re-releases were matted in movie theaters to produce a widescreen effect for the Academy-standard aspect-ratio film.

When shown in HDTV, the film is pillarboxed so that its aspect ratio is preserved.[27] On DVD, the film has always been issued in its original 1939 aspect ratio.[28][28][29]

Outside the United States[edit]

The movie has also been shown on television successfully in Great Britain, Canada and is shown every year in Australia, but it has not become the television phenomenon there that it has in the U.S.[30] In Indonesia, the film was aired for the first time on Indonesian television network RCTI in November 1989, with reruns on other four networks in the 1990s. In Japan, the film has aired on the Japanese version of The Magical World of Disney, although Disney had nothing to do with its production or release.[31]


  1. ^ "Television: The Oz Bowl Game". Time. January 15, 1965. Retrieved May 25, 2010. Parents are again preparing for the occasion. It will occur this coming Sunday for the seventh straight year, and the children, with a special restlessness, will collect around the television set in much the way that their fathers do for the professional football championships ... for the program has become a modern institution and a red-letter event in the calendar of childhood. ... CBS's annual telecast of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer's The Wizard of Oz. 
  2. ^
  3. ^ "Treasures of American History: The Wizard of Oz". National Museum of American History. Retrieved April 1, 2013. For generations, this 1939 MGM fantasy musical has held a cherished place in American popular culture. 
  4. ^
  5. ^ "Radio: Here Comes Hollywood". Time. November 12, 1956. Retrieved May 25, 2010. 
  6. ^ Brooks, Tim; Marsh, Earle (2003). "Ford Star Jubilee". The Complete Directory to Prime Time Cable and Network Shows 1946 - Present. Ballantine Books. p. 425. ISBN 0-345-45542-8. Last telecast: November 3, 1956 ... The last telecast of Ford Star Jubilee, however, was billed as a special event. It was the first airing of what later became a television tradition — Judy Garland's classic 1939 film The Wizard of Oz, with Judy's 10-year-old daughter Liza Minnelli and Bert Lahr (the Cowardly Lion from the film) on hand to introduce it. 
  7. ^ Adams, Val (August 14, 1956). "C.B.S. May Lease 750 M-G-M Movies". The New York Times. p. 53. Retrieved April 1, 2013. The only feature leased so far by M-G-M is 'The Wizard of Oz,' starring Judy Garland, which CBS plans to televise on its network during the Christmas season this year and again in 1957. It also has an option for third and fourth showings. The network will pay M-G-M $225,00 each time it televises 'The Wizard of Oz.'  Abstract; full article requires fee.
  8. ^ The Wizard of Oz: The Official 50th Anniversary Pictorial History, [clarification needed]
  9. ^ a b Fricke, John, and Jay Scarfone and William Stillman. The Wizard of Oz: The Official 50th Anniversary Pictorial History, Warner Books, 1989
  10. ^ Fricke, John, and Jay Scarfone and William Stillman. The Wizard of Oz: The Official 50th Anniversary Pictorial History, Warner Books, 1989, p.215
  11. ^ a b c d
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  13. ^ Fricke, John, and Jay Scarfone. The Wizard of Oz: The Official 50th Anniversary Pictorial History, Warner Books, 1989
  14. ^ "TV Screen," The Milwaukee Journal, Milwaukee, Wisc., 24 December 1961,
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  16. ^ Fricke, John, and Jay Scarfone. The Wizard of Oz: The Official 50th Anniversary Pictorial History, Warner Books, 1989, p. 214.
  17. ^ Fricke, John, and Jay Scarfone and William Stillman. "The Wizard of Oz: The Official 50th Anniversary Pictorial History", Warner Books, 1989.
  18. ^
  19. ^ Harmetz, Aljean "'Wizard of Oz': A TV Success Story," New York Times, March 16, 1983. pg. C21. ISSN 0362-4331.
  20. ^,%201966.pdf
  21. ^ Interesting Texts
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  24. ^ Glenn Collins, "A Full-Length 'Oz' for TV." New York Times. New York, N.Y.: March 19, 1991, p. C16. ISSN 0362-4331.
  25. ^ "The Wizard of Oz (1939): Notes". TCM. Retrieved 2014-02-08. 
  26. ^ Kissell, Rick (1998-04-06). "'Wizard' travels to TBS". Retrieved 2016-09-30. 
  27. ^
  28. ^ a b
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  30. ^ The Wonderful Wizard of Oz Website
  31. ^