Winky Dink and You
Winky Dink and You was a CBS children's television show that aired from 1953 to 1957, on Saturday mornings at 10:30 a.m. Eastern / 9:30 Central. It was hosted by Jack Barry and featured the exploits of a cartoon character named Winky Dink (voiced by Mae Questel) and his dog Woofer, with sound effects provided by Joseph Scholnick. The show, created by Harry Prichett, Sr. and Ed Wyckoff, featured Barry and his sidekick, the incompetent Mr. Bungle (Dayton Allen), introducing clips of Winky Dink, noted for his plaid pants, tousled hair, and large eyes.
Praised by Microsoft mogul Bill Gates as "the first interactive TV show", the show's central gimmick was the use of a "magic drawing screen", which was a large piece of vinyl plastic that stuck to the television screen via static electricity. A kit containing the screen and various Winky Dink crayons could be purchased for 50 cents. At a climactic scene in every Winky Dink short, Winky would arrive upon a scene that contained a connect the dots picture. He would then prompt the children at home to complete the picture, and the finished result would help him continue the story. Examples include drawing a bridge to cross a river, an axe to chop down a tree, or a cage to trap a dangerous lion.
Another use of the interactive screen was to decode messages. An image would be displayed, showing only the vertical lines of the letters of the secret message, which viewers at home would quickly trace onto their magic screen. A second image would then display the horizontal lines, completing the text.
A final use of the screen was to create the outline of a character with whom Jack Barry would have a conversation. It would seem meaningless to viewers without the screen, further encouraging its purchase.
Harry Prichett came up with the core idea of drawing on the screen when working as a graphic designer for an advertising agency in the early '50s. The agency had the account for Benrus Watches, a principal sponsor of Your Show of Shows, NBC's Saturday evening variety show starring Sid Caesar and Imogene Coca. Benrus reported that a number of its dealers had to deal with viewers who were angry to find that the expensive wristwatch on one of the commercials could not be bought for $39.95. (This is about $325 in 2010 dollars but was considered a modest price for a watch at that time.) The agency was concerned that viewers were not seeing the "and up" after the "$39.95" because early TV sets varied in overscan by which they "cut off" the edges of the picture. Agency staffers were asked to watch the show and report back what was visible on their screens. Prichett decided to put a piece of Cellulose acetate film (a standard tool in graphic arts at the time) over the screen so that he could use a Grease pencil to sketch exactly which parts of the commercial were visible. As he waited, he started to add drawings to the images on the screen, then erase them and add new ones. It seemed obvious that children would enjoy working with television this way.
Cancellation and revival
The program was successful because of its pioneering interactive marketing scheme, and Winky Dink became one of television's most popular characters of the 1950s. However, the show's production was halted despite its popularity because of concerns about x-rays from TV picture tubes. This was particularly true for early color television sets. CBS was also concerned about parents' complaints that children who didn't possess the interactive screen were drawing directly on the TV screen.
The show was revived in syndication for 65 episodes beginning in 1969 and ending in 1973. In the 1990s, a new "Winky Dink Kit" was sold containing a screen, crayons, and all-new digitized Winky Dink and You episodes.