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Wonderful World of Color

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Title: Wonderful World of Color  
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Subject: The Duck Family (Disney), Brandon deWilde, Brian Keith, Coppélia, James Daly (actor), John Anderson (actor), Candace Cameron Bure
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Wonderful World of Color

The Wonderful World of Disney
250 px
Opening title
Genre Comedy
Format Anthology series
Presented by Walt Disney (1954–1966)
Michael Eisner (1986–1997)
Opening theme "When You Wish upon a Star"
Country of origin United States
Original language(s) English
No. of seasons 53
No. of episodes 1,224
Running time 60–180 minutes
Original channel ABC (1954–1961)
NBC (1961–1981)
CBS (1981–1983)
ABC (1986–1988)
NBC (1988–1990)
Disney Channel (1990–1997)
ABC (1997–2008)
Disney Junior (2012–present)
Picture format 480i (SD), 720p (HD)
Audio format Mono
5.1 Dolby Surround Sound
Original run October 27, 1954 (1954-10-27) – September 24, 1983 (first run)
February 2, 1986 – December 24, 2008 (second run)
March 23, 2012 – present (third run)

Walt Disney Productions (later The Walt Disney Company) has produced an anthology television series under several different titles since 1954:

  • Disneyland (1954–1958)
  • Walt Disney Presents (1958–1961)
  • Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color (1961–1969)
  • The Wonderful World of Disney (1969–1979)
  • Disney's Wonderful World (1979–1981)
  • Walt Disney (1981–1983)
  • The Disney Sunday Movie (1986–1988)
  • The Magical World of Disney (1988–1990)
  • The Magical World of Disney on Disney Channel (1990–1997)
  • The Wonderful World of Disney (1997–2008)
  • The Magical World of Disney Junior (2012–present).

The original version of the series premiered on ABC, Wednesday night, October 27, 1954. The same basic show has since appeared on several networks, with its latest revival debuting in 2012 on Disney Junior.[1] The show is the second longest showing prime-time program on American television, behind its rival, Hallmark Hall of Fame (see List of longest-running U.S. primetime television series). However, Hallmark Hall of Fame was a weekly program only during its first five seasons, while Disney remained a weekly program for more than forty years.


Originally hosted by Walt Disney himself, the Disney series presented animated cartoons and other material (some original, some pre-existing) from the studio library. For many years, the show also featured one-hour edits of such then-recent Disney films as Alice in Wonderland, and in other cases, telecasts of complete Disney films split into two or more one-hour episodes.[2] Occasionally, a more educational segment, such as The Story of the Animated Drawing, would be featured.[3]


The show spawned the Davy Crockett craze of 1955 with the three-episode series (not shown in consecutive weeks) about the historical American frontiersman, starring Fess Parker in the title role. Millions of dollars of merchandise were sold relating to the title character, and the theme song, "The Ballad of Davy Crockett", was a hit record that year. Three historically-based hour-long shows aired in late 1954/early 1955, and were followed up by two dramatized installments the following year. The TV episodes were edited into two theatrical films later on.

On July 17, 1955, the opening of Disneyland was covered on a live television special, Dateline: Disneyland,[2] 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.[4]

In the fall of 1958, the series was re-titled, "Walt Disney Presents", and moved to Friday nights, but by 1960, it switched to Sunday nights, where it would remain for twenty-one years.

1960s and 1970s

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 in color.[2][5] 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.[6] In a display of foresight, Disney had filmed many of the earlier shows in color, so they were able to be repeated on NBC, and since all but three of Disney's feature-length films were also made in color, they could now also be telecast in that format. (The three Disney black-and-white films were The Shaggy Dog, The Absent-Minded Professor, and Son of Flubber, all family comedies starring Fred MacMurray.)

To emphasize the new feature, the series was re-dubbed "Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color", which premiered in September 1961,[7] and retained 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, and uncle of Donald Duck. Von Drake was the first Disney character created specifically for television.

Walt Disney died on December 15, 1966, twelve years after the anthology series premiered. While the broadcast three days after his death had a memorial tribute from NBC news anchor Chet Huntley with film and TV star Dick Van Dyke,[8] the intros Walt already filmed before his death continued to air for the rest 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, retitled, '"The Wonderful World of Disney"', in September 1969, continued to get solid ratings, often 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 two-and-a-half-hour special. This was 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 they had shown their films Now You See Him, Now You Don't and Napoleon and Samantha respectively in a two-hour format in 1975).[9] They also began showing some of their multi-episode television programs, such as the 1963 Sammy The Way-Out Seal, as televised feature films on the anthology series. A slightly edited version of the Disney classic 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea made its television debut as a two-hour special on NBC in October 1976.[9] Several more Disney films, some of them not especially successful (such as Superdad, an outright flop) were also shown in two-hour formats on the program that year. But the multi-episode format for feature films was not discontinued; as late as 1981, films such as Pollyanna were still being shown on the Disney program in several installments a week apart.[9]

During the early 1970s, the show began to concentrate less and 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.[9]

The show's continued ratings success in the post-Walt era came to an end in 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 slipping in the ratings as well. The show 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 except Alice in Wonderland and Dumbo. However, in an era when cable TV was in its infancy and VCRs did not exist, this was the only way to see Disney material that was not re-released to theaters. Additionally, in 1975, when CBS regained the broadcast rights to MGM's 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 owned the rights to Oz, (which it had bought 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. ET slot back to the networks, allowing NBC to move Disney back a half-hour. It also allowed CBS to schedule 60 Minutes at 7:00 p.m. ET starting December 7; before this, 60 Minutes had been telecast at 6:00 p.m. ET 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 greatly. In September 1979, the studio agreed to the network's request for changes. The show shortened its name to "Disney's Wonderful World", updated the opening sequence with a computer-generated logo and disco-flavored theme song, but kept the format largely the same. After comparing the ratings strength of 60 Minutes to the continuing problems of this show; low ratings, less and less original material, and frequent pre-emptions, NBC cancelled Disney in 1981.


CBS picked up the program in the fall of 1981 [5] and moved it to Saturday night at 8:00 p.m. Despite more elaborate credits and yet another title—now simply, Walt Disney—the format remained unchanged. It lasted two years there, its end coinciding with the birth of The Disney Channel on cable TV. While ratings were a factor, the final decision to end the show came from then-company CEO E. Cardon Walker, who felt that having both the show and the new channel active would cannibalize each other.[10]

After the studio underwent a change in management, the series was revived on ABC after three years of absence from the airwaves, it appeared as a two-hour program beginning February 2, 1986,[5] under the title, The Disney Sunday Movie (in the summer, the series was temporarily titled Disney Summer Classics), with new CEO Michael Eisner hosting. Eisner was not the first choice. Many names were considered including Julie Andrews, Dick Van Dyke, Cary Grant (who was asked but turned it down), Tom Hanks (Eisner felt he was "too young" and turned him down),[10] Walter Cronkite, Roy E. Disney (who closely resembled his uncle), and even Mickey Mouse.[11] Eisner was persuaded to do it. He was not a performer, but after making a test video with his wife Jane and a member of his executive team (which required multiple takes), the studio believed he could do it. He hired Michael Kay, a director of political commercials for then-U.S. Senator Bill Bradley, to help him improve his on-camera performance.[11]

The Disney Sunday Movie offered more original programming and a larger selection of library films than the Disney program had in the last few years of its original run, including another animated canon entry, 1973's Robin Hood. However, it still faced heavy competition from CBS; not only from 60 Minutes but now from the top-rated Murder, She Wrote at 8:00 p.m. ET. In the fall of 1987, ABC cut the show down to an hour. It moved back to NBC in 1988 under the new title The Magical World of Disney, where the competition problems it faced on ABC remained unchanged. NBC cancelled the show in 1990, and the title was used as a Sunday night umbrella for movies and specials on The Disney Channel from then until 1997; Eisner continued to host. The old name of The Wonderful World of Disney was used throughout the early part of the decade on many network specials.

1990s and 2000s

The series was revived once again on ABC in 1997,[5] one year after Disney purchased ABC. Again called The Wonderful World of Disney, it ran on Sundays until 2003, when it moved to Saturday night; it continued in that time slot until 2008 (airing in the midseason of 2005/06 and the summers of 2007 and 2008). Since 2005, Disney features have been split between ABC, NBC, the Hallmark Channel, ABC Family, and Disney Channel via separate broadcast rights deals. The show aired during the television midseason and/or the summer as an anthology series similar to Hallmark Hall of Fame with features such as the 2005 made-for-TV movie version of Once Upon a Mattress or commercial TV broadcasts of various films. The series finale aired Wednesday 8:00 p.m. ET on December 24, 2008, with a presentation of The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.


On March 23, 2012, the program was revived on the Disney Junior channel and was renamed The Magical World of Disney Junior.[1]


Around the same time as the 1980s ABC and NBC incarnations aired, reruns of older Disney episodes, airing under the Wonderful World of Disney banner, were syndicated to local stations in the United States as well as various International markets. In Australia, the show was broadcast on Network Seven, on Saturday Nights at 6:30pm, prior to being ended in 1994 due to the premiere of The Disney Channel on Optus Vision(later Foxtel), and Saturday Disney replacing the show as the Channel's Disney-based program.

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, TV shows and movies, 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 the late 1990s. When the channel purged all vintage material as of September 16, 2002,[12] this show went with it. However, a few select episodes can be found on VHS or DVD (some being exclusive to the Disney Movie Club), with the possibility of more being issued in the future.

Recently, live-action Disney films from the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s have been telecast commercial-free, uncut and letterboxed on Turner Classic Movies.

All of the episodes and existing material used in the series through 1996 are listed in the book The Wonderful World of Disney Television, by Bill Cotter (Hyperion Books, 1997 ISBN 0-7868-6359-5.)


The original format consisted of a balance of theatrical cartoons, live-action features, and informational material. Much of the original informational material was to create awareness for Disneyland. In spite of being essentially ads for the park, entertainment value was emphasized as well to make the shows palatable. Some informational shows were made to promote upcoming studio feature films such as 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and Darby O'Gill and the Little People. Some programs focused on the art and technology of animation itself.

Later original programs consisted of dramatizations of other historical figures and legends along the lines of the Davy Crockett mini-series. These included Daniel Boone (not the Fess Parker characterization), Texas John Slaughter, Elfego Baca, Francis Marion, the "Swamp Fox", and Kit Carson and the Mountain Man (1977), with Christopher Connelly as Kit Carson, Robert Reed as John C. Fremont, and Gregg Palmer as mountain man Jim Bridger.

Also included were nature and animal programs similar to the True-Life Adventures released in theatres, as well as various dramatic installments which were either one part or two, but sometimes more.

Each week, after the opening titles that showed the entrance to Disneyland itself, and the four main sections of Disneyland, and their descriptive slogans—Fantasy Land ("the happiest kingdom of them all"), Frontier Land ("tall tales and true, from the legendary past"), Adventure Land, and Tomorrow Land—one of these lands was identified as the main feature of that evening's program. Naturally "Davy Crockett" and other pioneers of the Old West, and American History generally, appeared in "Frontier Land". Similarly, "Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea" might be the focus of an evening spent in "Adventure Land". But it was also possible to present a documentary on "The Making of Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea" as a topic for "Adventure Land", including only snippets from the actual film. There was much adventure, indeed,[neutrality is disputed] in developing working versions of Jules Verne's diving suits, and devising effective ways of filming actors under water, in real tropical seas. The creation of a working model of the giant squid was similarly adventurous, as well as an anticipation of Disney's later animatronics.[neutrality is disputed] Topics for "Fantasy Land" could include 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. This might also include snippets from a "True-Life Adventure" documentary on the life and works of beavers and their dam-building. The use of stroboscopic stop-action photography, such as investigating what really happened when a rain-drop fell in a puddle, might appear, 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 another "Fantasy Land" topic. In one episode, four different artists were given the task of drawing the same tree. Each artist used his own preferred ways of drawing, and of imagining a tree. This led to cartoon examples of differently animated trees, as in some of the early "Silly Symphonies", and later full-length animated films. "Fantasy 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.

When the show was revived in 1986, the format was similar to a movie-of-the-week, with family-oriented TV movies from the studio making up much of the material. Theatrical films were also shown, but with the advent of cable television and home video, they were not as popular. The 1997 revival followed this format as well, with rare exceptions. A miniseries entitled Little House on the Prairie ran for several weeks under the TWWOD banner. Incidentally, this ABC revival included some non-Disney family films under the banner, such as 20th Century Fox's The Sound of Music and Warner Bros.' Harry Potter films, as well as television films such as Princess of Thieves from Granada Productions, and the 2001 remake of Brian's Song from Sony Pictures Television.

Films not yet televised

As of 2013, there are still two classic Disney films that have never been shown on American television at all in their entirety. They are Fantasia and Song of the South. Though it has been re-released to U.S. theatres several times,[13] and the Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah and Tar Baby segments have been shown on television, Song of the South has never been released on VHS or an authorized DVD in the U.S., due to the company's unease over the portrayal of Uncle Remus, a key black character in the film. No reason has been given for the withholding of Fantasia for telecast. Nearly all of its segments have been shown on television separately on the Disney TV program, notably The Sorcerer's Apprentice, as well as the uncensored Pastoral Symphony, but never the entire film with all its animated segments from start to finish.

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs never aired in its entirety on US TV (it was broadcast in Europe on the Disney Channel and Disney Cinemagic and was released on VHS, DVD and Blu-ray) before being telecast on February 14, 2010 on ABC Family, nearly 56 years after the beginning of the first Disney anthology show.

Theme music

The series has had numerous theme songs, most frequently using various arrangements of "When You Wish upon a Star" from the film Pinocchio. From 1961 to 1969, an original song was used, "The Wonderful World of Color," written by Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman & composed by Buddy Baker. This song 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.


Seasonal Nielsen ratings

Network Season Timeslot TV Season Season Premiere Season Finale Season
Viewers (m)
ABC 1 Wednesday 7:30 PM ET 1954–1955 October 27, 1954 July 13, 1955 #6 12.00
2 1955–1956 September 14, 1955 May 30, 1956 #4 13.05
3 1956–1957 September 12, 1956 June 5, 1957 #14 12.37
4 1957–1958 September 11, 1957 May 14, 1958
5 Friday 8:00 PM ET 1958–1959 October 3, 1958 May 29, 1959
6 Friday 7:30 PM ET 1959–1960 October 2, 1959 April 1, 1960
7 Sunday 6:30 PM ET 1960–1961 October 16, 1960 June 11, 1961
NBC 8 Sunday 7:30 PM ET 1961–1962 September 24, 1961 April 15, 1962 #23 11.02
9 1962–1963 September 23, 1962 March 24, 1963 #24 11.22
10 1963–1964 September 29, 1963 May 17, 1964 #21 11.87
11 1964–1965 September 20, 1964 April 4, 1965 #11 13.54
12 1965–1966 September 19, 1965 April 10, 1966 #17 12.49
13 1966–1967 September 11, 1966 April 2, 1967 #19 11.85
14 1967–1968 September 10, 1967 April 28, 1968 #25 11.73
15 1968–1969 September 15, 1968 March 23, 1969 #22 12.41
16 1969–1970 September 14, 1969 March 29, 1970 #9 13.81
17 1970–1971 September 13, 1970 March 14, 1971 #14 13.46
18 1971–1972 September 19, 1971 April 9, 1972 #19 13.66
19 1972–1973 September 17, 1972 April 1, 1973 #9 15.23
20 1973–1974 September 16, 1973 March 13, 1974 #13 14.76
21 1974–1975 September 15, 1974 March 23, 1975 #18 15.07
22 Sunday 7:00 PM ET 1975–1976 September 14, 1975 July 25, 1976
23 1976–1977 September 26, 1976 May 22, 1977
24 1977–1978 September 18, 1977 June 4, 1978
25 1978–1979 September 17, 1978 May 13, 1979
26 1979–1980 September 17, 1979 July 27, 1980
27 1980–1981 September 14, 1980 August 16, 1981
CBS 28 Saturday 8:00 PM ET 1981–1982 September 26, 1981 July 31, 1982
29 1982–1983 September 25, 1982 September 24, 1983
ABC 30 Sunday 7:00 PM ET 1985–1986 February 2, 1986 June 22, 1986
31 1986–1987 September 21, 1986 August 30, 1987
32 1987–1988 October 4, 1987 May 22, 1988
NBC 33 1988–1989 October 9, 1988 July 23, 1989
34 1989–1990 October 1, 1989 August 26, 1990
ABC 42 1997–1998 September 28, 1997 May 18, 1998 #30 13.50[14]
43 1998–1999 September 27, 1998 May 30, 1999 #45 11.90[15]
44 1999–2000 September 26, 1999 May 14, 2000 #29 12.82[16]
45 2000–2001 October 8, 2000 May 31, 2001 #39 12.10[17]
46 2001–2002 September 16, 2001 May 19, 2002 #38 11.20[18]
47 2002–2003 November 3, 2002 July 27, 2003 #53 10.10[19]
48 Saturday 8:00 PM ET 2003–2004 September 27, 2003 May 10, 2004 #99 7.39[20]
49 2004–2005 October 16, 2004 June 17, 2005 #96 6.93[21]
50 2005–2006 November 3, 2005 July 8, 2006 #137 5.30[22]
51 2006–2007 December 16, 2006 August 4, 2007 #208[23] 4.28[24]
52 2007–2008 December 23, 2007 December 24, 2008 #172[25] 4.01[26]

Awards and nominations

Emmy Awards


  1. Best Individual Program of the Year (Operation Undersea, 1955)
  2. Best Television Film Editing (Lynn Harrison, Grant K. Smith, Operation Undersea, 1955)
  3. Best Action or Adventure Series (1956)
  4. Best Producer – Film Series (Walt Disney, 1956)
  5. Outstanding Program Achievement in the Field of Children's Programming (1963)
  6. Outstanding Program Achievements in Entertainment (Walt Disney, 1965)
  7. Special Classification of Outstanding Program and Individual Achievement – Programs (Ron Miller, executive producer, 1971)
  8. Outstanding Main Title Design (1998)


  1. Best Television Film Editing (Chester W. Schaeffer, "Davy Crockett: Indian Fighter", 1955)
  2. Best Single Program of the Year ("Davy Crockett and River Pirates", 1956)
  3. Best Musical Contribution for Television (Oliver Wallace, 1957)
  4. Outstanding Program Achievement in the Field of Children's Programming (1962)
  5. Outstanding Program Achievements in the Fields of Variety and Music – Variety (1962)
  6. Outstanding Children's Program (Walt Disney, Ron Miller (Further Adventures of Gallagher, 1966)
  7. Outstanding Achievement in Children's Programming – Programs (Ron Miller, executive producer, 1969)
  8. Outstanding Achievement in Children's Programming – Programs (Ron Miller, executive producer, 1970)
  9. Special Classification of Outstanding Program and Individual Achievement – General Programming (Ron Miller, producer, 1972)
  10. Special Classification of Outstanding Program Achievement (Ron Miller, executive producer, 1977)
  11. Outstanding Children's Program (The Art of Disney Animation, 1981) [27]

Home video

Several home video releases have included episodes of the anthology series.

  • On Vacation with Mickey Mouse and Friends
  • Kids Is Kids
  • The Adventures of Chip 'N' Dale
  • Bambi Platinum Edition
    • Tricks of Our Trade [Excerpt]
  • Peter Pan Special Edition
    • The Peter Pan Story Featurette
  • Peter Pan Platinum Edition
    • The Peter Pan Story Featurette
  • Dumbo 60th Anniversary Edition
    • Walt Disney Introduction
  • Dumbo Big Top Edition
    • Walt Disney Introduction
  • Lady and the Tramp Platinum Edition
    • A Story of Dogs ("making-of" segment)/[Excerpt]
    • A Cavalcade of Songs (excerpt)/[3-Minutes Excerpt]
  • Johnny Tremain
    • The Liberty Story (first half)
    • Johnny Tremain, Part One (excerpt)
    • Johnny Tremain, Part Two (excerpt)
  • Sleeping Beauty Special Edition
    • An Adventure in Art (segment: "Four Artists Paint One Tree")
    • The Peter Tchaikovsky Story (Life of Tchaikovsky segment only)
  • Sleeping Beauty Platinum Edition
    • An Adventure in Art (segment: "Four Artists Paint One Tree")
    • The Peter Tchaikovsky Story (complete episode – two versions)
  • Pollyanna
    • Pollyanna, Part One (introduction)
    • Pollyanna, Part Two (introduction)
    • Pollyanna, Part Three (introduction)
  • Swiss Family Robinson
    • Escape to Paradise/Water Birds (first half)

See also


External links

  • Internet Movie Database
  • Disney interview in TV Guide (1961) (regarding the move from ABC to NBC)
  • by Bill Cotter
  • Episode list (1954–1996)

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