The first incarnation of the Walt Disney anthology series,
commonly called The Wonderful World of Disney, premiered on
ABC on October 27, 1954 under the name Disneyland.
Hosted by Walt Disney himself, the show presented cartoons and other
material (some original, some pre-existing) from the studio library. This
is significant because the series was the first one from a major movie
studio. Other studios feared television would be the death of them.
The show spawned the Davy Crockett craze of 1955 with the miniseries
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.
In July of 1955, the opening of Disneyland was covered on this show,
hosted by Walt along with Bob Cummings, Art Linkletter, Ronald Reagan, and
various other guests.
The series moved to NBC in 1961 to take advantage of that network's
ability to broadcast in color.In a marvelous display of foresight, Disney
had filmed many of the earlier shows in color, so they were able to be
repeated on NBC. To emphasize the new color feature, the series was
re-dubbed Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color and retained that moniker
until 1969. The first NBC episode even dealt with the principles of color,
as explained by a comical character named Ludwig Von Drake, a bumbling
professor and uncle of Donald Duck. The character's voice was supplied by
Paul Frees (After his death, Corey Burton took over to replace him as the
role of Ludwig Von Drake).
When Walt Disney died in 1966, no one replaced him as host, as everyone
agreed that his presence, characterized by a warm, folksy persona, was
irreplaceable. The series continued to get solid ratings, often in the Top
20, until the mid-1970s. At this time, Walt Disney Productions was facing
a decline in fortunes, with declining box-office revenues. It also did not
help that CBS had placed 60 Minutes directly
opposite it. The show continued to slip in the ratings until NBC cancelled
it in 1981; an attempt to modernize the show in the fall of 1979 was
purely cosmetic. Much of the decline is often attributed to the declining
amount of new material. The show became increasingly dependent on airings
of theatrical features and cartoons and reruns of older episodes.
CBS picked it up and moved it to Saturday night; the format remained
unchanged, and ratings were marginally improved. 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.
After the studio underwent a change in management, the series was
revived on ABC in 1986, with new CEO Michael Eisner hosting. His presence
couldn't compare with Walt's (Eisner himself is said to have required 68
takes in his first introduction), and the show moved to NBC in 1988 before
ending in 1990. The series was revived again on ABC in 1997 after Disney
purchased ABC where it ran on Sundays until 2003 when it moved to Saturday
Reruns of the 1954-1983 shows were a staple of the Disney Channel for
several years, 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. When the channel purged all vintage
material, this show went with it. However, a few select episodes can be
found on videotape or DVD, and there is no reason to suggest that more
won't come out eventually.
All of the episodes from 1954-1990 are listed in the book The
Wonderful World of Disney Television, by Bill Cotter, published in
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 Texas John Slaughter, Elfego Baca, and Francis Marion, the
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.
This format remained basically unchanged through the Awesome80s, though
new material, as discussed earlier, 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 TV and home video, they were not as popular. The 1997
revival has followed this format as well.
- For its first four years, the series used the song "When You
Wish Upon a Star" as its theme. The recording was the same one
that was used in the movie Pinocchio.
- From 1961 to 1969, an original song was used, written by Richard M.
Sherman and Robert B. Sherman. This song helped to emphasize the use
of color with its lyrics.
- From 1969 to 1979, various orchestral medleys of various Disney
songs from movies and theme parks were used as theme songs.
- From 1979 to 1983, a disco-styled theme was written to emphasize the
new visual changes, even though the format remained the same. The song
was by John Debney and John Klawitter.
- From 1981 to 1983, a short disco arrangement of "When You Wish
Upon a Star," believed to have been arranged by Frank Gari,
served as theme against some elaborate, then-state-of-the-art computer
- From 1986 to 1990, a synthesized, pop-rock arrangement of "When
You Wish Upon a Star" was the theme.
- Since 1997, an orchestral medley of When You Wish Upon a Star
and A Whole New World (the latter was used in the movie Aladdin).
This is the current theme music.
Dates of network affiliation, show titles, and time slots
- October 27, 1954 September 3, 1958: Wednesday, 7:30 PM
- Walt Disney Presents
- September 12, 1958 September 25, 1959: Friday, 8:00 PM
- October 2, 1959 September 23, 1960: Friday, 7:30 PM 8:30
- September 25, 1960 September 17, 1961: Sunday, 6:30 PM
- Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color
- September 24, 1961 September 7, 1969: Sunday, 7:30 PM
- The Wonderful World of Disney
- September 14, 1969 August 31, 1975: Sunday, 7:30 PM 8:30
- September 7, 1975 September 11, 1977: Sunday, 7:00 PM
- September 18, 1977 October 23, 1977: Sunday, 7:00 PM
- October 30, 1977 September 2, 1979: Sunday, 7:00 PM 8:00
- Disney's Wonderful World
- September 9, 1979 September 13, 1981: Sunday, 7:00 PM
- Walt Disney
- September 26, 1981 January 1, 1983: Saturday, 8:00 PM
- January 4, 1983 February 15, 1983: Tuesday, 8:00 PM 9:00
- July 9, 1983 September 24, 1983: Saturday, 8:00 PM 9:00
- The Disney Sunday Movie
- February 2, 1986 September 6, 1987: Sunday, 7:00 PM 9:00
- September 13, 1987 September 11, 1988: Sunday, 7:00 PM
- The Magical World of Disney
- October 9, 1988 July 2, 1989: Sunday, 7:00 PM 8:00 PM
- July 9, 1989 July 23, 1989: Sunday, 8:00 PM 9:00 PM
- August 6, 1989 February 25, 1990: Sunday, 7:00 PM 8:00
- March 4, 1990 April 15, 1990: Sunday, 7:00 PM 9:00 PM
- April 22, 1990 May 6, 1990: Sunday, 7:00 PM 8:00 PM
- May 27, 1990 July 22, 1990: Sunday, 7:00 PM 9:00 PM
- August 5, 1990 September 9, 1990: Sunday, 7:00 PM 8:00
- 1990 - 1997: Sunday, 7:00 PM (various formats)
- The Wonderful World of Disney
- September 28, 1997 September 2003: Sunday, 7:00 PM 9:00
- September 2003 September 2004: Saturday, 8:00 PM 10:00
- September 2004 present: Saturday, 8:00 PM 11:00 PM