When Sunday Night Became Event Night
Disney and RCA Create A Wonderful World Of Color TV Sales
Dateline December 1961: NBC execs and affiliates meet to celebrate 35 years of network success. Parent company RCA has a greater than ever stake in the peacock, its feathers plumed for record number of color broadcast hours (1,630 for 1961-62 said NBC trade ads). All of brass is convened at the Beverly Hilton Hotel, RCA board chairman Gen. David Sarnoff delayed thanks to stop-off in
Sarnoff and NBC boss Robert Kintner estimated a million as "good round figure" of sales for color television, nearly half that generated since RCA's early '61 push. There were 179 NBC affiliates broadcasting in color, but prices for a home set came high, beyond reach of most. Initially $1000 when RCA first offered color in 1954, now the cost was half that, but how many had $500 to sink in such a luxury? Sarnoff and crew were confident we'd come up with it somehow, especially now that their network, at least on big viewing Sundays, was a virtual paint-box. The campaign needed a name like Disney's to shake consumer money off trees, and even though it would be mid-sixties before color really took hold, this was a good start. Whatever lucky family had a set could count on neighbors stopping in for Disney and Bonanza parlay. What child of the era didn't beg Mom/Dad for family purchase of the rainbow? That little COLOR box on TV Guide listings was narcotic all sought, but few could afford. I'd defy anyone who grew up in the 60's not to remember when a first color set entered the house.
NBC had been after Disney since his dissatisfaction with ABC became known, first for an animated situation comedy after fashion of The Flintstones, "nixed" by Walt, "who has frequently been described as a man who won't undertake a project unless he likes it," said Variety. He didn't like this one, so no go. Besides, each episode would cost upward of $80K, a figure NBC blanched at. They had their deal by then (February 1961) for the Sunday series, but wanted more. Would Disney let the network re-run his western shows from the ABC pact, such as
Premiere night was brazen for making color the be-all for watching, Variety commenting that Disney's "entertainment quotient" was, at least for a first half, left "dangling on a promissory note" as he delivered what amounted to a "demonstration piece" for RCA television. Who'd complain, however, of Walt himself giving guided tour of Sunday night's future, now securely in his hands? Lead-in was The Bullwinkle Show at 7:00, also color, and opportunity for families to settle supper dishes and gather round the tube for main event that was Disney. NBC figured dials pointing their way for whole of an evening, Bonanza having been moved to 9:00 and also a showcase for color. Even black-and-white hiccup of Car 54 --- Where Are You? got traction for coming between Disney and the Cartwrights, Proctor and Gamble grabbing exclusive sponsorship in hope that Disney's audience would stick out another thirty minutes with the net while waiting for Bonanza. As to Disney sponsor, it was, of course, RCA, but also Eastman Kodak, which was a fit, as they were pitching color possibilities of a new camera line. The Wonderful World Of Color was bold statement that a black-and-white viewing world was soon to go, with NBC and RCA applying the push. Question, though: Did viewers lacking finance for the expensive new sets resent the crowd-out?
Disney emphasized progress, as he'd been wont to do over a long career, showing clips from Steamboat Willie to illustrate how he'd put a silent era to rout ("crude and primitive" he called the 1928 short). Glimpse Walt gives of first-in-Technicolor Flowers and Trees also points up refinements needed, that he had supplied with Fantasia, highlight of which illustrates animation in full-flower. The Wonderful World Of Color was nothing if not polished. There are songs, including a theme, written fresh for the occasion by the Sherman Brothers, and a new cartoon character, Prof. Ludwig Von Drake, joins the menagerie. Von Drake was less funny than talkative, easing some of Walt's host duty as weeks rolled up in that first season. Lengthy lecture on color values eats thirty minutes before we plunge into Donald In Mathmagic Land, a featurette that had gone out with Darby O' Gill and The Little People to 1959 theatrical dates.
Disney policy changed little for all of dramatic switch to a new network and color. Lots more would tune in, simply for muscle NBC had over comparative puny ABC. There would be library dependence, as with the old