Disney was not only one of the most important producers in motion
picture history, but one of the most important producers in American
television history as well. He pioneered a relationship between
the motion picture industry and the fledgling television industry,
helped ensure the success of a third television network, promoted
the transition from live broadcasts to film, and championed the
conversion to color television in the mid-1960s.
Disney was quoted in the 1930s as having no interest in television,
that opinion had changed drastically by the early 1950s, when television
burst onto the American social scene. On Christmas Day in 1950 for
NBC and again in 1951 for CBS, Disney produced hour-long specials
that employed a number of clips from various Disney films and short
subjects. Both specials achieved excellent ratings, and soon all
three networks were wooing Disney to create an entire series for
interest in television was stimulated by his attempts to construct
the Disneyland theme park in Anaheim, California. Encountering difficulty
in financing the project, Walt offered network executives a television
series in return for a substantial investment in the park. ABC,
trailing substantially behind NBC and CBS, had just merged with
United Paramount Theatres in 1953, and used this new influx of cash
to fulfill Disney's request. The resultant anthology series, appropriately
named Disneyland, premiered in late 1954, quickly becoming
the first ABC program to crack the Nielsen Top 20.
relationship with ABC contradicted the strategy espoused by the
rest of the film industry. During this period Hollywood studios
viewed television as a competitor to motion pictures, and attempted
to crush the medium. Walt, on the other hand, quickly saw TV's potential
as a promotional tool. The first two specials combined old footage
with promotions for upcoming theatrical releases such as Alice
in Wonderland (1951). Disney's first Emmy would be awarded for
an hour-long Disneyland episode about the filming of 20,000
Leagues Under the Sea (1954) titled "Operation Undersea," but
humorously known within the industry as "The Long, Long Trailer."
The series also worked to advertise the park, with individual episodes
devoted specifically to its construction.
other studios were attempting to duplicate Disney's success. Series
such as The MGM Parade and Warner Brothers Presents
quickly appeared promoting their latest releases. They disappeared
almost as quickly, mainly because Disney and his studio had constructed
a unique image for themselves as producers of family entertainment.
With a backlog of animated features and shorts, Disney came to television
already known for entertaining children around the world (knowing
the value of this backlog, Disney held onto the television rights
to all of his films, at a time when all of the other studios were
raising revenue by selling off the permanent television rights to
their entire pre-1948 film catalog). From years of marketing towards
children, Disney understood how children could influence their parents
to buy products. After Disneyland's "Davy Crockett" episodes
created a merchandising phenomenon, The Mickey Mouse Club,
a daily afternoon series, was introduced. One of the first attempts
by television programming to target children, advertisers now conceived
of children as a marketable group and initiated a tradition of weekday
afternoon programming oriented toward younger audiences.
The studio's background in film production led to the decision to
film the episodes, allowing for higher production values, rather
than performing them live. The high-quality look of the series (and
the subsequent involvement of other film studios in television production)
helped shift television programming from live broadcasts to filmed
entertainment. Long before color television technology became regulated
and promoted, Disneyland episodes were filmed in color. Disney would
promote the conversion to color when the anthology series, renamed
Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color, moved in 1961 to
NBC, which was beginning color broadcasts.
importance to television as a producer of programming is incalculable.
His success had an enormous effect on decisions by motion picture
studios to enter into television production, thus guaranteeing programming
for the fledgling medium. Yet, Disney is also important as a television
icon as well. Working as host for the anthology series until the
end of his life in 1966, Walt Disney quickly became identified by
most children as "Uncle Walt." With an easy-going manner and a warm
smile, Walt spoke to viewers in a Midwestern twang, enthusiastically
demonstrating how certain special effects were created for his films,
explaining the latest advances in space technology, or narrating
a beloved fairy tale accompanied by scenes from his animated features.
Usually filmed in a set that looked like his studio office, Walt
gave the impression that he would drop all business to spend some
time with his audience or engage in banter with cartoon characters
Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck (who "magically" interacted with Walt
as if they actually existed in the same space with him). More than
in any other way, Walt's presence and persona helped represent his
company as promoters of American family values, and television itself
as a "family medium." Even after his death, the company's television
productions and subsequent cable channel reinforce that image of
wholesome family entertainment.
Michael Eisner (1986-1990)
October 1954-September 1958 Wednesday
September 1958-September 1959 Friday
September 1959-September 1960 Friday
September 196O-September 1961 Sunday
September 1961-August 1975 Sunday
September 1975-September 1981 Sunday
September 1981-January 1983 Saturday
January 1983-February 1983 Tuesday
July 1983-September 1983
February 1986-September 1987 Sunday
September 1987-September 1988 Sunday
October 1988-July 1989 Sunday
July 1989 Sunday
August 1989-May 1990 Sunday
May 1990-July 1990 Sunday
July 1990-August 1990 Sunday
August 1990-September 1990
Christopher. Hollywood/TV. Austin, Texas: University of Texas
Joe. Prince Of The Magic Kingdom: Michael Eisner And The Re-Making
Of Disney. New York: Wiley, 1991.
Katherine, and Richard Greene. The Man Behind the Magic: The
Story of Walt Disney. New York: Viking, 1991.
Richard, and Brian Sibley. The Disney Studio Story. New York:
Richard. The Disney Version. New York: Simon and Schuster,
Eric, editor. Disney Discourse: Producing The Magic Kingdom.
New York: Routledge, 1994.