“Disneyland,” a show created mainly for financial support of the new park, was the first ABC series to top Nielsen’s Top Twenty List. It was also the first prime-time anthology series for children, and the first to incorporate miniseries
Walt Disney produced only a few television specials early in the 1950s. His very first appearance was on “One Hour in Wonderland,” broadcast on Christmas Day, 1952. This hour program displayed Walt Disney (who still needed work on his acting skills), along with many characters from Alice in Wonderland (which came to theaters in 1953). The show was more like an hour long commercial, with clips of many Disney films.
It really wasn’t until 1954 that Walt seriously pursued the idea of a weekly show. At this time, he had plans cooked up for a real “Magic Kingdom,” Disneyland, a year-round amusement park divided into four areas—Frontierland, Adventureland, Fantasyland, and Tomorrowland. He turned to television, not only because of promotion, but of the high need of financial support for his new idea.
The ABC network, which had merged with United Paramount Theaters in 1953, agreed to invest in the venture and to carry the proposed series, named appropriately “Disneyland.” Along with the deal, ABC owned part of Disneyland. Thus, Walt Disney was able to use the show to promote the park and publicize upcoming theatrical features from Disney Studios. The series’ premiere telecast, “The Disneyland Story,” aired October 27, 1954. The program displayed the construction of the park, and announced the park, officially, to the public. Over the succeeding years, several shows were devoted to Disneyland.
The mixture of programs during the first year consisted of edited versions of previously released theatrical features, along with a number of original productions. The original shows included documentaries on natural history, behind-the-scenes broadcasts from the Walt Disney Studios, and several adventure/dramatic shows. The most popular programs of the first season fell into the latter category: the three Davy Crockett segments. These shows may properly be considered as television’s first miniseries.
In the fall of 1958 the title of Disney’s series was changed to Walt Disney Presents. Later that season a Disney experiment produced one of the first stereophonic broadcasts of a television program; on January 30, 1959, “The Peter Tchaikovsky Story” was telecast, and in certain cities the audio portion of the broadcast was transmitted by two radio stations—an AM station carried one channel, while an FM outlet carried the other (FM multiplex stereo was still a phenomenon of the future).
After seven seasons on ABC, the Disney programs were switched to NBC in the fall of 1961; the new network affiliation gave Walt Disney the opportunity to broadcast in color. Thus the show was retitled to Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color. On September 21, 1961 the programs premiere, Walt Disney introduced his first major new cartoon character in years, the highly knowledgeable Professor Ludwig Von Drake, in “An Adventure in Color, Mathmagic Land.” It was the first of several educational shows hosted by Von Drake, who was an uncle of Donald Duck.
Most of the weekly shows were personally hosted by Walt Disney himself. In his early acting on television he seemed to friendly, and obviously was acting; however, as the series’ continued his narration and monologue’s seemed perfectly natural.
Today, many of the old Disney Television shows can be seem on “Vault Disney,” on the Disney Channel.