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1956: The Wizard of Oz Shown For The First Time On TV

Entertainment | November 3, 2021

Source: (IMDb).

Before 1955, most major Hollywood studios did not broadcast feature films on network television, with the exception of Walt Disney. By 1956, this had begun to change, with the studios selling the films to local television stations. On November 3, 1956, The Wizard of Oz became the first major film to be shown in its entirety during a single evening on an entire television network.

Source: (IMDb).

The Original Release Did Not Show A Profit

The Wizard of Oz was released in theaters on August 25, 1939. The film, which cost $ 2.777 million to make, not including promotional costs, was MGM’s most expensive film at the time. It was somewhat successful during the original release and was a critical success, but it did not make a profit with the original release. It was nominated for six Academy Awards, including Best Picture, and it won two: Best Original Song for “Over the Rainbow” and Best Original Score. In 1949, it was re-released and finally made a profit, bringing in a total of a little more than three million dollars. 

Source: (IMDb/Pinterest).

The Movie Begins Its Journey To Television

Prior to the television release of The Wizard of Oz, CBS offered MGM $1 million to lease Gone with the Wind, but MGM refused. At the same time, they offered $225,000 per year to lease The Wizard of Oz, which MGM agreed to. In 1959, the broadcast time shifted to 6 PM E.S.T., which attracted more children; during this year, after it had skipped two years, it became an annual event. In 1991, the yearly broadcasts stopped. The telecast not only became an annual event, but also had an impact on color television. While much of the film is in color, by 1964, only 3.1 percent of households in the U.S. had color televisions, and there were very few television shows shot in color which made this an even more unusual event.

Source: (Pinterest).

CBS Used Hosts To Fill Additional Time 

The television premier of the film came as a feature of the Ford Star Jubilee, a show that ran 90 minutes typically. However, to accommodate the entire movie, the show was expanded to two hours, but the film was 101 minutes, so CBS needed to add something to fill the missing 19 minutes. With the 1956 television premiere, CBS added host segments which featured 10-year-old Liza Minelli, Bert Lahr, the actor who played the Cowardly Lion and a young Oz expert named Justin G. Schiller. The premier of the film earned a 33.9 rating and a 52.7 audience share. Between 1960 and 1968, other networks ran Disney specials opposite it, and beat out those shows. In 1968, the film changed networks, moving to NBC because MGM had increased its price. On the 25th anniversary, in 1983, it still had a 49 percent audience share.

Red Skelton and his daughter as hosts. Source: (Red Skelton wiki-fandom).

The Host Segments Were Creative

From 1959-1967, CBS continued to have hosts just as they had done with the premier, but during these years, they were quite creative, and several hosts brought their own children. For the second telecast, in 1959, Red Skelton hosted, appearing as two characters, a Victorian storyteller introducing the book to a young girl in a library, played by Skelton’s daughter, and, at the end of the telecast, Skelton appeared as himself in a living room. In 1960, Richard Boone, the star of Have Gun, Will Travel, hosted from the set of his show. And from 1964-1967, Danny Kaye hosted against an image of the yellow brick road and the emerald city on a painted backdrop. When the film moved to NBC, it no longer used the host segments, as the extra time was filled in by commercials. In 1976, it returned to CBS and was hosted one last time, by Angela Lansbury. 

Source: (IMDb).

Changes Over The Years

It was cut slightly from 1968 to 1984 so that they could make room for additional commercial time, and a few times starting in 1985, they made it “time-compressed” (it runs slightly faster, which is supposedly undetectable) so that it fit into the two-hour slot and allow for commercials. In 1991, it had gained protected status from the Library of Congress and the National Film Preservation Board, which meant that, starting with the March 1991 showing, they could not do any microcutting of the film to shorten it. Now, in addition to its telecasts on network television, it appears on cable, often airing on Turner Network Television, Turner Classic Movies, and WTBS. However, were it not for this original airing on CBS, there’s a strong chance most of us would not have seen the film which became an annual viewing event.

Tags: MGM | Wizard of Oz

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