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Fifty Years Ago Sunday, NBC Unveiled Two 'Wonderful' Shows -- One With a Mouse, One with a Moose
September 24, 2011  | By David Bianculli

The TV fall season is an annual tradition that, anemic though it seems today, has endured for half a century -- but 50 years ago, broadcast TV gave us a lot more about which to be enthusiastic. In 1961, by this point, CBS already had introduced the brilliant courtroom drama The Defenders, and had Carl Reiner's superb The Dick Van Dyke Show waiting in the wings for an early October debut.

And 50 years ago Sunday, on Sept. 24, 1961, NBC revamped its prime-time opening lineup by presenting two new series whose titles are sure to bring a smile to anyone who watched them: The Bullwinkle Show, followed immediately by Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color...


Both these shows were acquisitions of sorts. Animator Jay Ward and his cohorts had been producing Rocky and His Friends as a cartoon series since 1959, but for ABC's weekday afternoon schedule. NBC brought it to prime time, where Ward offered several different supporting segments, but kept Rocky the Flying Squirrel, and Bullwinkle the Moose, as the opening and closing acts.

ABC, up to that point, also had been the network home of Walt Disney. His Disneyland prime-time series, largely a sly but effective weekly infomercial for his movies and theme park, had begun in 1955, and by 1960 had morphed into Walt Disney Presents.

But NBC lured Disney by pushing a telchology ABC, at the time, couldn't match: an all-color showcase. This was business, not altruism: NBC was vested in pushing color TVs, since its parent company at the time, RCA, manufactured them. The Bullwinkle Show, too, was in color on NBC -- so whether viewers watched Bullwinkle J. Moose or Mickey Mouse on Sunday nights, their world was a carousel of color. Wonderful, wonderful color... As you can see from the opening credits:

Well, that was true for some viewers, anyway. In 1961, my family's TV set was still an old black-and-white clunker. But I watched those two shows religiously anyway. And, 50 years later, even without a YouTube clip as a reminder, if I close my eyes and think back, I can still see Tinker Bell fly.

Rocky, too.




Eileen said:

Growing up, these two shows were "must see" tv. It was a Sunday ritual to gather around in the family room to watch them together. Sadly, another family tradition gone by the wayside.

There are really no family tv shows of this quality to actually be viewed together. But then, in the stone age (as my kids would refer to it), we didn't have cell phones, ipods, ipads, video games... Sunday was the one night of the week where it was almost a command performance; but as kids we didn't feel it was an imposition, but rather time well spent together.

And I think my father looked forward to The Bullwinkle Show more than we kids did; he really couldn't get enough of those characters, and I'm laughing typing this just thinking about it.

Back then, it was the little things... like Tinker Bell!

[Thanks, Eileen. I smile at the memories, too. And it's weird, but comforting, to know exactly where I was 50 years ago today: In front of the TV set, with my family, watching those two shows. No question. And for the rest of the year, virtually no exceptions... - DB]

Comment posted on September 25, 2011 3:25 PM
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