by Keith Mahne
The Walt Disney television series moved to NBC on September 24, 1961 to take advantage of that network's ability to broadcast in color. In addition, Walt Disney's relationship with ABC had soured as the network resisted selling its stake in the theme park before doing so in 1960. In a display of foresight, Disney had filmed many of the earlier shows in color, so they were able to be repeated on NBC, and since most of Disney's feature-length films were also made in color, they could now also be telecast in that format. To emphasize the new feature, the series was re-dubbed, "Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color", which premiered in September of 1961, and retained that moniker until 1969. Continue after the page break for the very first episode of Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color...
The first NBC episode dealt with the principles of color, as explained by a new character named Ludwig Von Drake (voiced by Paul Frees), a bumbling professor with a thick German accent, and uncle of Donald Duck. Von Drake was the first Disney character created specifically for television.
Sadly, Walt Disney died on December 15, 1966, twelve years after the anthology series premiered. While the broadcast three days after his death had a memorial tribute from NBC news anchor Chet Huntley with film and TV star Dick Van Dyke, the intros Walt already filmed before his death continued to air for the rest of the season. After that, the studio decided that Walt's persona as host was such a key part of the show's appeal to viewers that the host segment was dropped. The series, retitled, '"The Wonderful World of Disney"', in September 1969, continued to get solid ratings, often in the Top 20, until the mid-1970s.
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