Now over 70 years old, “The Wizard of Oz’s” status as one of America’s most beloved films has only solidified over the past several decades. Starring Judy Garland, the 1939 musical fantasy makes another one of its frequent television appearances Friday, December 17th at 9 pm on TNT. Despite several Academy Award nominations which resulted in three Oscars, “The Wizard of Oz” was only considered moderately successful during its original run, turning a modest $1 million profit for the MGM studio. As with the case of “It’s a Wonderful Life,” it was the advent of television that exposed the picture to new generations of viewers, eventually elevating the film to iconic status. In 1998, the American Film Institute listed “The Wizard of Oz” #6 in its 100 Years…!00 Movies, while Judy Garland’s ballad, “Over the Rainbow” ranks #1 in AFI’s 100 Years…100 Songs.
Prior to the mid-1950’s, most major Hollywood studios avoided selling any of their major productions to any of the major television networks, believing TV to be a competing medium. In 1955, NBC broadcast a live presentation of “Peter Pan” staring Mary Martin, which proved a huge ratings winner. Eager to match the Peacock network’s success, CBS convinced MGM to accept a $225,000 offer to air “The Wizard of Oz”, which had not be seen publicly since a 1949 theatrical re-release. On Sunday, November 3rd, 1956, “The Wizard of Oz” became the first major Hollywood film to be shown uncut in one evening on a major television network. Airing at 9 pm, CBS telecast “The Wizard of Oz” in its now familiar part black and white, mostly color format, although few viewers owned color sets at that time.
In December of 1959, CBS began running “The Wizard of Oz” on a yearly basis, a practice many baby boomers remember as a highly anticipated annual event. With a 6 pm starting time, the two hour telecast would typically be followed by “The Ed Sullivan Show”, allowing CBS to provide a solid block of family friendly viewing. During its nine year tenure on CBS, broadcasts of “The Wizard of Oz” would include a host, who would provide introductions and simple commentary throughout the telecast. Hosting duties were assigned to current CBS personalities, which included Red Skelton, Dick Van Dyke, Richard Boone and Danny Kaye. In 1964, CBS moved the annual showings of “The Wizard of Oz” to January, and in 1968, NBC acquired the broadcast rights, moving the telecasts to spring.
Eventually, VCR’s, DVD’s and other innovations gave audiences several different ways they could view classic films, and “The Wizard of Oz” ceased being an annual network television special. But being moved to cable has only increased its number of showings, and TNT’s Friday night presentation will mark the 103rd showing of “The Wizard of Oz” on commercial television.
Trivia: After the December 1962 airing of “The Wizard of Oz”, CBS decided to move the next season’s broadcast to January, thus making 1963 the only calendar year since 1958 to not include a showing of “The Wizard of Oz.”
Note: Since this article concentrated mainly on the broadcast history of “The Wizard of Oz,” readers are invited to contribute their own favorite piece of “Wizard of Oz” information or trivia.