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'The Wizard of Oz' television tradition continues on TNT

Ray Bolger, Jack Haley, Judy Garland and Bert Lahr off to see the Wizard.
Ray Bolger, Jack Haley, Judy Garland and Bert Lahr off to see the Wizard.
vigilant citizen

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.



  • B-Boy 4 years ago

    I like the link between Pink Flod's Dark Side of the Moon and this movie. If you start the CD/LP at the roar of the lion in the MGM logo just as the film starts, you will enjoy a great musical backdrop to the film. It seems that the music moves along with the movie in perfectly matched emotion and spirit.
    Anyone ever done it?

  • Profile picture of Brian Daley
    Brian Daley 4 years ago

    Yes, the "Dark Side of the Moon" similcast is's especially helpful if one is a bit stoned while watching it this way, but, of course, I would not know anything about that.

  • Wally 4 years ago

    Buddy Epsen was all set to play the Tin Man, but turned out to be allergic to the silver paint used for his makeup, and was forced to abandon the part. At the time the switch to Jack Haley was made, Epsen had already participated in recording some of the songs....if you listen carefully, you can single out his voice in "We're Off to See the Wizard".

  • Jeff 4 years ago

    Judy Garland once claimed in an interview that many of the Munchkins were heavy drinkers, and were hard to control on the set...It would have interesting to srr what the film would have been like if Shirley Temple had played Dorothy, as originally planned.

  • Sally B 4 years ago

    What's unusual about Jack Haley and Judy Garland?

  • Diane W. 4 years ago

    When the movie switches to color (when Dorothy opens the door in Munchkinland) they used a double wearing a black and whilte checkered dress and she steps out of the camera's shot and then Judy Garland steps back in wearing the blue and white dress.

  • Eddy 4 years ago

    The Shirley Temple as Dorothy story is re-told and re-told. The truth is when MGM first acquired the rights to the L. Frank Baum it was talked about only. Shirley's studio Fox would never have lent her to another studio for any picture. That little girl brought them out of bankruptcy. The truth is when planning and pre-production started on "Wizard" it was a vehicle for Judy Garland. MGM had been looking for the perfect vehicle for Garland's talents and Wizard of Oz was it. Thank God for that because that role and Judy Garland's remarkable talents have helped keep that film forever young.