ESPN is announcing that it will mark the 50th anniversary of the program that put ABC Sports on the map and became one of the most important in the history of sports television. Wide World of Sports not only gave us our first glimpses of the Daytona 500, the Indianapolis 500, the NCAA Final Four, Wimbledon, figure skating, the Open Championship, gymnastics, track & field, as well as the Little League World Series, it also propelled Muhammad Ali into superstardom. The program used great announcers like Jim McKay, Keith Jackson, Jim Simpson, Bill Flemming, Frank Gifford, Howard Cosell, just to name a few.
In addition, Wide World gave daredevil Evel Knievel and the Harlem Globetrotters regular exposure. It was a regular staple on ABC on Saturday afternoons at 5. In the 1970′s, the program was a ratings juggernaut that Executive Producer Roone Arledge created a Sunday edition to counterprogram the NBA on CBS and the NHL on NBC to great success, often beating both in the process.
But by the 1990′s, the program was showing its age and ESPN which had taken over the ABC Sports division canceled Wide World in 1997.
Starting Friday, ESPN begins a weeklong celebration which will air mostly on ESPN Classic. There will be programs on ESPN Radio and ABC as well. Let’s take a look at what will be aired. I do wish some of these programs would air on ESPN instead of ESPN Classic as Classic’s viewership has been greatly reduced as it’s been placed on sports tiers. But take a look at what will be available.
70 Hours of Memorable Moments on ESPN Classic Starting April 25
Culminates with Special Winners Bracket on ABC April 30
ESPN will commemorate the 50th anniversary of the iconic ABC Sports program Wide World of Sports with a multi-platform celebration, highlighted by 70 hours of memorable moments on ESPN Classic. The tribute will begin Friday, April 22, on ESPN Radio and starting Monday, April 25, on ESPN Classic, capped by 29 consecutive hours of WWOS beginning Thursday, April 28, at 7 p.m. ET. The marathon of memories will climax with the show’s 30th and 35th Anniversary Specials.
“Two generations of sports fans grew up on ABC’s Wide World of Sports, were introduced to the broad diversity that is sport and will never forget the opening words and visuals that defined its mission,” said John Skipper, ESPN executive president, content. “The legacy of Wide World also lies in the blueprint that became ESPN and lives on in what we do every day, serving fans and a broad range of tastes with innovation.”
Other elements of the tribute to WWOS:
- Friday, April 22 – ESPN Radio’s The Sporting Life hosted by Jeremy Schaap at 10 p.m. will have a segment commemorating the anniversary.
- Sunday, April 24, at 9 a.m. – ESPN’s Outside the Lines with host Bob Ley will look back at the legacy of Wide World. With interviews from the show’s producers and on-air personalities, OTL will look at the many events, locations, legendary moments, and colorful personalities that helped form television’s most endearing sports series.
- Friday, April 29, at 4 p.m. – SportsNation on ESPN2 with co-hosts Colin Cowherd and Michelle Beadle will count down the top 10 WWOS moments as voted by fans from a list of 25 on www.SportsNation.com in a poll that will be posted this weekend.
- Saturday, April 30, at 5 p.m. – Winners Bracket on ABC will review 16 great moments in WWOS history and chose the best via a bracket format. There will also be a countdown of the show’s top 10 all-time “agony of defeat” moments. The 60-minute highlight-driven and often light-hearted program is hosted by ESPN SportsNation co-host Michelle Beadle and ESPN contributor and former NFL All Pro Marcellus Wiley. It is part of the ESPN Sports Saturday two-hour block of sports programming on ABC (4-6 p.m.).
For a complete schedule of ESPN Classic’s Tribute to Wide World of Sports, click Schedule. Highlights include:
Mon., April 25
7 a.m. Arnold Schwarzenegger wins Mr. Olympia, mountain climbing with Bobby Kennedy.
10 p.m. A review of daredevil Evel Knievel’s famous motorcycle jumps.
11 p.m. Howard Cosell and Muhammad Ali discuss the boxer’s career.
Tue., April 26
9 p.m. Displaying the show’s variety, highlights include track & field from Russia, U.S. volleyball in Cuba, gymnastics in China, soap box derby in Akron, Ohio, rattlesnake roundup and cutterhorse racing
11 p.m. More with Ali, his 1975 fights w/Chuck Wepner, Ron Lyle and Joe Frazier in the last of their trilogy.
Wed., April 27
8 p.m. More from the “constant variety of sports” – hydroplane racing, skateboarding championships and ice boat racing.
Thurs., April 28
9 p.m. 1968 Dune Buggy Championships, 1965, ’66 and ’68 Reno Air Races, with a crash by the “Red Baron,” Steve Hinton
11 p.m. A series of interviews with Howard Cosell talking to Ali, Wilt Chamberlain, Pete Rozelle, Joe Namath, Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs.
Fri., April 29
12 a.m. The first Wide World of Sports – Drake Relays and Penn Relays
9 p.m. WWOS 30th Anniversary Special, hosted by Jim McKay
10:30 p.m. WWOS 35th Anniversary Special, hosted by Robin Roberts
About Wide World of Sports
Originally envisioned as a fill-in show for one summer, Wide World of Sports debuted April 29, 1961, with a young future legend, Jim McKay, as host. The opening show featured the Drake Relays from Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, along with the Penn Relays from Franklin Field in Philadelphia. Unexpected popularity led to WWOS becoming a fixture on Saturday afternoons – and eventually an iconic program in sports television history.
With a memorable opening voiced by McKay – “Spanning the globe to bring you the constant variety of sport… the thrill of victory… and the agony of defeat… the human drama of athletic competition” — its goal was to showcase sports large and small from around the world. In so doing, it introduced the American sporting audience to such things as hurling, rodeo, curling, jai-alai, cliff diving, firefighter’s competitions, surfing, logger sports, demolition derby, slow pitch softball, and badminton. Traditional Olympic sports such as figure skating, skiing, gymnastics, and track and field competitions were also regularly aired, as was NASCAR Grand National/Winston Cup racing. Just emerging from its Southeastern roots, it was not the nationally popular weekend staple it is today.
Wide World of Sports broke many barriers, and was the first program to air Wimbledon, The Indianapolis 500, the NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship, the Daytona 500, the U.S. Figure Skating Championships, the Little League World Series, Triple Crown, The Open Championship, the Grey Cup, and many other events. WWOS discontinued its traditional anthology format in 1997.
Again, Wide World did not discontinue the anthology format, it was ESPN that discontinued it. This makes it sound that Wide World made the decision to end it. Not the case.