Like many Disney fans, I am still upset that the Disney Channel was highjacked by 'Tween Programming (programming for pre-teenagers) and that as part of that new philosophy, the late night Vault Disney programming was eliminated. The original concept for the Disney Channel when it began over twenty years ago was to focus on programming for the entire family.
Back in April 1983 with the official launch of the Disney Channel, Peggy Christianson who was Vice President of Program Development for the channel, said, "We really want adults and children to sit down and watch the Disney Channel together. Walt Disney never aimed at children alone. He always aimed at entertaining a family audience with a quality product and positive values that would appeal to people of all ages."
The plan was to balance the programming with one third existing Disney material, one third original programming and one third material that had been acquired from outside sources but was in "keeping with the Disney identity and values".
As the Disney Channel launched, Christianson announced the original shows that were planned for the new cable system. So let's take a look at what was planned for that first year on the Disney Channel. Some shows never made it. Some appeared very briefly. Others are probably old favorites.
WELCOME TO POOH CORNER -- "The characters will be played by live actors wearing flexible body suits to give them a full range of movement. And the facial expressions of the characters will be electronically controlled by the actors inside the suits, who will have touch pads in their hands that will allow them to raise their eyebrows, blink their eyes, wiggle their noses and smile. The sound track will be fed through a voice actuator so that the jaw and lip movement are synchronized with the sound electronically," stated Christianson. The show was to be produced by Frank Brandt with original songs by the Sherman Brothers in this show for preschoolers of the adventures of Winnie the Pooh and his friends in the Hundred Acre Woods.
YOU AND ME, KID -- "The idea of the show is to give a parent the opportunity to sit down with his/her child in front of the television set and spend time together that is quality time. We're literally going to give the parents and the children activities that they can do together while they watch the program. There will be dramatic play, exercises, dance and music. But all of these activities will allow the parent and the child to participate as a pair. They won't just be sitting beside each other, but they will be actually holding on to each other, using each other as counterweights in exercises or playing games together. Many parents today really don't know how to play with their kids. It's something that has gotten lost. Television has become the baby sitter. This show will be pure activity and fun," said Christianson.
MOUSTERPIECE THEATER -- "The show will provide some real background information about the cartoons, too, which will appeal to trivia buffs. It's a way of presenting the cartoons in a fresh format that adults can enjoy, even if they've seen the cartoons before," claimed Christianson. Well, host George Plimpton who was spoofing the popular MASTERPIECE THEATER show on PBS didn't get around to sharing that background information unfortunately and the joke wore thin fairly quickly which probably helped spawn MOUSE TRACKS and QUACK ATTACK that featured more cartoons and no commentary.
EPCOT CENTRAL -- This was to be a daily one hour magazine show based on a variety of human interest topics and would originate from the one year old EPCOT Center at Walt Disney World. Ron Miziker who was Vice President of Programming for the Disney Channel claimed that "EPCOT Center is the world's most exciting backlot. Where else could you find entertainment based on a presentation of current issues such as energy and environment as well as a 'stage' which has scenes and symbols from nine foreign countries?"
EPCOT's AMERICA! AMERICA! -- Another show to emanate from EPCOT Center. "It will focus on the heritage and thoughts and feelings of Americans. It will include segments from Future Choice Theater at EPCOT Center, where members of the audience are given a chance to vote on questions that affect us all. The show will also go out to various locations around America, introduce us to some fascinating Americans, and reveal some aspects of our heritage that are vanishing," gushed Christianson.
WISH UPON A STAR -- Children between the ages of seven to twelve will see their wishes come true during this weekly half-hour program. Children would write in telling about their wishes and each week four wishes would be selected to be fulfilled on the show. "This will be a logistically complex show," understated Christianson, "In many cases, it will mean meeting the children at their homes and flying all over the country to locations where the wishes are to be fulfilled. Children are sending in their wishes now, and some of them are wonderfully imaginative. Most of them are very positive upbeat wishes. Some of them are fairly big, dramatic wishes, and others are rather simple, but on the show, they'll be fulfilled in a way that's fun and visually exciting. This show will have a lot of heart."
CONTRAPTION -- A life-sized three-dimensional game board is the framework for the show which is aimed at stimulating children's observation and retention skills. The competition itself is derived from questions about Disney film clips shown on the program. Successfully answering those questions will advance participants across the colorful game board and accumulate the points necessary to win. "This will be a very visual show," claimed Christianson, "The contraption itself is very elaborate with lots of bells and whistles. There's a physical element to the game as well. For example, children might be required to bicycle to one station and row to the next to advance on the board."
NEW! ANIMAL WORLD -- A daily half hour show hosted and produced by Bill Burrud to introduce the audience to intriguing animals like the snow monkey of Japan or walking catfish or the great spotted cats. Each show also will feature a quiz (which was to tie in with a special section in the Disney Channel magazine).
DISNEY STUDIO SHOWCASE -- An hour long weekly show which would be a showcase of different things. This is the show that had a episode of animation historian John Culhane going behind the scenes at the Disney Studio and meeting a very young Tim Burton working on "Vincent", discovering special effects for "Baby" and seeing Mike Giamo and Darryl Van Citters working on the first version of "Roger Rabbit". "The showcase will be completely different from one week to the next. One week it might visit the Ringling Brothers College of Clowns and the next week it might present the best commercials seen at Cannes. It really is intended to allow a lot of room for creative experimentation," emphasized Christianson.
THE SCHEME OF THINGS -- "This will be a highly technical show. It is intended to help people relate to science and see it in a meaningful context in their own lives. It will be a show that the whole family will be able to enjoy together," stated Christianson. The show was to be hosted by James McArthur.
DREAMFINDERS -- This is the show that I mentioned in a previous article and still no one came forward with any new information about this show that featured actor Jack Kruschen as Dreamfinder. The show was aimed at children from ages six to twelve and was to focus on problem solving, imagination and creativity. "We hope this show will help children become more aware of their own creative resources. The main characters are Dreamfinder and Figment, a little dragon, who travel in the dream machine at Epcot Center to explore the creative process. The show will have elaborate sets and a variety of characters and story lines to convey to children some of the elements involved in creativity, imagination and problem-solving in the largest sense," said Christianson.
COMING ON! -- This show was designed to travel to college campuses all over the country to showcase the young talent in the various performing arts departments. The show would provide a look at some of the stars of tomorrow as well as offering a view of the various colleges visited.
MOUSERCISE -- Based on the then popular record album of the same name, "This will be an exercise show with lots of Disney music. It will have Mickey Mouse and Goofy leading exercises with children in the Mickey Mouse Health Club setting and will encourage the audience at home to join in," said Christianson.
DO-IT-YOURSELF DETECTIVE -- An interactive show that provides clues that will enable participants on the screen and those viewing at home an opportunity to solve various complex and intriguing cases.
ANIMATE -- This show was intended to give the viewing audience a behind-the-scenes look at the animation process. It was to include interviews with well-known Disney animators, show how voice tracks are made, and provide the opportunity for looking at never-before-seen pencil tests of favorite Disney films as well as showing viewers how they can do simple animation themselves. "We know that we have a built-in audience for this show," stated Christianson, "One thing kids always ask us is 'Teach me to draw Mickey'."
FIVE MILE CREEK -- An original adventure series based on the history of Americans who settled in Australia in the 1870s. "The series portrays the struggle of both the Americans and the Australians in that period. It shows the contrast between the American and the Australian approach to a challenging environment," stated Christianson.
Peggy Christianson was certainly enthusiastic about the launch of the Disney Channel in April 1983 and was already looking forward to even more original programming: "The majority of the ideas for the present shows have been generated internally, and we have sought outside producers to do the actual production. Disney owns the shows including all the rights. We are a little different from most of the other services in this respect. But this is not an absolute rule. I think we'll probably be more receptive to ideas from the outside now. We're always willing to look at good concepts that have the values we know our audience is looking for. We are going to provide viewers with a real alternative."
"DISNEY CHANNEL" WAS REALLY GOOD BACK THEN, IF YOU LOOK AT "DISNEY CHANNEL" TODAY, THEY NOW TURNED INTO A 'TWEEN'-ORIENTED CHANNEL, I CAN'T STAND THE NEW "DISNEY CHANNEL" BECAUSE THEY AIR "SO RANDOM!", "SUITE LIFE ON DECK" AND "JESSIE", I WANT TO GO BACK TO THE EARLY YEARS OF "DISNEY CHANNEL" SO THAT'LL MAKES ME MOVE AWAY FROM ALL OF THE 'TWEEN' TRASH THE NETWORK AIRS AS OF TODAY!!