Our World is an ABC network news series created by Roone Arledge, anchored by Linda Ellerbee & Ray Gandolf which premiered on September 25, 1986.
Despite being critically well received and profitable for the network, the series performed poorly in the Nielsen ratings, as its first half-hour was programmed against NBC's "The Cosby Show", ABC canceled the show after one season on May 28, 1987. Linda Ellerbee attempted to move the series to the PBS network, but was unsuccessful in doing so.
Each episode of the series examined (through the use of archival film and television footage) one short period in American history.
Each episode was produced on a budget of $350,000 (which was less than half of the budget of a typical hour of prime time programming at the time).
Critical response to "Our World" was overall very favorable.
Reviews of the premiere episode, however, were somewhat tepid, with The New York Times saying "There are worse ways to spend an hour" and calling the show "a pleasant hour", while pointing to segments such as an interview with "a man, who, 17 years ago, slept in the house next door to a house struck by the Manson gang", as "not terribly interesting."
The Los Angeles Times was harsher, calling the debut "rather bland". While praising anchors Ellerbee and Gandolf, calling them "refreshing [and] off-center, running against the TV mainstream, making words, not whoopee", the Times ultimately felt that "Our World offers no sense of who we really were in 1969 because, typical of TV, it renders everything equal."
With subsequent episodes, reviews improved. The Boston Globe, comparing its debut episode ("a gloppy nostalgia trip that presented history the way MTV presents rock, in digestible, unrelated, bland bite-sized bits") to an episode airing less than five months later, found it "light years ahead in terms of wit, style and historical perspective. It is still easily digestible, but there's nothing bland about it."
The St. Petersburg Times said of the show, "It educated, but it was not school. It entertained, but it was not mindless. It was quality - television's noblest service."
The San Diego Union concurred, citing "Our World" as "the most refreshing, fascinating and innovative history series ever on TV".
Popular response was much less effusive.
The show averaged 9 million viewers per episode, as compared to "The Cosby Show" which garnered an average 63 million viewers per week. Our World was the lowest rated prime time show of the 104 that aired during the 1986-87 television season, bringing in only a 6.5/10 rating/share.
One segment of the public who responded very favorably to the program was teachers, who assigned "Our World" as homework. ABC created a study guide for the show, mailing out some 39,000 copies a month to educators and fans.
Gandolf, Ellerbee and Richard Gerdau won Emmy Awards for "Outstanding Individual Achievement in News and Documentary Programming" (writing) for the episode "Halloween 1938".
Cancellation and attempted move to PBS
ABC canceled "Our World after its first season, replacing it with situation comedies "Sledge Hammer!" and "The Charmings". Linda Ellerbee and Ray Gandolf learned that the show had been canceled from a segment on "Entertainment Tonight."
Ellerbee sharply criticized ABC for the cancellation, saying, "If they had left it there for three to four years, it could have done what 60 Minutes did, which went against the Disney juggernaut on NBC. It could have developed slowly as an alternative program without being in the ratings race."
The advocacy group Viewers for Quality Television mounted a letter-writing campaign to save the show (similar to campaigns that had saved "Designing Women" and "Cagney and Lacey"), generating some 20,000 letters of support, but the campaign was unsuccessful.
PBS expressed interest in obtaining the show. Although ABC asserted rights to the name "Our World," Ellerbee said, "We never liked that title to begin with" and stated that the name "Your World" was under consideration.
Ellerbee planned to co-produce the show through her production company, Lucky Duck Productions, in partnership with WNET. Ultimately, she was unable to secure the estimated $5 million needed to produce the first season of 13 episodes and "Our World" did not make the transition to PBS.
In 1988, CBS tried to revive the format of "Our World" with a television pilot called "Try to Remember", but it was not picked up as a regular series.