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Wide World of Sports

ABC's Wide World of Sports is an ABC network sports anthology program which aired from April 29, 1961 to January 3, 1998, lasting for 37 seasons.

The show was hosted by Jim McKay, with a succession of co-hosts beginning in 1987.

Format

"Wide World of Sports" was intended to be a fill-in show for a single summer season, until the start of fall sports seasons, but became unexpectedly popular.

The goal of the program was to showcase sports from around the globe that were seldom (if ever) broadcast on American television.

The show originally ran for two hours on Saturday afternoons, but was later reduced to 90 minutes.

Usually, "Wide World" featured two or three events per show (including many types not previously seen on American television) such as hurling, rodeo, curling, jai-alai, firefighter's competitions, wrist wrestling, powerlifting, surfing, logger sports, demolition derby, slow pitch softball, barrel jumping and badminton.

Background

"Wide World of Sports" was the creation of Edgar Scherick through his company, Sports Programs, Inc. After selling his company to ABC, he hired a young Roone Arledge to produce the show.

The series' April 29, 1961 debut telecast featured both the Penn and Drake Relays.

Jim McKay (who hosted the program for most of its history) and Jesse Abramson, the track and field writer for the New York Herald Tribune, broadcast from Franklin Field with Bob Richards as the field reporter.

Jim Simpson called the action from Drake Stadium with Bill Flemming working the field.

Athlete of the Year

In 1963, ABC Sports producers began selecting the "Athlete of the Year". Its first winner was track and field star Jim Beatty for being the first to run a sub-4-minute mile indoors.

Throughout the years, this award was won by such now legendary athletes of Muhammad Ali, Jim Ryun, Lance Armstrong, Mario Andretti, Dennis Conner, Wayne Gretzky, Carl Lewis and Tiger Woods.

The award was discontinued in 2001.

The end of Wide World of Sports

In later years, with the rise of cable television offering more outlets for sports programming, "Wide World of Sports" lost many of the events that had been staples of the program for many years (many, although not all, of them ended up on ESPN, a sister network to ABC for most of its existence).

On January 3, 1998, Jim McKay announced that the show had been canceled after a 37-year run. However, the "Wide World of Sports" name remained in use afterward as an umbrella title for ABC's weekend sports programming.

In August of 2006, ABC Sports came under the oversight of ESPN, under the relaunched banner name ESPN on ABC.

The "Wide World of Sports" title continues to occasionally be revived for Saturday afternoon sports programming on ABC, most recently during the 140th Belmont Stakes as a tribute to Jim McKay, following his death in June 2008.

In 2017, it was used for the revival of the "Battle of the Network Stars".

Broadcast History

During its initial season in the spring and summer of 1961, "Wide World of Sports" was initially broadcast from 5:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. Eastern Time on Saturdays.

Beginning in 1962, the show was pushed to 5:00 to 6:30 pm, and later to 4:30 to 6:00 pm. Eastern Time to allow ABC affiliates in the Eastern and Central Time Zones to carry local early-evening newscasts.

Announcers

Hosts

  • Jim McKay (1961–1998)
  • Becky Dixon (1987–1988)
  • Frank Gifford (1987–1993)
  • Julie Moran (1994–1995)
  • John Saunders (1995–1996)
  • Robin Roberts (1996–1998)

Event Announcers

Play-by-Play

  • Tim Brant
  • Howard Cosell
  • Becky Dixon
  • Chris Economaki
  • Bill Flemming
  • Terry Gannon
  • Frank Gifford
  • Curt Gowdy
  • Keith Jackson
  • Jim Lampley
  • Jim McKay
  • Al Michaels
  • Julie Moran
  • Brent Musburger
  • Paul Page
  • Bud Palmer
  • Jerry Punch
  • Robin Roberts
  • John Saunders
  • Chris Schenkel
  • Al Trautwig
  • Steve Zabriskie

Reporters

  • Chris Economaki
  • Bill Flemming
  • Keith Jackson
  • Jim Lampley
  • David Letterman
  • Stirling Moss
  • Sam Posey
  • Jerry Punch
  • Jody Scheckter
  • O. J. Simpson
  • Lynn Swann
  • Al Trautwig
  • Lesley Visser
  • Rodger Ward
  • John Watson
  • Jack Whitaker

Analysts

  • Donnie Allison
  • Chris Economaki
  • Phil Hill
  • Ned Jarrett
  • Fred Lorenzen
  • Mickey Mantle
  • Cheryl Miller
  • Don Meredith
  • Stirling Moss
  • Sam Posey
  • Bill Russell
  • Jackie Stewart
  • Rodger Ward

Spin-offs

In 1961, "Wide World of Sports" covered a bowling event in which Roy Lown beat Pat Patterson. The broadcast was so successful that in 1962, ABC Sports began covering the Professional Bowlers Tour.

In 1964, the show covered the Oklahoma Rattlesnake Hunt championships; the following year, ABC premiered outdoor program "The American Sportsman", which remained on the network for nearly 20 years.

In 1973, the Superstars was first televised as a segment on Wide World of Sports; the following year, the Superstars debuted as a weekly winter series that lasted for 10 years.

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