The show debuted April 29, 1961, featuring the Drake Relays from Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, along with the Penn Relays from Franklin Field in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and was the creation of Edgar J. Scherick through his company, Sports Programs, Inc. After selling his company to the American Broadcasting Company, Scherick hired a young Roone Arledge to produce the show. Arledge would eventually go on to become the executive producer of ABC Sports (as well as president of ABC News). Scherick became Vice President of Network Programming at ABC. Several years later, he became a film and television producer, with over seventy titles to his credit.
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, Wide World of Sports covered the Oklahoma Rattlesnake Hunt championships. The following year, The American Sportsman premiered, and it would stay on 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.
Athlete of the Year
In 1963, the producers of ABC Sports began selecting the Wide World of Sports 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. Through the years, this award was won by the likes of Muhammad Ali, Jim Ryun, Lance Armstrong, Mario Andretti, 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 much of its appeal. Ultimately, the Wide World of Sports name was used as an umbrella title for ABC's weekend sports programming. Wide World of Sports discontinued its traditional anthology series format in 1997.
On January 3, 1998 Jim McKay declared that Wide World of Sports was cancelled after 37 successful years.
In August 2006, ABC Sports was effectively displaced by the concept of ESPN on ABC. The Wide World of Sports name continues to occasionally be revived for Saturday afternoon sports programming on ABC, most recently during the 140th Belmont Stakes as a tribute to the recently deceased Jim McKay.
Sports featured on Wide World of Sports
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 show was to showcase sports from around the globe. It originally ran for ninety minutes on Saturday afternoons, and featured two or three sports per show. These included many types not normally seen on American television, such as hurling, rodeo, curling, jai-alai, firefighter's competitions, surfing, logger sports, demolition derby and badminton. NASCAR Grand National/Winston Cup racing was a Wide World of Sports staple until the late 1980s. Traditional Olympic sports such as figure skating, skiing, gymnastics, and track and field competitions were also regular features of the show. The broadcast was hosted for most of its history by Jim McKay.
Wide World of Sports aired from 5:00 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. Eastern Time and later 4:30 p.m. to 6:00 Eastern Time.
Wide World of Sports was the first program to air coverage of 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 X-Games, the Grey Cup, and many other events.
The show was introduced by a stirring, brassy musical fanfare (composed by Charles Fox) over a montage of sports clips and dramatic accompanying narration 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… This is ABC's Wide World of Sports! ”
It was written by Stanley Ralph Ross.
The melodramatic introduction became a national catch phrase that is often heard to this day. While "the thrill of victory" had several symbols over the decades, ski jumper Vinko Bogataj, whose dreadful misjump and crash of March 21, 1970 was featured from the early 1970s onward under the words "...and the agony of defeat", became a hard-luck hero of sorts, and an affectionate icon for stunning failure. Previously, the footage played with that phrase was of another ski jumper who made a long, almost successful jump, but whose skis lost vertical alignment shortly before landing, leading to a crash. Later in the 1990s, an additional clip was added to the "agony of defeat" sequence after Bogataj's accident. Footage of a crash by Alessandro Zampedri, Roberto Guerrero and Eliseo Salazar during the 1996 Indianapolis 500 shows a car flipping up into the catchfence. The "oh no!" commentary that accompanies it, however, is dubbed from commentary by Benny Parsons of a different crash in a different race (1997 NASCAR Purolator 500). Bogataj's mishap is also commemorated in Rich Hall's book Sniglets as "agonosis," which is defined as "The syndrome of tuning in on Wide World of Sports every weekend just to watch the skier rack himself."