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Series / Wide World of Sports

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Spanning The Globe!

"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!"
Jim McKay's opening narration

ABC's Wide World of Sports was a sports anthology series that aired from April 29, 1961 until January 3, 1998. Originally tapped to be a filler for the 1961 summer season, it became an unexpected hit, spawning multiple imitators and several notable spin-offs. 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 helped to put ABC Sports (and its producer, Roone Arledge) on the map in the '60s, paving the way for the network's later success in such ventures as Monday Night Football. The show's popularity led to other networks rolling out similarly-formatted programs, including CBS's Sports Spectacular and NBC's Sportsworld. None of the imitations ever achieved Wide World's ratings or iconic status, however.

In 1997, Disney opened Disney's Wide World of Sports Complex at Walt Disney World, a multi-sport complex for both amateur sports and special events that takes its name after this program. However, the late '90s saw the rise of ESPN—which was established by ABC essentially as 24-hour Wide World—and other cable outlets removed much of Wide World's appeal, leading to its eventual cancellation in 1998. The brand occasionally shows back up for special broadcasts (as was the case for the 2008 Belmont Stakes, which used the Wide World title as a tribute to the recently deceased Jim McKay). Today, only the Disney World sports complex is keeping the name extant, though it was rebranded with ESPN replacing Disney's name in 2010.

Has nothing to do with the Nine Network's branding of its sports coverage. Over in Britain, ITV's flagship Saturday afternoon sports show, which ran from 1960 to 1985, was called World of Sport and sometimes aired footage from this show.

Wide World of Sports contained examples of:

  • Butt-Monkey: So many displays of "the thrill of victory," but that one Epic Fail described downward...
  • Epic Fail: Slovenian ski jumper Vinko Bogataj. For decades his spectacular fall in a 1970 Ski-Flying World Championship competition would symbolize Jim McKay's "the agony of defeat" (which lives to this very day) in the opening montage.
  • Highly-Conspicuous Uniform: Those yellow ABC Sports blazers.
  • Mood Whiplash: Fans who tuned in on September 5, 1972 to watch Wide World of Sports covering the Olympics in Munich got a very different experience than they were expecting. Palestinian terrorists had taken the entire Israeli Olympic team hostage, and the ABC sports reporters, having exclusive US rights to cover the Olympic Games, were the only American news team on site when the event occurred. They were thus hastily converted from a bunch of sports anchors into serious newsmen. The tragedy that followed only made it worse.
    Jim McKay: When I was a kid, my father used to say, "Our greatest hopes and our worst fears are seldom realized." Our worst fears have been realized tonight. They’ve now said that there were eleven hostages. Two were killed in their rooms yesterday morning, nine were killed at the airport tonight. They’re all gone.
  • Long Runner: Every year, after football was done, for 37 years.
  • Opening Narration: It's our page quote.
  • Shout-Out: Fox Sports Radio host Colin Cowherd used the "Spanning the Globe" audio clip to introduce his rapid-fire update segment of the same name, while at ESPN Radio.
  • Spin-Off: The American Sportsman, The Pro Bowlers Tour, and The Superstars were all spawned from Wide World, and the CTV network had its own version.
  • Stage Names: Longtime host Jim McKay was legally James Kenneth McManus for his entire life.note