Thursday, September 4, 2014

The Wizard of TV

When The Wizard of Oz first premiered, Louis B. Mayer had high hopes for his technicolor fantasy. Walt Disney had a huge success with Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs a few years earlier so MGM was enthusiastic about its family fantasy. The reality, however, was quite different. Despite the lavish budget, The Wizard of Oz was a money losing failure. It would be quickly forgotten and considered a disappointment. Louis B. Mayer would scrap plans for a sequel and sell the Oz rights to his good friend Walt Disney, who never used them in his lifetime.

In the 1950's, however, the film's fortunes would change. The new medium of television would be desperate for programming and turn to Hollywood for packages of films it could buy the rights to air. Initially reluctant to assist, the studios soon warmed to the idea of licensing lesser films for broadcast. Eager to make some extra bucks off old, failed product (the networks weren't too picky) MGM jumped at the chance to wring some cash out of The Wizard of Oz. The movie made its broadcast premiere on CBS in 1956. This time, however, American viewers would wildly embrace a film it had resisted 17 years before. The broadcast was a massive hit, reinvigorating a film MGM had seen as being a mere footnote. Over subsequent airings, The Wizard of Oz would find the fans it couldn't muster in theaters and became a retroactive classic. Had the film not been given a chance by CBS, it very well could have become forgotten. Instead, the new medium of television had proven that it could be a force to be reckoned with and a valuable partner for the film studios.