January 18, 2020

WINKY DINK AND YOU


WINKY DINK AND YOU
(CBS, October 10, 1953-April 27, 1957)

Barry, Enright & Friendly Productions, CBS Television




MAIN CAST:
Jack Barry – Host
Mae Questel – Winky Dink
Dayton Allen – Mr. Bungle


            Winky Dink and You was the pioneer in interactive television, and some would even say was the first video game.

Promo image of host John Barry with Winky Dink and their show's gimmick.


            Harry Prichett was a graphic designer working for the agency that handled the account for Benrus Watches, the primary sponsor of Your Show of Shows. At one point, Benrus had a campaign that advertised their watches as being “$39.95 and up”. Overscan (when portions of the broadcasted image ending up outside the visible area of the television screen on certain sets) often cut off the “and up” part of the promotion. As a result, customers were angry that they couldn’t buy the specific watch shown on one of the commercials for that price.

Barry with Winky Dink's voice, Mae Questel.

The agency’s staff was tasked with watching the show and reporting back what was visible on their screens. Prichett got the idea to put a piece of cellulose acetate film over his screen so that he could sketch out exactly what was visible in grease pencil. While waiting, he kept himself entertained by doodling over the images on the screen, erasing them, and doodling new ones. While working on another commercial, Prichett once again performed the screen doodles with his colleague, Ed Wyckoff, present. He drew a stick figure in the middle of a prize fight and the fighters seemed to interact with the figure, and vice versa. They realized that kids might enjoy doing that and figured they had a perfect marketing opportunity on their hands. They came up with the concept of their interactive television show and pitched it to CBS.

Barry interacting with Winky Dink.

Winky Dink and You debuted on CBS on October 10, 1953. The show featured live-action host Jack Barry (whose production company co-produced the series) and his assistant, the dim-witted Mr. Bungle (Dayton Allen), interacting with animated little boy Winky Dink (Mae Questel) via an on-set screen. Each week, Barry would prompt the viewers on how and when to draw on their screens as either part of a sketch featuring him and Mr. Bungle, or to help Winky Dink on one of his adventures. For instance, Barry could be talking to a woman comprised entirely of prop puppet lips on the stage, and would task the kids at home to draw in the rest of her body. Or, Winky Dink, in all his extremely limited animation glory, would need a way to cross a river and would wait for the kids to connect dots and draw in a bridge for him to continue (naturally, as the segments were pre-rendered, Winky Dink would get across if the kids drew anything or not). There were also word games where kids were asked to trace letters that appeared on the screen in order to receive a secret message, and pictures that would need to be completed by drawing in various objects. Louis M. Heyward served as a writer for the show.

A group of kids waiting for their turn to draw on the magic screen.

The audience participation was accomplished through the Winky Dink Magic Television Kit. For 50 cents through a television mail-in offer, or $2.95 for a deluxe version available in toy stores, kids could get a plastic screen, wiping cloth and colorful crayons. The screen was charged with static electricity by wiping the cloth on it and then sticking it against the TV’s screen where it would, in theory, stay in place (in practice, however, the screens often had trouble achieving the necessary cling to stay up). They could then draw on the screen with the crayons in the colors and places designated by Barry, and then wipe the screen off with the cloth for the next segment.

Turning Barry into a sheriff.

The marketing scheme proved a success, and the show was a massive hit. By 1955, over 2 million Magic Kits were sold. Along with the Kits, there was an issue of Dell ComicsFour-Color starring Winky Dink in #663 and a single issue of a self-title comic published by Pines Comics two years later. Whitman published two “coloring and dot” books, and Simon & Shuster published a Little Golden Book featuring illustrations by Richard ScarryBarry and Winky Dink together recorded two albums, both published by Decca RecordsThere was even a Halloween costume produced by Halco.

A page from the Winky Dink comic, keeping up the interactivity of the show.

Unfortunately, despite everything going well for the series, CBS ultimately decided to cancel it in 1957. One reason was the concerns about x-rays emanating from TV pictures tubes—especially on early color sets—and the close proximity children had to be to them in order to draw on the plastic screen. The other reason was CBS received numerous complaints from parents who had decided to not purchase the Magic Kit, which inspired their children to draw on the actual screen and ruin the sets.



Despite the show’s end, the series had remained ingrained into the minds and hearts of the kids who grew up watching it to the point that Wyckoff was often greeted with renditions of the theme song. An attempt was made to revive the series in 1969 with 65 syndicated color episodes during the nostalgia craze, but it didn’t catch on as prolifically as the original. In the late 1990s/early 2000s, some of the syndicated episodes were packaged together with a new Magic Kit.



EPISODE GUIDE:
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