Remember that one day when you could wake up without an alarm? When you would get your favorite bowl of cereal and sit between the hours of 8 and 12? This is a blog dedicated to the greatest time of our childhood: Saturday mornings. The television programs you watched, the memories attached to them, and maybe introducing you to something you didn't realize existed. Updated every weekend.
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
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
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 plastic screen
with the crayons in the colors and places designated by Barry, and then wipe it
off with the cloth for the next segment.
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 picture 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 their (relatively expensive) 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.
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