For those like me—who grew up in the 1970s—it was a great era to be raised in. Particularly when talking television. There was all those great sitcoms such as Happy Days and many more. We also found ourselves waking up early on Saturday mornings to watch the string of shows like The Tom and Jerry Show or everyone’s favorite, Scooby-Doo. Then there was Bugs Bunny and Sylvester and Tweety. How about The Shazam!/Isis Hour?
There are so many more, and I could probably write an entire column talking about others like The Pink Panther and one of my other favorites, Land of the Lost. But this is a sports site, right? So how do I bring up the weekends of the 1970s and how it relates to sports?
Well, because as the cartoons and sitcoms finished, it rolled into a Saturday afternoon menu of two great sports shows—both of which stayed on air for years.
Perhaps the most popular, but not the earliest of these shows, was ABC’s Wild World of Sports. It first aired on April 29, 1961—running until 1998. However, over on CBS, they had their own version that went on national television for the first time on January 3, 1960. The show was The CBS Sports Spectacular. These days, you get mostly a limited feeding of sports on Saturday and Sunday afternoons—especially when college and pro football are not in season.
But in the 70s, these two shows gave you a taste of just about every sport you can think of. Not to be left out of the party, NBC came out with their own anthology called Sportsworld in 1978. But CBS got the ball rolling in 1960 with several name changes from the original to CBS Sports Saturday, CBS Sports Sunday, Eye on Sports and The CBS Sports Show.
When you tuned in, you would mostly see most of the common hosts who such as Bud Palmer, Jack Whitaker, Brent Musburger, Pat Summerall, Jim Kelly, Dick Stockton, Tim Brant, Greg Gumbel, Pat O’Brien, Andrea Joyce and Michele Tafoya.
So, what could you expect when you turned on CBS Sports Spectacular? Bull-riding, off-road racing and even fishing. There had even been coverage of skiing. But some of the odder events that CBS aired was the infamous first Battle of the Sexes tennis match pitting Bobby Riggs against Margaret Court—in which Riggs prevailed. For those who watched, you probably also remember strongmen Bruce Wilhelm, Lou Ferrigno and Ken Patera who all competed in the annual World’s Strongest Man contest.
Also used was Electric Light Orchestra’s “Fire On High”. The show finally went off the air in it’s original format in 1996. As The CBS Sports Spectacular took off in 1960, a year later it was ABC’s turn. And what they developed probably surpassed CBS’s show in popularity. Jim McKay became the face of ABC’s Wide World of Sports. Other hosts included Frank Gifford, Julie Moran and Robin Roberts. Wide World of Sports ran from April 29 until it too went off the air in 1998.
There was a company back then called Sports Programs, Inc. and the owner was one Edgar Scherick. He sold his operation to ABC, who then hired Roone Arledge to be producer of Wide World of Sports. For its very first show, ABC telecast track events like The Penn and Drake relays. Wide World of Sports became well known for its Professional Bowling Association (PBA) coverage and even more so for boxing matches—ones called by Howard Cosell.
To the bizarre side of telecasts, it put the cameras in action to cover the 1964 Oklahoma Rattlesnake Hunt Championships. This led to the broadcast of The American Sportsman, which became popular enough to stay on the air for nearly 20 more years. To complete with CBS Sports Spectacular’s Strongest Man competition, ABC staged a very popular Superstars Competition. The show invited athletes to compete in various athletic events, including swimming. The show made its debut in 1973, ultimately running for 10 years.
Some you just don’t see on standard networks anymore these days but were often shown on ABC’s hit show were hurling, rodeo, curling, Jai alai, wrist wrestling, power-lifting, surfing, logger competitions, demolition derby, slow-pitch softball, barrel jumping and badminton.
As Jim McKay narrated, the introduction to Wide World of Sports is a memory that anyone who watched the show can never forget. Often people have wondered if that ski jumper shown taking a terrible spill was actually injured. But the truth is he walked away from the mishap. Watch for yourself:
Not to be outdone, NBC announced its own version of a sports variety show known as Sportsworld. It would debut in 1978 and last until 1992. One show I can never forget that aired was a weightlifting competition where one athlete’s knees gave out while attempting to do a power lift—rivaling Joe Theismann’s broken leg injury.
The show was created by Chet Simmons but Sportsworld never reached the popularity of shows on the other two networks. Still, while watching, you could see the IndyCar Series and other NASCAR events. Commentators included Marv Albert, Len Berman, Don Criqui, Merle Harmon, Bruce Jenner, Charlie Jones and Ahmad Rashād.
So here we are in 2017. And for young and older fans, what are the weekends like for sports television? For example, this coming Saturday on NBC you get one college football game during the afternoon. Nothing else from noon until 3:30 pm. On ABC, it’s an afternoon of nothing but college football. CBS? Just one 60-minute show about the college football season beginning. But, no other sports for the afternoon.
The NFL is back. That means the league will dominate Sundays on Fox and CBS. As for Saturday morning cartoons, they just aren’t on anymore. That’s unfortunate because as a kid, those of us who were able to enjoy all those shows. They were tremendous fun. But with various technological devices so prominent these days, there is a LOT less television watching by everyone.
Sports have also changed dramatically. Sometimes the chase for money these days cheapens the competitive nature of sports. You can still enjoy the sports I grew up with thanks to YouTube, however. So if you’re curious, just go and plug in any of these aforementioned shows for highlights.
Then sit back and see how it was to grow up with 1970s sports.
What was your favorite sports program in the 70s? And for more from Harv Aronson, check out his website!