Wide World of Sports

ABC (ended 1997)


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Wide World of Sports

Show Summary

One of the most important shows in American television, Wide World of Sports (or ABC's Wide World of Sports) was a long-running sports anthology program that established the then third-place network as the leader in U.S. sports programming, and made its producer, Roone Arledge, a major figure in American television. WWOS was a ninety-minute affair every Saturday afternoon that presented filmed highlights from various sporting competitions. The opening narration told viewers it would be "spanning the globe to bring you the constant variety of sport", and it delivered on that promise by presenting such events as Irish Hurling, Surfing from Hawaii, cliff diving from Acapulco, and fishing tournaments from South America. The show occasionally featured offbeat sports like barrel jumping and arm wrestling, which with the correct editing, made for compelling viewing. In addition to covering the event, the show would do a background feature on one of the main competitors, a concept that was a forerunner of the "up close and personal" stories Arledge made famous on ABC's Olympic coverage. WWOS's bread and butter were auto racing (particularly NASCAR events and the Grand Prix of Monaco); U.S. and world championships in gymnastics, track and field, and ice skating; and boxing. WWOS would show the tape of a major bout (usually the first free TV airing), with the winner being interviewed by the network's boxing commentator, Howard Cosell. Cosell's frequent interviews with heavyweight champion Muhammed Ali became both famous and controversial (because Cosell defended Ali's right to express himself, even if he sometimes disagreed with what Ali said). Ali made over 60 appearances on the show, the most for any athlete. As satelite broadcasting became commonplace, and cable channels proliferated, the concept of an anthology show presenting taped highlights of sporting events (no matter how well-presented) became obsolete. Nowadays the term "Wide World of Sports" is used by ABC announcers to describe their weekend sports programming (such as the 2006 World Cup), but the show itself, with its famous promise to show viewers "the thrill of victory, and the agony of defeat" is no longer a part of Saturday afternoon television.