About the Column

Disney nametags: You see them everywhere but do you have any idea how many of them there are? Or how they're designed? Or their fascinating histories? Benson Myers, curator of the Nametag Museum, knows. And in his new column, It's All in a Nametag, he'll spotlight some of Disney's more interesting (and often obscure) nametags so that the next time you see a nametag pinned to a Disney Cast Member you'll know there's a lot more to that nametag than just ... a name!

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FROM: It's All in a Nametag Published Thursdays

Disney Channel

Nowadays, Disney Channel is one of hundreds of cable television shows, but as Benson Myers reminds us, there weren't always so many shows on cable, and Disney Channel wasn't always free. Has Disney Channel gotten better over the years? Depends...

Return with me now to those thrilling days of yesteryear, when from out of the past come the glorious memories of the early days of pay television.

Yo, Sherman, set the WABAC machine to 1983, and we'll tune in the first years of Disney Channel (on premium cable!).

Benson Learns to Love the Box

I can remember clearly the day my family got cable TV.

I came home from school, and went down into the basement. On top of our Quasar console TV, in place of my beloved ColecoVision video game system, was a strange looking device. A brown box, about the size of a loaf of bread, with a sliding lever and a row of numbers, was connected to the back of the TV.

Rather upset about not being able to play my daily round of video games, I ran back upstairs and asked my mother about the enigmatic device. She said that we now had cable TV, and it had 39 channels.

It took a minute to wrap my eight-year-old brain around '39 channels'.

Up until that time, I had known only the 7 broadcast channels that our television received. Now there were 39 channels to choose from? I went back downstairs to investigate.

Next to the enigmatic box lay a glossy magazine with a picture of Rocky Balboa on the cover, the words 'TCI Cablevision Program Guide' spread across the top in big blue letters. Inside were listings for all the channels that the wondrous new box delivered. The magazine even included a picture that instructed me how I could move the lever on the box to the number of the channel that I wanted to watch.

My mother came downstairs to show me where I could find my favorite programs. She told me that channel 9 was WGN, featuring Cubs baseball and the Incredible Hulk; Mickey Mouse was on channel 10; Mr. Rogers and Sesame Street were on channel 11; Battle of the Planets was on channel 20; and Little House on the Prairie was on channel 22.

Wait a second. Mickey Mouse had his own TV channel? An amazing thing, to be sure!

I turned on the TV, and slid the lever up and down the row of numbers. As it passed each channel, the lever made a loud click. Stopping on channel 10, I beheld a Donald Duck cartoon materialize on the television screen.

click an image to expand:


Sherman fiddles with the Wayback Machine.


A really old cable TV box.


Nametag worn by Cast Members working at the subscription call center at Disney Channel headquarters.


Disney Channel headquarters building in Burbank, California.


Nametag worn by Cast Members working at Disney Channel programming department.


Some of the cast of the New Mickey Mouse Club. Britney Spears is on the front row.


Graphic for The Wonderful World of Color.

I picked up the magazine and thumbed to the page for channel 10. It said that later in the week, The Black Hole would be airing at 8:30 PM. As I was obsessed with science fiction of all kinds (mostly Star Wars and Star Trek), being able to see The Black Hole hooked me on Disney Channel.

But enough of my own fractured fairy tale. I won't regale you about my love of the channel with the old man selling knives that could cut a hammer in half. I won't bore you with details about the channel that told me what was for lunch at school. You want to know about the history of Disney Channel, right?

Well, then, let's begin.

Disney Channel: Early Years

The idea of having a channel devoted to Disney content was first proposed in 1977 by Disney executive Jim Jimirro. At that time, however, the idea was not put into play as the Disney Company was deep in development of the new EPCOT Center at Walt Disney World.

However, in 1982, the new Galaxy 1 satellite was launched. It was the first satellite dedicated to carrying cable television signals and had enough capacity for dozens of channels. Disney invested $11 million into the technology, and along with two more additional Galaxy satellites, helped to establish the modern cable infrastructure.

Disney Channel was different from the majority of channels available at the time. It was a premium channel, one that a subscriber had to pay extra to receive, similar to movie channels like Showtime and HBO. And it was an immediate success.

With shows like Dumbo's Circus, Just You and Me Kid, and Welcome to Pooh Corner, parents knew that the channel offered safe content for their children, and after only its first five years, Disney Channel had a record 5 million subscribers.

(As an aside, having Disney Channel during this time became sort of a status symbol in my neighborhood. I often made videotape recordings of movies off Disney Channel for friends who didn't have cable, or whose parents refused to pay extra to receive Disney programming.)

When Disney Channel started broadcasting in 1983, it was not a 24-hour channel. It began its day at 7:00 AM, with Good Morning, Mickey! and Donald Duck Presents, which featured cartoons from the golden age of Disney animation. The broadcast day for the Disney Channel ended at 11:00 PM, with programming for adult viewers, such as episodes of the vintage sitcom, The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet.

In 1986, Disney Channel began 24-hour broadcasting, filling its late-night schedules with Disney films (along with vintage films from other studios like MGM) and concert specials from artists like Rick Springfield.

Disney Channel: Expansion!

In 1989, Disney Channel was refocused to reach a wider audience. It was no longer a premium channel; instead, Disney Channel was offered as part of a standard cable package. New programming was developed to include teens in addition to young children.

A new version of the classic Mickey Mouse Club was put into production. Dubbed The All-New Mickey Mouse Club, it featured a style similar to Saturday Night Live, and addressed popular music and social issues of the time. Many of its stars (including Christina Aguilera, JC Chasez, Ryan Gosling, Britney Spears, Justin Timberlake, and Keri Russell) went on to have successful careers in music, television, and film.

By the late 1990s, Disney Channel again refocused itself. With the number of channels available on cable and satellite in the hundreds, Disney Channel split itself into three programming blocks:

  • Playhouse aired in the early morning, and was aimed at the preschool crowd;
  • Zoog aired in the late afternoon, and was aimed at teens and young aduls; and
  • Vault aired in the overnight hours, and featured classic episodes of The Wonderful World of Color series Walt Disney hosted himself in the 1950s.

Disney Channel: Vanishing of the Vintage

Today, sadly, Disney Channel is even more fractured. It no longer features much of the classic Disney content that it once did.

Much of its content is now original movies and live-action programming, such as Suite Life on Deck and Wizards of Waverly Place. The content for children and young adults has been spun off onto separate channels called Disney XD and Disney Junior.

For reasons that have never been honestly explained, the vintage Disney programs that aired on Vault Disney and during late-night hours were dropped from the schedule. The loss of that wonderful vintage programming is the one thing that needs to be changed. There are many adult Disney fans who would greatly appreciate a channel dedicated to the classic Disney content made in the 1940s to the 1960s.

Personally, I long for the original format of Disney Channel. It would be nice to see those long-lost vintage programs from The Wonderful World of Color or even the 1980s programs hosted by Michael Eisner on The Wonderful World of Disney.

Today's kids really have no idea who Walt Disney is. To them, when you say 'Disney', they think you mean Buzz Lightyear, Hannah Montana, and High School Musical. They don't know the real man who gave his name to the World.

The creative legacy of The Walt Disney Company is vast, almost limitless. I would hope that sometime soon, a Disney Channel will be created to show it to the world, rather than letting it fade away forever inside the Disney vaults.


Stuff Not to Skip

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