Fifty-eight years ago today (May 28), Zoo Parade premiered on NBC. For its first five seasons, the show was broadcast from Chicago's Lincoln Park Zoo. The series' host, Marlin Perkins, also just happened to be Lincoln Park's director. By the time Zoo Parade went off the air, Perkins was thoroughly convinced that television was in desperate need more wildlife programming, and Wild Kingdom was born.
1. Marlin Perkins Slayed the Abominable Snowman Back when TV was limited to the networks and a handful of local stations, before there was an Animal Planet or a Crocodile Hunter, Wild Kingdom was the only place average Americans could see polar bears or hippopotami in their natural habitat from the comfort of their living rooms. The program was typically aired right after family-friendly fare like Hee-Haw or The Lawrence Welk Show. White-haired Marlin Perkins, who looked more like an insurance salesman than the zoologist that he really was, hosted Wild Kingdom during its original syndicated run from 1963 to 1985. Prior to television stardom, Perkins had gained a small amount of fame for debunking the myth of the Abominable Snowman. On an excursion to the Himalayas with Sir Edmund Hillary, Perkins deduced that the Yeti's "large" footprints were actually made form a series of tracks made by foxes and other small animals. The tracks melted together in the sun, turning into larger shapes.
2. The Moment Everyone Remembers that Never Actually Happened
Talk to Baby Boomers who grew up watching Wild Kingdom and many of them will breathlessly recall the episode where Marlin Perkins was bitten by a poisonous snake. True, Perkins was a reptile aficionado and had kept snakes as pets since he was a child. He also never hesitated to handle non-venomous snakes on-camera in an effort to show that the slithery creatures were as harmless as kittens. Back when he was still hosting Zoo Parade, Marlin did ill-advisedly pick up a timber rattlesnake during the pre-show camera blocking. The rattler nipped Perkins on the finger and he spent three weeks in the hospital recuperating from the bite. However, all of this happened off-camera and was not filmed. Yet Perkins reported in his 1982 autobiography that he regularly met Wild Kingdom fans who reminisced about watching in horror on TV that fateful day when that rattlesnake sank its fangs into his hand.
3. Jungle Jim Fowler "“ The Guy Who Did the Grunt Work Jim Fowler graduated from Earlham College with degrees in zoology and geology. The naturalist was a well-known expert in predatory birds when he teamed up with Perkins to co-host Wild Kingdom. Jim had studied animals in the wilds of Africa and South America, and had years of experience filming them. Yet, no matter how impressive his credentials, it was always clear that he was the worker bee while Perkins ruled the hive. Perkins, nattily dressed in a safari jacket and pith helmet, rarely got his hands dirty or broke a sweat as he poked his head out from the safety of his Jeep and earnestly set the scene ("Let's watch while Jim attempts to circumcise this rabid wolverine.")
4. How Man-Eating Pythons Helped the Insurance Business No, the Bushmen of New Guinea didn't start taking out huge policies"¦ V.J. Skutt, then the CEO of Mutual of Omaha, was a conservationist at heart and he agreed with Marlin Perkins that providing TV viewers with a realistic look at animals in their natural habitat would inspire folks to get interested in ecology and wildlife preservation. Skutt decided to sponsor Perkins' new brainchild, Wild Kingdom, and the show's instant popularity surprised everyone involved. It was one of the very few syndicated series ever to be nominated for an Emmy award, and "“ more importantly "“ it made the previously little-known insurance company a household name across the country. Mutual of Omaha's annual premium income grew into the billions of dollars.
5. All Was Not What It Seemed During those early years of Wild Kingdom, most viewers were naÃ¯ve in the ways of wild animals and it never occurred to us to ask "Just how did that baby moose happen to get stuck in the mud pit at the same time a camera crew was nearby?" In 1982, the producers of the CBC series The Fifth Estate (sort of a Canadian 60 Minutes) aired an episode titled "Cruel Camera," which examined the treatment of animals in the entertainment industry. The show's host, Bob McKeown approached an 80-something Marlin Perkins for an impromptu interview, asking whether Wild Kingdom had ever interfered with nature for the sake of drama. Perkins (whom most of us still remembered as the mild-mannered man responsible for such awkward segues as "Just like the mother bear protects her cubs, Mutual of Omaha is there to protect your family"¦") first demanded that the cameras be shut off, then proceeded to punch McKeown in the face when his request was denied.
The Fifth Estate recently aired a follow-up to "Cruel Camera," and it breaks our collective heart to report that despite the supposed supervision of the American Humane Association, all these years later animals are still being exploited and abused in the name of entertainment. WARNING: This video is heart-wrenching in parts and difficult to watch, but is an important statement on behalf of those creatures who cannot speak for themselves.
On September 13, 1983, Jim Henson and The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy author Douglas Adams had dinner for the first time. Henson, who was born on this day in 1936, noted the event in his "Red Book" journal, in characteristic short-form style: "Dinner with Douglas Adams – 1st met." Over the next few years the men discussed how they might work together—they shared interests in technology, entertainment, and education, and ended up collaborating on several projects (including a Labyrinth video game). They also came up with the idea for a "Muppet Institute of Technology" project, a computer literacy TV special that was never produced. Henson historians described the project as follows:
Adams had been working with the Henson team that year on the Muppet Institute of Technology project. Collaborating with Digital Productions (the computer animation people), Chris Cerf, Jon Stone, Joe Bailey, Mark Salzman and Douglas Adams, Jim’s goal was to raise awareness about the potential for personal computer use and dispel fears about their complexity. In a one-hour television special, the familiar Muppets would (according to the pitch material), “spark the public’s interest in computing,” in an entertaining fashion, highlighting all sorts of hardware and software being used in special effects, digital animation, and robotics. Viewers would get a tour of the fictional institute – a series of computer-generated rooms manipulated by the dean, Dr. Bunsen Honeydew, and stumble on various characters taking advantage of computers’ capabilities. Fozzie, for example, would be hard at work in the “Department of Artificial Stupidity,” proving that computers are only as funny as the bears that program them. Hinting at what would come in The Jim Henson Hour, viewers, “…might even see Jim Henson himself using an input device called a ‘Waldo’ to manipulate a digitally-controlled puppet.”
While the show was never produced, the development process gave Jim and Douglas Adams a chance to get to know each other and explore a shared passion. It seems fitting that when production started on the 2005 film of Adams’s classic Hitchhiker’s Guide, Jim Henson’s Creature Shop would create animatronic creatures like the slovenly Vogons, the Babel Fish, and Marvin the robot, perhaps a relative of the robot designed by Michael Frith for the MIT project.
You can read a bit on the project more from Muppet Wiki, largely based on the same article.
More than 30 years ago, Apple defined the Super Bowl commercial as a cultural phenomenon. Prior to Super Bowl XVIII, nobody watched the game "just for the commercials"—but one epic TV spot, directed by sci-fi legend Ridley Scott, changed all that. Read on for the inside story of the commercial that rocked the world of advertising, even though Apple's Board of Directors didn't want to run it at all.
If you haven't seen it, here's a fuzzy YouTube version:
"WHY 1984 WON'T BE LIKE 1984"
The tagline "Why 1984 Won't Be Like '1984'" references George Orwell's 1949 novel 1984, which envisioned a dystopian future, controlled by a televised "Big Brother." The tagline was written by Brent Thomas and Steve Hayden of the ad firm Chiat\Day in 1982, and the pair tried to sell it to various companies (including Apple, for the Apple II computer) but were turned down repeatedly. When Steve Jobs heard the pitch in 1983, he was sold—he saw the Macintosh as a "revolutionary" product, and wanted advertising to match. Jobs saw IBM as Big Brother, and wanted to position Apple as the world's last chance to escape IBM's domination of the personal computer industry. The Mac was scheduled to launch in late January of 1984, a week after the Super Bowl. IBM already held the nickname "Big Blue," so the parallels, at least to Jobs, were too delicious to miss.
Thomas and Hayden wrote up the story of the ad: we see a world of mind-controlled, shuffling men all in gray, staring at a video screen showing the face of Big Brother droning on about "information purification directives." A lone woman clad in vibrant red shorts and a white tank-top (bearing a Mac logo) runs from riot police, dashing up an aisle towards Big Brother. Just before being snatched by the police, she flings a sledgehammer at Big Brother's screen, smashing him just after he intones "We shall prevail!" Big Brother's destruction frees the minds of the throng, who quite literally see the light, flooding their faces now that the screen is gone. A mere eight seconds before the one-minute ad concludes, a narrator briefly mentions the word "Macintosh," in a restatement of that original tagline: "On January 24th, Apple Computer will introduce Macintosh. And you'll see why 1984 won't be like '1984.'" An Apple logo is shown, and then we're out—back to the game.
"... It is now 1984. It appears IBM wants it all. Apple is perceived to be the only hope to offer IBM a run for its money. Dealers, initially welcoming IBM with open arms, now fear an IBM-dominated and -controlled future. They are increasingly turning back to Apple as the only force that can ensure their future freedom. IBM wants it all and is aiming its guns on its last obstacle to industry control: Apple. Will Big Blue dominate the entire computer industry? The entire information age? Was George Orwell right about 1984?"
After seeing the ad for the first time, the Apple audience totally freaked out (jump to about the 5-minute mark to witness the riotous cheering).
SKINHEADS, A DISCUS THROWER, AND A SCI-FI DIRECTOR
Chiat\Day hired Ridley Scott, whose 1982 sci-fi film Blade Runner had the dystopian tone they were looking for (and Alien wasn't so bad either). Scott filmed the ad in London, using actual skinheads playing the mute bald men—they were paid $125 a day to sit and stare at Big Brother; those who still had hair were paid to shave their heads for the shoot. Anya Major, a discus thrower and actress, was cast as the woman with the sledgehammer largely because she was actually capable of wielding the thing.
Mac programmer Andy Hertzfeld wrote an Apple II program "to flash impressive looking numbers and graphs on [Big Brother's] screen," but it's unclear whether his program was used for the final film. The ad cost a shocking $900,000 to film, plus Apple booked two premium slots during the Super Bowl to air it—carrying an airtime cost of more than $1 million.
WHAT EXECUTIVES AT APPLE THOUGHT
Although Jobs and his marketing team (plus the assembled throng at his 1983 internal presentation) loved the ad, Apple's Board of Directors hated it. After seeing the ad for the first time, board member Mike Markkula suggested that Chiat\Day be fired, and the remainder of the board were similarly unimpressed. Then-CEO John Sculley recalled the reaction after the ad was screened for the group: "The others just looked at each other, dazed expressions on their faces ... Most of them felt it was the worst commercial they had ever seen. Not a single outside board member liked it." Sculley instructed Chiat\Day to sell off the Super Bowl airtime they had purchased, but Chiat\Day principal Jay Chiat quietly resisted. Chiat had purchased two slots—a 60-second slot in the third quarter to show the full ad, plus a 30-second slot later on to repeat an edited-down version. Chiat sold only the 30-second slot and claimed it was too late to sell the longer one. By disobeying his client's instructions, Chiat cemented Apple's place in advertising history.
When Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak heard that the ad was in trouble, he offered to pony up half the airtime costs himself, saying, "I asked how much it was going to cost, and [Steve Jobs] told me $800,000. I said, 'Well, I'll pay half of it if you will.' I figured it was a problem with the company justifying the expenditure. I thought an ad that was so great a piece of science fiction should have its chance to be seen."
But Woz didn't have to shell out the money; the executive team finally decided to run a 100-day advertising extravaganza for the Mac's launch, starting with the Super Bowl ad—after all, they had already paid to shoot it and were stuck with the airtime.
WHAT EVERYBODY ELSE THOUGHT
When the ad aired, controversy erupted—viewers either loved or hated the ad, and it spurred a wave of media coverage that involved news shows replaying the ad as part of covering it, leading to estimates of an additional $5 million in "free" airtime for the ad. All three national networks, plus countless local markets, ran news stories about the ad. "1984" become a cultural event, and served as a blueprint for future Apple product launches. The marketing logic was brilliantly simple: create an ad campaign that sparked controversy (for example, by insinuating that IBM was like Big Brother), and the media will cover your launch for free, amplifying the message.
The full ad famously ran once during the Super Bowl XVIII (on January 22, 1984), but it also ran the month prior—on December 31, 1983, TV station operator Tom Frank ran the ad on KMVT at the last possible time slot before midnight, in order to qualify for 1983's advertising awards.* (Any awards the ad won would mean more media coverage.) Apple paid to screen the ad in movie theaters before movie trailers, further heightening anticipation for the Mac launch. In addition to all that, the 30-second version was aired across the country after its debut on the Super Bowl.
Chiat\Day adman Steve Hayden recalled: "We ran a 30- second version of '1984' in the top 10 U.S. markets, plus, in an admittedly childish move, in an 11th market—Boca Raton, Florida, headquarters for IBM's PC division." Mac team member Andy Hertzfeld ended his remembrance of the ad by saying:
"A week after the Macintosh launch, Apple held its January board meeting. The Macintosh executive staff was invited to attend, not knowing what to expect. When the Mac people entered the room, everyone on the board rose and gave them a standing ovation, acknowledging that they were wrong about the commercial and congratulating the team for pulling off a fantastic launch.
Chiat\Day wanted the commercial to qualify for upcoming advertising awards, so they ran it once at 1 AM at a small television station in Twin Falls, Idaho, KMVT, on December 15, 1983 [incorrect; see below for an update on this -ed]. And sure enough it won just about every possible award, including best commercial of the decade. Twenty years later it's considered one of the most memorable television commercials ever made."
THE AWFUL 1985 FOLLOW-UP
A year later, Apple again employed Chiat\Day to make a blockbuster ad for their Macintosh Office product line, which was basically a file server, networking gear, and a laser printer. Directed by Ridley Scott's brother Tony, the new ad was called "Lemmings," and featured blindfolded businesspeople whistling an out-of-tune version of Snow White's "Heigh-Ho" as they followed each other off a cliff (referencing the myth of lemming suicide).
Jobs and Sculley didn't like the ad, but Chiat\Day convinced them to run it, pointing out that the board hadn't liked the last ad either. But unlike the rousing, empowering message of the "1984" ad, "Lemmings" directly insulted business customers who had already bought IBM computers. It was also weirdly boring—when it was aired at the Super Bowl (with Jobs and Sculley in attendance), nobody really reacted. The ad was a flop, and Apple even proposed running a printed apology in TheWall Street Journal. Jay Chiat shot back, saying that if Apple apologized, Chiat would buy an ad on the next page, apologizing for the apology. It was a mess:
In 2004, the ad was updated for the launch of the iPod. The only change was that the woman with the hammer was now listening to an iPod, which remained clipped to her belt as she ran. You can watch that version too:
Check out Mac team member Andy Hertzfeld's excellent first-person account of the ad. A similar account (but with more from Jobs's point of view) can found in the Steve Jobs biography, and an even more in-depth account is in The Mac Bathroom Reader. The Mac Bathroom Reader is out of print; you can read an excerpt online, including QuickTime movies of the two versions of the ad, plus a behind-the-scenes video. Finally, you might enjoy this 2004 USA Today article about the ad, pointing out that ads for other computers (including Atari, Radio Shack, and IBM's new PCjr) also ran during that Super Bowl.
* = A Note on the Airing in 1983
Update: Thanks to Tom Frank for writing in to correct my earlier mis-statement about the first air date of this commercial. As you can see in his comment below, Hertzfeld's comments above (and the dates cited in other accounts I've seen) are incorrect. Stay tuned for an upcoming interview with Frank, in which we discuss what it was like running both "1984" and "Lemmings" before they were on the Super Bowl!