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BILL COTTER assembles
a catalog of Disney's complete television output
The Wonderful World of
Disney Television: A Complete History
New York: Hyperion, 1997
||Well, Alex, I have to offer my apologies for
suggesting this book. I was working off memory when I recommended we
do this one next, and my (apparently faulty) memory had told me that
it was a good book. Sadly, it's mostly a reference book. I was
underwhelmed in a lot of ways.
|Yes, it is definitely a
reference book. But the librarian in me likes that. I've had to
force myself to view this book both as to its value for the
individual fan and on its value as a reference resource (say in a
||I think it disappoints on all levels, actually. Yes,
the listings appear complete - and that is a major undertaking. If
you ever need to look up a brief synopsis of an episode of virtually
anything produced by Disney for TV, then it's to be found here. But
it's not a compelling read for any other reason. Did you, as a
librarian, find the reference listings and categorizations
|As far as I can tell it is very
complete. I didn't do a solid content analysis as I would have done
back in school, but I did not find an example of anything listed at
IMDB that was not listed in the book, but there are several listings
in the book that are not in IMDB.
The problem with the book is not coverage,
but rather that there are very few [technical librarian term coming]
too few access points. If you don't know the name of the show you
are interested in you are in trouble.
||It’s kind of like a website that has complete
listings but no search function!
|True. There is not even a global
list of titles to be had. If you don't know that "Donald Ducks
50th Birthday" was a special and not an episode of the
anthology series you aren't going to find it easily. To be useful as
a reference tool, a companion volume of indexes (all kinds) is
||I never even considered that, but you're right. I
think it didn't occur to me partly because I wanted to approach this
book as a fan and learn all I could from reading it through. I
wanted an introduction and thorough history of the development of
Disney TV, but that's not what's offered. What we get instead are
brief histories divided roughly by genre - resulting in frequent
non-chronological discussions - and then mind-numbing lists of
This is not a book to read straight through. I doubt I'll pick it
up again unless I'm looking for something specific.
|(And then you probably won't be
able to find the specific entry with ease). Of course this book
isn't intended as an in depth behind- the- scenes look at Disney
television but each chapter does have an introductory essay, and
while nothing groundbreaking the first few do provide a good
grounding in the atmosphere in which Disney was entering TV.
The problem though is that once Bill Cotter
has talked about The Mickey Mouse Club, Zorro, and the Anthology
series he doesn't seem at all interested anymore.
||Actually, the essay introducing the anthology series,
which kicks off chapter three, is in fact good, I'd say. I quite
liked the way it set the stage, and traced the history of the
division's development. But the other essays track genres, and this
simply doesn't work for me. I had wanted chronological development.
This essay is the only one that came close.
|There are two essays that I want
to see but weren't there. The final chapter lists all the prime time
regular series done by Touchstone. The brief essay for this chapter
essentially says "and there wasn't much TV presence for Disney
until 1986, here are the shows" Why was Disney (through
Touchstone) suddenly emphasizing TV production again? I can make
good guesses, but I shouldn't have to.
||Good point, he doesn't address that. I think I'm
beginning to buy into your interpretation of the book: after the
first few chapters, he loses interest. I still believe he's strongly
focused on providing absolutely thorough listings for the episodes,
though. There are no less than 150 pages in small (8-point) font
that list the production credits! This strikes me as a little...
excessive - or should I say obsessive? I've said it once, and here
it is again: mind-numbing.
|On losing interest: my theory is
that Cotter's three favorite shows when he was a kid were the Mickey
Mouse Club, Zorro, and The Wonderful World of Disney. Once he got
those out of the way the rest was just a matter of being complete.
As for the production details that take up
most of the book, considering there is no good means for accessing
this information, good indexes for the main part should have taken
||I had wanted full alphabetization! What's wrong with
simply listing each show by name? Why insist on a chapter breakdown
At any rate, I do have a couple of positive things to say, though
they be minor. I did enjoy hearing about the Mickey Mouse Club “gong
gag,” whereby something different happens to Donald in each
episode. It struck me that this must be what inspired the similar
“couch gag” for the Simpsons. I wish the book contained
more such nuggets!
And the fact that the final line of the
Animaniacs theme song had several versions. I'm going to go to a
laundry list really quick and just list the things I think this book
needs to be useful. Genre listings are fine as long as there is a
global title index. Use a standard format for listing the episodes
of a series (some are alphabetical, some are by season, some are by
Provide ratings information (per episode).
Great tool for seeing the waning fortunes of a show. Episode counts
(for some reason provided for the cartoons series, but nothing
else). Quality of information provided is very high, ease of access
is very low. The quality of chapter introductions varies drastically
(five pages on Zorro, none on Home Improvement).
||I'm glad you're here - I would not have thought of
these things, or how to improve them. I'm stuck appreciating - or in
this case condemning - the books on the basis of their literary
merit, which you can do as well as I can. In any event, I have one
more positive thing I noticed: unsold pilots were included in the
listings. I enjoyed seeing them there, but would have appreciated
some sort of commentary about them even more.
Speaking of non-glossed information, I wanted to mention that
this book includes two sections of photos in the middle, which I
found largely uninspired. Not only were they black-and-white and
minimally labeled, but they tended to be boring and often
recognizable images rather than something new. I wanted to see more
previously unknown pictures of Walt in his office (or office set),
but sadly there were few to be had.
|I have to agree with that. With
so much talk in the book about production issues, candid shots from
sets would be good. But then he seems to have worked pretty much
exclusively out of the Disney Archive and may have had permissions
troubles. For the individual fan I can only mildly recommend this
book, there is nothing overtly wrong with the contents and a couple
of the essays are good. More for the completist collection.
For the librarian / reference type I would
have to recommend against this book completely, unless an index
volume were produced at some point. The biggest thing I learned form
this book came from scanning pages ii and iii. This is a list of 51
prime time TV series that Disney has produced in the last 13 years
that actually made it on the air. Looking at this list I couldn't
help but realize that Disney does not have an enviable track record
of producing quality television.
you remember watching Walt Disney on Sunday nights?
A major part of my
childhood was watching Disney television shows - The Mickey Mouse Club,
Davy Crockett, Zorro and more. Years later this led to my working for
Disney, and now, a book that describes every episode of every Disney
series. It begins back in 1944 when Walt was first thinking about getting
into television, and includes today's hits like "Home
Improvement" and "Ellen". The 10+ years of research
included total access to The Disney Archives and watching more than 4,000
hours of television. It was a true labor of love, and a great chance to
relive my childhood. Now, with "The Wonderful World of Disney"
back on Sunday night, the tradition started by Walt continues.
October 14, 1997 (from the
An interview with Bill
Cotter is also available on the Amazon site via THIS