OMAHA – Mutual of Omaha will release a new television version of the classic Wild Kingdom this January 2023. The series, subtitled “Protecting the Wild,” premieres on Jan. 2 at noon CST on RFD-TV. The series, hosted by Peter Gros, will be available for free on WildKingdom.com starting Jan. 4.
“Protecting the Wild” is a 10-episode mini-series that will show current conservation efforts in the US and feature experts such as wildlife ecologist Dr. Rae Wynn-Grant and naturalist David Mizejewski. The series is being produced in collaboration with leading habitat and wildlife conservation organizations.
Such is the importance of the series that the company has filed for a trademark for the new show, namely Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom Protecting the Wild. The U.S.P.T.O. application says of the the trademark, “‘Mutual of Omaha’ has become distinctive of the goods/services through the applicant’s substantially exclusive and continuous use of the mark in commerce that the U.S. Congress may lawfully regulate for at least the five years immediately before the date of this statement.”
The original version of the show aired from 1963 until 1988, and it was revived in 2002. It was first an NBC local Sunday afternoon show, and then became syndicated. The original host was Marlin Perkins, the host of a WMAQ Chicago tv show called Zoo Parade. Perkins was followed by sidekick Jim Fowler. Groh joined the show as co-host in 1985.
The show virtually created the conservation movement in the United States through its teaching on wildlife, coming during the same era as Richard Nixon’s creation of the Environmental Protection Agency and Rachel Carson’s publishing of Silent Spring.
Company Owned Broadcast Shows
The program is one of the few that was a single sponsor and company owned. This enabled Mutual of Omaha to brand itself as an enabler of life, as well as keep control of the program away from networks, which had other agendas. It was the alternate version of advertising and programming where the advertiser kept the program and idea pure. The idea also worked perfectly with life insurance; while the show was not about insurance, the subtext was that life was fragile and dangerous, and having a companion like Mutual of Omaha made it all safe.
The company did have straight up radio and TV advertising. The tagline that was most famous, attributed to Sidney Woloshin, was:
- “Mutual of Omaha is people you can count on when the going’s rough.”
Part of the appeal of the show was the presentation. The theme music and score from William G. “Bill” Loose. The title used graphic and theatric title elements, along with a cartoonish island-like font. The company has wisely reused the font in the logo for the new version.
The only format that lasted as long with single sponsors were the soap operas of Procter & Gamble on CBS and NBC. Masterpiece Theater on PBS and the Saturday Texaco Metropolitan Opera were public television single sponsor shows. Mobil was long associated as launch company for Masterpiece Theater and Texaco was sponsor of the Metropolitan Saturday opera broadcasts first on NBC radio, and later National Public Radio. (The Texaco sponsorship of the opera lasted for 63 years. The ending of the sponsorship was a missed opportunity for Chevron Texaco in 2004, as the entire industry has been demonized since then.)
Mobil did go back into single sponsor television in 2009. The appetite for programming on cable networks and streaming lured the company to launch a “Mobil One The Grid” show on the Speed Network.
American Sunday Classic
Sunday has been traditionally a day when may television programs associate themselves with a time rule, aka 60 Minutes, Meet the Press, Wonderful World of Disney and The NFL Today. (Other days have been associated with shows as well, including Monday, where the 9 p.m. slot has been owned by CBS comedies.
“For many viewers, Wild Kingdom was more than a Sunday night ritual; it ignited a movement for wildlife conservation,” said Gros, in a press release. “Our hope is that the new Wild Kingdom series will reach a new generation of people passionate about their commitment to preserving the natural world.”
The first episode, “Bear Cub Rescue,” will follow Gros and Dr. Wynn-Grant as they share the story of two black bear cubs’ rescue and release back into the wild in the Pacific Northwest. The series is being produced with the support of leading habitat and wildlife conservation organizations, and many of the experts featured in the series credit their careers and commitment to conservation to their experiences with Wild Kingdom.
The new show uses the same devices as the original show. While most PBS and Discovery Channel animal documentaries have agendas and didactic elements, the new iteration of Wild Kingdom shows what is working in conservation, and tries to highlight the reality of that. Wild Kingdom always took an approach of showing some hope for the situation of the wildlife, unlike so much of recent nature television, which paints dire pictures and includes hopeless lectures.
New digital filming helps tell the story even better visually than the original series, though the personality of dashing Perkins, who wore cuff links in his zoo office segments, was so electric that it is hard to duplicate. Fowler (1930-2019) was sort of the young handsome sidekick; with his movie star looks he ended up making over 100 appearances with Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show.
The company will try to create some new nature host stars with the new version, including Wildlife Ecologist Dr. Rae Wynn-Grant, Jeff “The Nature Guy” Ewelt and David Mizejewski of the National Wildlife Federation. Said Mizejewski:
I was little on the young side to watch most of the classic run of Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom, but it’s clear the show has had a huge impact on educating Americans about wildlife and inspiring them to care. It’s part of our collective culture, and I’m so excited to be part of the new series, which is extending that legacy.David Mizejewski of the National Wildlife Federation.
There are a number of stories about the show on the Mutual of Omaha website, including a look back at the show from Marguerite Perkins Garrick, Marlin Perkins’ daughter.
At bottom, a preview of the show. The company also has a YouTube page for Wild Kingdom.
About the Network
Rural Media Group Inc. of Omaha is the world’s leading provider of multimedia content dedicated to the rural and Western lifestyle. With a mission of reconnecting “city with country,” RMG is the parent company of RFD-TV (52 million homes), RURAL RADIO Channel 147 on SiriusXM Radio (33 million units), The Cowboy Channel (42 million homes), and RFD-TV The Magazine.
RFD-TV is the flagship network for Rural Media Group. Launched in December of 2000, RFD-TV is the nation’s first 24-hour television network featuring programming focused on the agribusiness, equine and the rural lifestyles, along with traditional country music and entertainment.