Long before there were entire television networks devoted to showing off the planet’s wildlife, families made a weekly ritual of gathering around the tube to get a glimpse of the strange and exotic animals that inhabit our Earth. Their guides were a kindly old gentleman named Marlin Perkins and his trusty assistant, Jim Fowler, in the long-running nature series, Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom.
Debuting on NBC in 1963, Wild Kingdom was the brainchild of zoologist Marlon Perkins and CEO of the Mutual of Omaha insurance company, V.J. Skutt. Perkins was already experienced at this sort of thing, having hosted a show called Zoo Parade in the 50s. Together, they brought faraway locales such as Africa and the Amazon jungle into the living rooms of American viewers, showing a wide spectrum of animals living in their native habitats. Filled with ominous music and suspenseful storylines, families sat glued to their TV sets each week, marveling at the scenery and wondering if this was the week that Jim would get eaten.
Jim Fowler (also a zoologist) was akin to the “man on the street” reporter who always seemed to be placed in closer proximity to danger than the show’s host. This proved to be wonderful comic fodder for the likes of Johnny Carson, who parodied Fowler at every opportunity on The Tonight Show. Like Perkins, Jim was a strong advocate for promoting ecological awareness and would become a frequent guest on the the late-night show, usually with a bunch of critters in tow. He would eventually take over the hosting duties of Wild Kingdom in 1986, shortly after Perkins passed away.
Wild Kingdom enjoyed a significant run, from 1963 to 1971, before moving to syndication, where it thrived for another 17 years. Today, a new version of the show (still sponsored by Mutual of Omaha) currently airs on the Animal Planet network, where it has run since 2002 on (you guessed it) Sunday evenings. Jim Fowler is still handling the hosting duties after all these years, a welcome face from yesteryear teaching a new generation about the wonders of the animal kingdom.
If you have fond memories of gathering with the family each week to watch this iconic series, we welcome all of your recollections in our comments section, as we tip our hats to Marlon, Jim and Mutual of Omaha for showing us the world around us in a most entertaining (and educational) way. Now, let’s stand behind this tree and watch as Jim attempts to neuter that grizzly bear.