Wild Kingdom, sometimes known as Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom, is an American television show that features wildlife and nature. It was originally produced from 1963 until 1988, and was revived in 2002. The show's second incarnation currently airs on Animal Planet in the U.S.
The original Wild Kingdom grew from discussions that started in 1962 between zoologist Marlin Perkins and V. J. Skutt, the chairman and CEO of insurance company Mutual of Omaha. The company had been the sponsor of an earlier animal-related show, Zoo Parade, that Perkins had hosted from 1952 until 1957. Also intimately involved with the creation of Wild Kingdom was Zoo Parade producer Don Meier, who was credited as the series' creator. Mutual of Omaha sponsored and lent its name to the new program.
Liz and Henk Maartens, from Irene, Pretoria in South Africa won five Emmy Awards for the documentary series Wild Kingdom in 1970. One Emmy Award was for camerawork while the other Emmy Awards were for aspects of production.
Wild Kingdom was first broadcast by NBC. The half-hour show aired on Sundays starting January 6, 1963. and continued until 1971, when the program entered syndication. As a prime-time syndicated program, Wild Kingdom enjoyed great popularity. Although most of the programs aired after 1971 were repeats, new shows continued to be produced until 1987. Several episodes were filmed by cameraman Roy Pinney. Perkins was the host for most of the show's history until he was forced to retire in 1985 for health reasons. He died of cancer the following year at age 81 and Jim Fowler, Perkins' long-time assistant and sidekick, became the host.
One of Wild Kingdom's film editor's, Bernard Braham, A.C.E., was invited to membership with the American Cinema Editors in 1979 and won a prestigious EDDIE award in Hollywood for best documentary of the year, for the episode "Desert Spring". His competition for the award was a National Geographic episode titled "Gold". He was also nominated for several other awards.
Perkins often introduced commercial spots by tying them into the subject of the show. For example, at the end of a segment about lions, he might say something like, "Just as the mother lion protects her cubs, you can protect your children with an insurance policy from Mutual of Omaha..."
The format of the show often featured Perkins narrating off-camera, describing Fowler's on-camera work with the wild animals. This was commonly parodied as Perkins saying "I'll wait here someplace safe while Jim does something or other with the dangerous animal". However, according to a 1997 interview with Fowler, Perkins never said any such thing: according to Fowler, "Johnny Carson started the jokes about me and Marlin in his monologues".
Perkins often featured pet chimpanzees in the studio: one named "W.K." (Wild Kingdom); the other named "Mr. Moke", after the Mini Moke vehicle.
Wild Kingdom can be credited for increasing ecological and environmental awareness in the United States. Its exciting footage brought the wilds of Africa, the Amazon River and other exotic locales into the living rooms of millions of Americans. It created an interest in commercial nature programming that was a precursor to cable television networks such as the Discovery Channel and Animal Planet.
The original series has not been seen since it went off the air. (Mutual of Omaha owns the rights to the series.) However, several episodes have now been released on DVD from BCI Eclipse (under license from Mutual of Omaha). Some episodes are also available on an official YouTube channel.
In 2002, a completely new Wild Kingdom, also sponsored by Mutual of Omaha, began airing new Wild Kingdom specials on Animal Planet. The specials proved to be so popular that in 2005, the network began airing new weekly episodes during the original Sunday night timeslot.