“Winky Dink And You” was a CBS television children’s show that aired from 1953 to 1957 on Saturday mornings. It was hosted by Jack Barry and featured the exploits of a cartoon character named Winky Dink and his dog Woofer. The show, created by Harry Prichett, Sr. and Ed Wyckoff, featured Barry and his sidekick, the incompetent Mr. Bungle, introducing clips of Winky Dink, noted for his plaid pants, tousled hair, and large eyes.
I believe this is the the first interactive TV show because you would attach a piece to plastic to your TV screen and draw on it. You could, for instance, help Winky Dink escape by drawing a bridge to cross a river when he was being chased. We all had the Winky Dink kit which contained the plastic sheet and we usually supplied our own crayons.
In every Winky Dink short, there was a climactic scene which contained a connect-the-dot picture. We were instructed to complete the picture, so Winky could continue. Other examples include an axe to chop down a tree, or a cage to trap a dangerous lion. Many children would omit the Magic Screen and draw on the television screen itself. Bet their parents loved that!
Another use of the interactive screen was sending secret messages to the viewers. A screen would appear, showing only the vertical lines of the letters of the secret message, which viewers at home would quickly trace onto their magic screen. A second screen would then reveal the horizontal lines, which would complete the text.
A final use of the screen was to create the outline of a character with whom Jack Barry would have a conversation. It would seem meaningless to viewers without the screen, further encouraging its purchase.
The program was wildly successful because of its pioneering interactive marketing scheme, and Winky Dink became one of television’s most popular characters of the 1950s. The show was revived in syndication for 65 episodes beginning in 1969 and ending in 1973. However, the show’s production was halted despite its modest popularity due to concerns about radiation in television sets affecting children and because of parents’ complaints about children drawing on the screen.
In the 1990s, a new “Winky Dink Kit” emerged on the market, containing a magic screen, crayons, and all-new digitized Winky Dink and You episodes. The 1950s Winky Dink is the first interactive TV show.