Movie theater owners in the 1950s were finding that they could release features with reissued cartoons, or no cartoons at all, and the audiences would still come. Because of the practice, the theatrical cartoon business was suffering and losing money. By 1956 there were only seven animation producers in the short-subjects business, and by the end of the decade that number would dwindle down to three. Walter Lantz and his distributor, Universal Pictures, knew that the only way to subsidize the rising costs of new shorts was to release their product to television. Norman Gluck from Universal's short-subjects department made a deal with the Leo Burnett Agency to release some older Lantz product on television. Burnett handled the Kellogg's cereal account, and Lantz soon met with the Kellogg's people to sign the contract. Lantz admitted that he was only working in the medium because he was “forced into TV” and “cartoons for theaters would soon be extinct.”
The Woody Woodpecker Show debuted on ABC on the afternoon of October 3, 1957. The series was seen once a week, on Thursday afternoons, replacing the first half hour of the shortened Mickey Mouse Club. Lantz integrated his existing cartoons with new live action footage, giving the show an updated look that satisfied both viewers and Lantz himself. The live action & animation segments created for the show, called ‘A Moment with Walter Lantz’, featured an informative look at how the animation process for his “cartunes” worked as well as how the writers came up with stories and characters. The live-action segments were directed by Jack Hannah, who was fresh from the Disney Studio where he had done similar live-action/animation sequences for the Disney show.
After the initial year on ABC, The Woody Woodpecker Show was syndicated until 1966. The “A Moment with Walter Lantz” segments were eventually replaced with "Woody's Newsreel" and "Around The World with Woody" which used footage of Universal Newsreels and featured voice-over commentary by Walter Lantz and Woody Woodpecker. In 1970, the show reappeared on network television, with 26 additional episodes assembled by Lantz for NBC. The show ran on NBC until September 2, 1972, which is the same year the Walter Lantz Productions studio shut down. The show was revived again on September 11, 1976. 1976 show featured cartoons from 1940 to 1965. The show ended its network run on September 3, 1977. Local stations continued to air The Woody Woodpecker Show for the next several years.
In 1984, Lantz sold everything outright to MCA/Universal, though he remained active in overseeing how Universal handled his characters (for merchandise, TV, home video, theme parks, limited edition cels, etc.) up until his death in 1994.
In 1987, MCA/Universal and The Program Exchange returned the show to television with a new 65 episode package for syndication. This Woody Woodpecker Show featured a complete overhaul of the series format. Gone were the newsreels, "Around the World" segments, and live action scenes with Walter Lantz. New commercial bumpers were added and a new opening sequence was created. This one featured Woody and several other popular Lantz characters running amok and finished with Woody pecking the show logo and laughing. Episodes of this Woody Woodpecker Show typically consisted of two Woody cartoons bookending another Lantz cartoon (typically a Chilly Willy cartoon). The series continued airing in syndication until 1997. Around that time, Cartoon Network picked up rerun rights and aired The Woody Woodpecker Show for one year, after which the series disappeared from television.
After Cartoon Network dropped The Woody Woodpecker Show, Universal decided to give most of the Lantz characters a redesign. The redesign led to The New Woody Woodpecker Show, which ran from 1999 to 2002 as part of the Fox Kids Saturday morning lineup and to date is the last Woody Woodpecker series to date. However, in 2011, Universal-owned studio Illumination Entertainment (creators of Despicable Me) announced a Woody Woodpecker film would be made.